Are Cashless Wallets Making You Poor?


Are Cashless Wallets Making You Poor?

Illustration: Juergen D

Every time you pay in cash, there is a certain heaviness in your heart as you feel the pain of a crisp note leaving your wallet. The rise in your blood pressure is directly proportional to a note’s denomination. Yet it is this annoying pain that keeps most of us solvent.

The wallet is like your own little piggy bank that you carry around all the time. You can only stuff it with limited amount of cash, which brings in a sense of vulnerability, knowing it won’t last forever. There is also the shameful guilt associated with spending ₹400 on a milkshake, or even worse, watching Baaghi 2 on a weeknight. Not only have you lost 20 per cent of your wallet cash in one go, you will also waste three hours of your life that you can never get back.

Hate it or love it, the wallet made sure you paid attention to the amount you spent. However, thanks to developments in technology and demonetisation, we have now discovered alternate ways to make payments. Cashless payments are the new poster boys in town. You don’t have to worry about not having change and getting thrown off a BEST bus. You don’t have to hold up a ₹2000 note against the tubelight and pretend to understand whether it’s legit. And it’s a lot more difficult to be robbed, unless you believe in Nigerian princes.

Inevitably, I succumbed to the full page advertisements and Modiji’s devilish smile to download PayTM. It turned out to be a pretty cool thing. You tap a few times on a screen, some numbers change on a network or database somewhere, and suddenly there’s a foot massager at home costing ₹10,000. There’s no pain, it’s just some number that vanished from an account on the internet. You didn’t hand over anything to anybody physically, so your monkey brain doesn’t register a transaction.

I love cashless payments. But while I’m a quick adopter of new technology, I’m also Gujarati at heart. Tracking my expenses over the past few months is like watching a bar graph of beef-related deaths since 2014. My explanation for the sudden spikes is that somehow swiping 5,000 bucks on your screen for a gola- maker does not feel like the equivalent of losing a limb. All you did was swipe on a screen. What’s the big deal? You swipe on Tinder; you swiped on ICICI Bank’s app. Besides, that’s just one account and you have multiple bank accounts, all containing some amount of money, so you virtually have unlimited money. Except that you don’t.

Hate it or love it, the wallet made sure you paid attention to the amount you spent.

I lose control of myself to another entity when I’m using cashless payments. The real me knows that saving is a good habit and that the gola-maker is a reckless purchase. But the disconnected-from-physical-cash version says, “Who doesn’t want a kala-khatta gola in this heat?”

This version of me doesn’t need to confront my problems of saving. He just adds sums of money in e-wallets and keeps on making online payments until the real me runs out of money, and then he switches to credit on various cards. For this cashless version of me, the party can go on forever. I’m guessing that’s what Nirav Modi told himself as well.

The realisation that cashless money is also money has not dawned on us yet. Perhaps it is more than just a tech habit; perhaps it’s a behavioural trend that we, as young Indians who were raised on values of parsimony, now don’t want to confront. One of the easiest things in life is lying to yourself and avoiding confrontation. It’s pretty great and you are always happy at the end of it. We do it all the time and are pretty good at it. Whether it is studying something you don’t like, working at an office that is burning you out, or being in a relationship that is not working, we are masters of looking the other way. Perhaps our spending habits in the online world are also an extension of that same idea. If we keep at it, India’s entry to the Avengers franchise is going to be a hero whose power is always looking the other way.

I decided to stop avoiding my spending problem and address my issues by uninstalling all these wallets and reverting to a Nokia 3310. But then I received a PayTM notification about a ₹200 cashback for just linking Aadhaar with PayTM. Now, for no reason at all, I have ordered a FitBit for my dog that cost 15 grand. And no, I did not get that ₹200 cashback.