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Austerity lessons: Living without cash, and learning from it

delhi Updated: Nov 20, 2016 07:35 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times
cash crunch,cash woes,demonetisation
Pooja Wadhwa, a resident of Vaishali in Ghaziabad , India is learning lessons in austerity from Living Without Money, a globally-acclaimed documentary.(Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times)

Pooja Wadhwa, a homemaker, had a few thousand rupees in cash when she saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi on TV, announcing his decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency. She knew the money would see her through the next few days only, but she could not muster enough courage to stand in the never-ending queues at ATMs and banks the next day. “So I thought I would try and make do with little cash I had at home,” says Wadhwa.

Wadhwa, who always believed in cash-only transactions, set herself a money challenge -- trying to live with Rs 4,000 she had in Rs 100 notes. Half of it was spent in two days on buying fruits, vegetables, milk and other essentials.

And as the going got tough, a friend suggested jokingly that she should watch Living Without Money, a globally-acclaimed documentary-- the story of a German woman, Heidemarie Schwermer, who one fine day in 1997 decided to live without money. Schwermer donated all her belongings and started a new life based on exchanging favours – without the use of money.

Read | Demonetisation: Banks may allow cash withdrawal for weddings from next week

The experiences Schwermer had (she died in March this year at 73) during her 21 years of living without money changed her outlook on life.

It changed Wadhwa’s worldview too.

The ongoing cash crunch has been a life-altering experience for many Delhiites, changing their way of living and thinking. And as they pursue a cashless existence, they are turning to movies, technology and books to succeed in their mission of finding an alternative way—or rather, a cashless way of life. Forced to live cashless for over 10 days now, many of them say they have acquired frugal habits which they would like to keep for life.

“I found the movie pretty inspiring. I learnt you always need much less money and materialistic possessions than you think to lead a happy life,” she says. “ I have drastically cut down on my shopping, eating out, and I am not missing anything. Earlier, I would go to malls and flea markets to buy clothes on impulse that I did not need. With no cash, I have learnt to live frugally and want to keep this habit. Most importantly, now I can understand the plight of the poor who go through this daily struggle every day, demonetisation or no demonetisation”.

Read | Govt’s demonetisation move a ‘disaster’ for rural women, say activists

If Wadhwa turned to a movie for inspiration, many others have downloaded home-budget apps such as Goodbudget, Mint , Wally, Fudget, etc., to manage their home budget more efficiently. “Being cashless forced me to tighten my home budget, but instead of putting it all down on paper, I downloaded a couple of apps that help me handle my money better,” says Meena Tiwari, another homemaker.

Many of these Apps help people take control of their spending. Goodbudget, for example, is based on the “envelope budgeting method”, which allows you to manually divide your cash in online envelopes of money for different things. Others like Mint also connect you to your various financial accounts, and track them in real time.

Meena Tiwari uses a budget app to help her cut corners. (Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times)

Then there are Many Delhiites who discovered that the best way to save money is not to spend it at all on certain days. Neetu Gupta, a teacher, for example, has come up with the idea of what she calls ‘no spending day’.

“I have decided to observe this day at least thrice a month. I shall make sure I do not spend a single penny on this day, except during emergency,” says Gupta, who lives in Andrews Ganj. With little cash at home, she even cut down on pocket money for her daughters. “I realised they were spending a lot of money not because they needed it, but because they had it.”

Praveen Kumar, a content writer, says the cash crunch made him rediscover the importance of public transport. “Earlier I used the auto, which I stopped doing a few days back because that meant paying the driver in cash. In the past one week, with not much cash in hand, I had to frequently use DTC buses. I have realised I was unnecessarily paying Rs80 for a journey in auto that could be covered for Rs 10 in the bus. His wife Niharika says, “I have cut down on many things, including my frequent outings to beauty salons and neighbourhood spas. I am looking pretty fine without all of that.”

Cash crunch has ensured many people have now pulled out the good old cheque books. “I’d almost forgotten about them. I have used more cheques in the five days than I did in the past five years. Now I carry my cheque books wherever I go,” says Manish Sharma, an artist. “I wish India could achieve a cashless utopia. A cashless society would probably also mean less street crimes. But the government should have planned better before announcing demonetisation,” he adds.

Read | Feel the pinch? 5 things that are costlier in Delhi after demonetisation

First Published: Nov 19, 2016 23:48 IST