The adage that I’ve used several other times on this blog, my books, and one that is nearly a personal credo: convenience is inversely proportional to security. This seems to apply equally well to personal privacy. Said another way, the more convenient something is, the more personal privacy and control of your identity you are probably sacrificing. Credit and debit cards are one such convenience. Though it is certainly more convenient to swipe a credit card for purchases that in is to use cash it also creates a tangible record of each transaction. With cash you have to make time to visit an ATM, carry bills, manage change, etc. Making matters worse, all of these inconvenience factors are compounded if you make multiple small purchases throughout the day.
Despite its inconveniences, making multiple small purchases throughout the day is precisely the reason you should use cash. Your purchases record a wealth of data about you, including your location and movement, purchases, interests, hobbies, and a plethora of other information about us. I didn’t fully realize the extent to which my personal pattern of life was spelled out in black in white until I bought my first home. One of the requirements for the loan application was to submit three months of statements for all bank and credit accounts. I was very, very disheartened when I had to submit statements for several accounts that looked something like this:
|07/01/15||Debit – Local Grocery Store #1||$17.35|
|07/01/15||Debit – Local Grocery Store#2||$31.53|
|07/02/15||Debit – National Coffee Chain near Work||$4.88|
|07/02/15||Debit – Convenience Store near Work||$2.37|
|07/02/15||Debit – Lunch Restaurant near Work||$12.72|
|07/02/15||Debit – Gas Station||$43.68|
|07/02/15||Debit – Local Grocery Store #2||$8.19|
|07/04/15||Debit – National Coffee Chain near Work||$4.88|
|07/04/15||Debit – Big-Box Department Store||$81.41|
|07/04/15||Debit – Local Dinner Place near Home||$27.12|
|07/04/15||Debit – Large National Bookstore||$27.19|
|07/05/15||Debit – Fast Food Place near Work||$6.01|
|And on, and on, and on….|
Unfortunately, years prior I had subscribed to the philosophy that plastic is easier to use and somehow inherently better than paper. What I did not realize was that I was sharing a ton of personal details about my life with others. The packet I handed over to the loan officer painted a very thorough picture of my pattern of life for the three months prior to my loan application (which could be extrapolated to the last few years). Though there was nothing “shady” on my cards, it was a little embarrassing to share such granular level of detail about my life with strangers. The sickening realization that I had been sharing all of this information with my bank and creditors for years sank in that day, too.
Purchasing with cash offers much more anonymity. Unless you are purchasing something that requires you provide your real name, firearms and cars being obvious exceptions that come easily to mind, purchases with cash are about as close to anonymous as you can get. There is no paper trail, no bank statement, and no overarching record of your life and activities. If I had it to do over again (and I do going forward) I would have made some changes in my personal habits. My account statements would have reflected the same period of time a bit more succinctly, like this:
You will notice that because I used cash, this brief statement covers a period over four times as long as the above example, while still being eight lines shorter. Not only is this statement more compact, it also reveals very little about me. It does not reveal where I buy my groceries or how often, or the location my favorite coffee, lunch, and dinner restaurants, or my culinary preferences. It does not associate my name to any of my purchases.
I attempt to use cash as much as possible but I realize I will never be able to fully eliminate credit cards from my life. Air travel, rental cars, and hotels require credit cards. I still find myself in locations where I don’t want to pay exorbitant ATM fees, and end up using my card. But I use it a lot less, which is what I am truly advocating: using more cash and less plastic. This reduces the amount of information about yourself that you give over to your bank, your lenders, anyone curious enough to swipe a statement out of your mailbox (assuming you don’t use a P.O. Box), and yes, maybe even the NSA.
Using cash isn’t bulletproof, and it won’t make you totally anonymous. But it will lower your signature, offer you a lot more anonymity, and make an attacker’s job a bit harder. Every little bit helps.