I have already been living cashfree for the past 15 months or so. Most of my planned purchases are done online. I don't remember the last time I bought something at a mall.
News these past few days has been the equivalent of a one-two punch. The cross punch arrived Wednesday (November 9) morning with news of Donald Trump winning the US presidential election. The lead punch, however, was delivered the previous night with Narendra Modi announcing that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes would not be valid starting Tuesday midnight.
With one “masterstroke” as many people put it, Modi is said to have solved the problem of black money and of terrorist funding. Notwithstanding whether that has happened or will happen, with the same stroke, he also pressed the reset button on how most of India transacts. Over 80% of the transactions that happen in India are done with these notes. And now these notes cannot be used for any transactions.
I have already been living cashfree for the past 15 months or so. Most of my planned purchases are done online. I don’t remember the last time I bought something at a mall
In some ways, I have already been living cashfree (as opposed to cashless, as it’s liberating) for the past 15 months or so. Like most things in my life, it did not happen because I wanted it that way, but because my usual approach to most things can be summed up by the maxim: “When you have to do something, sit on it for a while, and then don’t do it.”
In this case, the last of active debit cards expired, and my bank promptly dispatched the new card to my old address (which of course had not been updated in the bank’s records because I sat on that too.) While I eventually did get my address updated, I never bothered to apply for the new card.
The inertia may also have been slightly influenced by the month I spent in 2014 in Los Angeles (LA), where I got by just by using a credit card, and not having to use any cash at all. Of course, given that I did all my getting around by walking or by Uber, and was not using any public transport (because back then, LA’s public transport was really horrible), I did not actually need any cash. Every establishment I had to deal with in that month was happy to accept cards.
And that’s not to say one can’t live without cash in India. We’re slowly getting there. I actually get a lot done here without any cash. Most of my planned purchases are done online. I cannot remember the last time I bought something of any worth at a store or a mall of any sort and paid by cash. Even when I make an impulse purchase like I did with a power bank at an electronics store, I can still pay by credit card.
My two main day-to-day needs are transport and food. Here in Bangalore, I rely on Namma Metro and Uber entirely for getting around. I use a smart card for Namma Metro which can conveniently be recharged using the Karnataka Mobile One app. And for Uber, I have PayTM integrated, so that’s taken care of too without the need for cash.
Food is where it gets tricky. Yes, most restaurants from the Shanti Sagar types to fancy places in the Central Business District accept credit cards. But that is not where you always eat. The chaat gaadi wants cash. The Darshini for the dosa and the strong coffee wants cash. Even for places that do accept credit cards, some of them do not slap a service charge on your bill, so you will need cash if you want tip the servers. And, of course, when you are travelling, you tend to feel hungriest right at a bus stop or train station where vendors dish out things that your arteries cry out against but your stomach craves. And you need cash for that.
The last of my active debit cards expired, and my bank dispatched the new card to my old address (which I hadn’t updated). While I eventually did get my address updated, I never bothered to apply for the new card
Ironically, it looks to me that the biggest impact of this move by the Modi government is on my cashfree way of life. It has invalidated the way I make my cash despite not possessing a debit card. Because, the one source of the small amounts of cash I needed to sustain my largely cash-free existence were people who were willingly parting with cash.
You can “make cash” when you don’t have access to it. Whenever I am eating out in a group, I say, “I’ll pay by card, why don’t you pay me in cash?” This is how I make cash and am set for a month