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Cash Only: One Route Out of Debt

Cash Only: One Route Out of Debt

cash

    There are more than a few ways to deal with credit card debt, as well as other financial crunches. More than a few financial gurus recommend making the switch to a cash-only lifestyle: getting rid of credit cards and using only the cash in your wallet to make purchases. There’s a reason that the cash-only approach is so popular. If you stick to only cash, it’s virtually impossible to add to debt. But there are some drawbacks worth looking at before you jump on the cash-only lifestyle.

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    Managing Savings

    Taking a pure cash-only stance is difficult, if only because saving up a lot of cash on your own is impractical. Even if you have a safe place to store your cash, it won’t be insured, like it would be in a bank. You also won’t earn any interest on your savings — while we may be talking about pennies, it’s important to remember that pennies add up. So, for most people, a cash only lifestyle still involves a bank. It doesn’t necessarily involve a debit card, however. Because one of the benefits of cash only is the fact that making it harder to spend your own money usually translates to less spending, a debit card is out. If you’re planning to make a large purchase (and you’ve got the cash in the bank), checks are generally considered a good compromise.

    Using Checks

    You can use a credit card virtually anywhere, but it’s much harder to use a check. In some cases, it can actually be harder to use cash, rather than a credit card, as well. Want to rent a car? You’ll be asked for a credit card. Offering cash will only flummox the guy behind the counter. You’ll find yourself jumping through some hoops to spend your own money if you switch to using only cash.

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    There’s an argument that because it’s so much harder these days to use checks, you’ll be less inclined to go out and spend money. That may be true, but for some people, the ease of renting a car and making other payments is far more important than sticking to a cash only approach. That’s not a reproach on such individuals’ approaches to money: it’s a fact of doing business in the modern world. It’s a more than reasonable objection to the cash only system.

    Building Credit

    Credit reports are crucial for a lot more than getting a new credit card these days. Employers look at the credit reports of prospective employees, landlords look at the credit reports of prospective tenants and even utility companies look at credit reports before deciding to connect someone’s electricity. And that’s assuming that you don’t want to buy a house — while mortgage may not be a bad kind of debt, it’s hard to get one with no credit history whatsoever. If you go cash only and eliminate your credit cards, it’s much harder to build a solid credit history.

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    It’s not impossible: you can take out a loan that you have the money for and pay it off quickly or take a similarly roundabout route. You can also point those individuals who would otherwise check your credit score to the FICO Expansion service — essentially a credit score for those individuals who use cash only. You can also use services like PRBC, which reports your bills that you pay on time (such as telephone) that aren’t reported on your credit report, to build up your credit. There are fees involved in using such services, however.

    A Credit-Based World

    The simple fact is that living a cash-only lifestyle these days is a rarity. Many companies just aren’t set up to help anyone planning to pay cash with the process. If you walk into a car dealership and try to pay cash for a new car, for instance, you’ll have a much harder time completing the transaction than if you finance it. It’s not because car dealers don’t want your money: it’s because that situation is so unusual that a dealership’s staff really doesn’t know how to handle it.

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    Sticking to cash for all your transactions can end up costing you more time than you might expect. If you feel that your time is more valuable than the money you can save by using only cash, that approach just may not work for you.

    Pros and Cons of Cash Only

    There are definitely plenty of drawbacks — as well as benefits — to living a cash-only lifestyle. But the thing about personal finances is that they’re personal. Using only cash works really well for a lot of people. But it doesn’t work perfectly for everyone. You may find that a complete conversion to cash only doesn’t work for you, but a modified approach — like limiting your eating out budget to the cash in your wallet — works out great. It is worth at least checking out the cash only approach and seeing if it can at least save you some credit card fees.

    If you have gone cash only, successful or not, please comment on your experiences. What worked? What didn’t? What tips can you offer to someone thinking about going cash only? I know what my experiences have been, but I’m always interested in seeing why someone else has an easier or harder time with relying more on cash and less on credit.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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