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Jayda Leder-Luis

Jayda bugI open my wallet and there it is – my debit card – sitting in the first position of the easy-access pocket just above my credit card, school ID, T pass and driver’s license. 

It belongs in that top spot, I use it all the time. I have never made a point to carry cash, and am amazed if I find myself in possession of a single or five-dollar bill. Usually I only take out cash to get quarters for laundry or to pay my roommate for utility bills.
               
When I heard that my bank, Bank of America, will be charging a $5 monthly fee for consumers who use their debit card, I understood the rationale. As part of the Durbin Amendment that was passed over a year ago, the federal government implemented a cap on fees that banks can charge merchants who accept debit card transactions; in turn, some banks have decided to recoup those dollars by charging consumers directly. Bank of America is now rethinking how it implements the fee, but the prospect of paying for debit card use is still looming in the distance.

I wonder, though, can I avoid this fee? I’ve decided to try to go the entire month of November without using my debit card, to see if quitting the debit-card habit is possible. To start my experiment, I made a list of things that I routinely use my debit card for:

  • Groceries – at the store and the biweekly delivery of Boston Organics (for which payment is automatically processed on my debit card)
  • Household items from CVS or Walgreens
  • Car expenses like gas and oil changes
  • Coffee, and sometimes lunch in the middle of the work day
  • N-Star bill, which I pay online using my debit card
  • Refilling my T-pass
  • Clothes/books/trinkets that I buy on a whim – although not often, it happens occasionally. For example, last week I went to Boomerang’s, a second-hand store in Jamaica Plain, and bought a book, a shot glass and a wine glass for $1.50. I didn’t have any cash and felt like a fool for using my debit card.

A $5 monthly fee equals $60 a year, which in my book is no chump change. Like many people, I live paycheck to paycheck (that is, when I’m working a paid internship), or rely on student loans as funds for an entire semester. Shopping has never been a hobby of mine, and when I buy things I tend to stick with low-cost versions of whatever I need (Payless shoes, generic cold medicines and cereal brands, $1 shampoos and conditioners, etc.). 

Considering my already frugal personality, I am hoping this transition to a cash-only lifestyle won’t be too far of a leap. It does mean that I’ll have to plan out my purchases somewhat in advance instead of waiting to reach the cashier to find out the total. I expect a few inconveniences for when I’m short a dollar or don’t have time to stop at an ATM, but since I’m going “old-school” anyway, I’ll just have to carry around my checkbook.

Jayda Leder-Luis is a senior at Northeastern University and is the communications co-op student at the Office of Consumer Affairs.

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