Cashing In on Data Protection

Opinion: In light of the disturbing TJX data theft, maybe the only way to really protect yourself is to adopt a cash-only mentality.

When I was a kid, my family did two things on Saturdays without fail: We cleaned the house to strains of marching music (my father was career Army), and we went to the bank.

At the bank, my parents deposited their paychecks, keeping just enough cash to make it through the week. When that money ran out, they didnt buy anything else. Simple.

As for bills, my parents used a folder system. No, not the kind of folders in Windows—the only computers I knew about then were the ones that wore tennis shoes. They used a paper two-pocket folder: As bills came in, they went in the left-side pocket of the folder. As the bills were paid—every week, with a check for each—the stub went into the right-side pocket of the folder.

Every month, my parents would sit at the kitchen table and balance the checkbook using the paper statement generated and mailed by the bank—an agonizing process for my logically minded father, who wasnt satisfied until he got the statement and the checkbook to within a dollar difference. (I learned at a pretty young age not to interrupt this process.)

My father also eschewed credit cards, saying, "If you cant pay for it in cash, you cant afford it." Simple.

My father never saw debit cards become an acceptable form of payment at every place from Tiffanys to Taco Bell, but my mom continues to go to the bank every Saturday. Shes never had a debit card, and probably never will.

How quaint, Ive often thought in recent years.

Today, I rarely use cash, instead whipping out my debit card for even the smallest of purchases. I pay many bills online, and I "balance" the family checkbook by making sure the amount that shows up when I check my accounts online is reasonably close to what it says in my checkbook. As for credit cards, well, lets not go there.

Have you seen that commercial where the guy who uses cash, as opposed to a debit card, brings a well-oiled retail operation to a screeching halt? In response to that ad, my 10-year-old daughter said, "Does it really take that long to use money?"


The fact that she has to ask that question speaks volumes about todays cash flow—or lack thereof. Indeed, when she and my other daughter were younger, I made it a point to use actual money to make purchases (a.) so they would know what money looked like and what each bill and coin was worth and (b.) so they wouldnt think that this magic plastic card allowed us to get whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, with no repercussions. (It was harder for me than it was for my parents to say that money didnt grow on trees because, for all my kids knew, it did!)

Its not just me—Ive heard teachers say that its getting harder and harder to teach kids to do things like add and subtract money because the kids just dont have extended exposure to it.

Next Page: Why the TJX security breach is different.