My cash-free life

So, I’m traveling Friday, and of course I have a list of to-dos before I leave…plans for work, plans for packing, plans for a few things I’m taking care of around the house. The most important thing on my list? Now don’t laugh…this is a reflection of my cash-free lifestyle…I have to stop at an ATM and get cash for the airport ferry.

Airport ferry you say? What’s that about? Well, some very clever engineers, way back in the 70s, decided to build Ketchikan’s commercial airport…on a different island. Yep, that’s right, the ONLY available location for an airport that was feasible in this area had to be on a separate strip of land, across the Tongass Narrows that separates the island Ketchikan is on from the island home of the local airport. And how do you reach the airport? Is there a bridge? NO, there is not. If you recall the infamous “bridge to nowhere” issue from the last presidential election, that was about Ketchikan. No bridge across to the airport, but the local government graciously runs a small ferry that crosses twice an hour, for the small sum of $5 per person if you walk on. If you drive across, the fee is higher.

Now aside from the irritant that I have to back up my time to leave to include the ferry schedule, which is annoying in itself, the ferry operates on a CASH ONLY basis. How is that possible in this day and age? I don’t keep cash, don’t use cash, literally go for months, unless I travel out of town by myself, without seeing so much as a nickel, much less a dollar. The fact that I have to obtain cash to get to the airport is a special irritant to me. This isn’t about the $5 fee, which seems reasonable enough. It’s about the fact that it has to be paid in cash.

I keep a $100 bill in my purse, an emergency-only fund. But if I break it, that defeats the purpose of it being for emergencies only. Because then it would only be a matter of time before it would be nickled and dimed away, on this, that, or whatever. I learned a long time ago, before the earth’s crust cooled and when I had small children who loved happy meals, (and before fast food chains accepted credit cards) that if I didn’t have cash on me, I could be firm and say, “not today, Mommy doesn’t have any money.” And they didn’t know I could have gotten money. It was an effective way to keep us out of fast food restaurants, and to keep money from flowing out of my veins.

But wait, you say, you don’t have to actually be cashless to resist spending money. Well, that’s true, and being cashless doesn’t mean I don’t spend. Of course not. But it helps me be thoughtful about what I spend, and how I spend. One of my personal spending guidelines is that I don’t buy anything on a credit card for less than $5…that just seems unfair to the merchant, who has to pay a fee for credit card usage. For small expenditures like a Starbucks coffee, I buy a Starbucks gift card so I don’t have to pay in cash or ask the merchant to pay a fee for a very small credit card charge. Tips for meals or services go on my card, and there is really nothing that I buy, no where that I shop, that I can’t pay with my VISA.

The benefit to me, besides giving me an almost complete history of my spending habits and actual expenses, is that I use a card that gives me airline miles. And I use those miles. I pay the balance each month, so I’m not in credit card debt, and I make the card work for me. I figure, if I’m buying a gallon of milk, I’m flying on that milk. Or someone is. It’s a way to get a little more bang for my buck, and when you live in Alaska, flying becomes an important part of life.

I use direct deposit for my salary. I get a digital copy of my pay stub. I write a few checks each month, primarily for charitable contributions, with an occasional check written on a health savings account for routine care. But that’s it. Everything else is paid through my credit card. Except the airport ferry. They got me, and I can’t fight city hall. What would happen if I forgot to have cash on hand? Well, if I’m with Rob, not a problem. He seldom uses cash, but he always has cash. And if I’m not with him? Well, I might be stranded. You pay the ferry fee after you ride across to the airport island, but before you enter the airport…a real no man’s land. No ATM, no credit or debit cards accepted, and nothing but a grouchy woman in the booth to say, “Sorry, but rules are rules!” No, I’ve never gotten caught in the ferry wilderness…but I wonder what happens to poor souls who do. They’re probably still wandering about on the airport side, looking for a friendly face, an ATM, a five dollar bill on the ground.

And I wonder…how many people out there are like me, going through life without seeing, touching, or using real money on a regular basis? Sometimes I read about saving for purchases by emptying your change into a jar, and that amazes me. Do people really still have change every day? And why? I’ve lived this way so long, I’m not sure if I’m in the mainstream or an oddity.