FOOD FOR THOUGHT: A fool and his money

Used to be, money was money. Rich people had it, and when they paid for things, they gave you cash. Sure, there was credit but not really like we think of it today. By the mid-20th century we had credit cards and checks, and as we rolled into the 21st we thought we were so forward with our debit cards. Cash became less important as soon as we could pay for everything from food to cars with a plastic card.

In the last several years, though, it’s gotten increasingly weirder when you want to pay for something. Oh, sure there’s the credit card which is probably always going to be there, and the debit card which acts like a credit card. But that’s just the beginning. There’s PayPal, which is super-convenient for when you don’t want to give another web site your card information. There are digital wallets sprouting like weeds – You know, your iTunes account, Google Play account, even Facebook lets you have credits. Then there’s the whole shadow economy of in-app purchases, like when you’re playing a game and you have to purchase a block of “coins” or credits or whatever just to defeat Zor the Unconquerable or whatever. That comes out of your digital wallet, which is fed by your credit card, the bill of which is paid by your bank account. Cash never enters into the equation.

Then there’s bitcoin. To be honest I’m still afraid of that because it just seems like a big Ponzi scheme and I don’t want to be in the middle of the pyramid when it collapses. But people like it and use it, I’m just not one of them.

Most of this stuff really takes place in the computer, but in the last two years it’s begun to branch out. You can now Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Android pay, just by holding your phone to a NFC receiver. I’ll admit that it took me a while but I warmed up to this once I realized that Apple Pay is actually more secure than giving a magnetic-strip card to someone. Samsung Pay, I’m still on the fence though because it’s transmitting unencrypted magnetic strip readable data. That still seems insecure. But the big point is, I feel like George Jetson when I buy a soda using my phone.

Don’t even get me started with gift cards. I don’t know who thought this was a good idea but it’s only good for the people who issue the cards. They hold onto your money until you empty the card and a lot of people just put gift cards in drawers or toss them with a small balance on them. This means massive profit for the companies who make the cards and not a whole lot else good for anyone. One exception: I buy gas station gift cards from a local non-profit. They get a percentage or two back and more importantly I never have to worry about my information being stolen from a card skimmer.

I feel like it’s time to simplify the process. I don’t know how — I mean, I don’t want to see cash go away even though I hardly ever use it. I wouldn’t put Apple or Google in charge of the federal reserve and I don’t think I want the government coming up with some national digital wallet scheme either, because they would then know how much money I have and they would want to take it.

It just seems sort of silly and confusing and sometimes I miss the days when you could put 15 cents in a machine and get a Coke. Back then it didn’t seem like you needed much more out of life than that. Oh well, some things get better… some things don’t.