Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cash and Carry

Twenty-five Roses for One Dollar!

Finally, after almost five weeks, Eric's bank has sent him his ATM card. I believe several packages have been sent to our apartment and to the University, but none have arrived, and two weeks ago, Eric tracked an envelope directed to our home, which ended up in El Salvador (we live on a street called Republica Del Salvador, but our address includes 'y Suecia' as well, and the card did not end up in Sweden). I am stunned that in the modern era, with UPS and FEDEX and email and the internet, that it has taken so long to replace a stolen card.

Our lives have been significantly altered by not having access to cash, particularly in an economic system that generally avoids credit cards. I have given up trying to use my AMEX or my Visa; only once at Megamaxi was my card accepted and when I checked my account, I discovered that the cost of the transaction was almost five dollars! At least they did not refuse the card, which has happened everywhere else. Curious that there will be a sign saying 'We proudly accept American Express', but when I offer my shiny gold card, I am told that 'international' cards are not acceptable.

Cash is the preferred and often only form of payment for all goods and services, which is fine if you have 'efectivo'. Often the price is significantly better if we pay in cash. Eric and I have not had access to cash (we borrow from friends, they know that we will finally be able to withdraw money and pay them back), so until today we were unable to pay our rent, which of course must be in cash (the theory is that money is laundered through rentals and construction)!

I was aware that without my income, this year would be one of limited funds. I was prepared to be careful about spending money, but I was unprepared for the experience of having none at all. We have been extremely cautious, budgeting our nickels and dimes, buying only essentials, living a smaller life than I imagined. We certainly had enough to eat and survive, but it has been an adjustment for me, to be constantly aware of our limited circumstances, and to modify our behaviour to fit our situation. On the other had, we live in a country where the average monthly income is $300, so I felt it inappropriate to complain or express too much frustration.

I wonder if I have learned anything. I know we can manage with little and manage quite well. But I certainly feel like going a little crazy in celebration and going on a spending spree. Of course, Eric would disapprove, I think he likes that I am budgeting and paying attention to our financial survival.

In the end, perhaps these past five weeks were simply an exercise in managing our lives without a source of cash in a society that accepts nothing but cash. We have learned a worthwhile skill, we know we can do it, so now I want to get back to being ourselves, and living our lives with some measure of freedom from far too tight financial limitations.