In the US, we pretty much used our credit cards for everything. We used them for the obvious stuff, like grocery shopping and filling up the car with gas, but we also used them for incidental expenses — coffee at Starbucks or a fast food meal. It was rare that I had more than a few dollars in my wallet in actual cash. I used credit for everything and I generally assumed that my credit card would be accepted everywhere (and it was).
Moving to Vienna was a shock. By comparison, you pretty much can’t use a credit card anywhere here. You can’t use credit at a grocery store, the drug store, most cafes, many restaurants, bakeries, the doctor’s office, or even the hospital emergency room. You generally have to be prepared to pay with cash or debit card here, and many places don’t even accept debit. (Our new pediatrician takes our debit card, which was a lovely surprise after our previous one who only took cash. I think I forgot to get cash out for the appointment about 80% of the time.) Here, pretty much the only places that accept credit cards are the ones that cater most to tourists (like McDonald’s).
It’s just a different cultural norm and a different attitude towards money. People who live here are used to it. In some ways, it has actually been very nice. After getting over our initial frustration, stemming from never having enough cash on us and simply not being used to being limited to what was in our account at any moment, we’ve adjusted. We carry more cash, and we’ve gotten used to living within our means . . . because there isn’t any other option.
It’s been great doing that, and I’m grateful for the experience, because, living in the States, and having access to credit, I was never going to stop using it for EVERYTHING. It’s been good to be forced to change my attitudes about money a bit. Until, just over 2 weeks ago, when we had a moment of minor panic because we had almost no money in our account. Almost none. Very, very little. And over 2 weeks until pay day.
At first, we were freaked out. We were afraid the money had been lost, stolen, or billed incorrectly. Nope, it had just been poorly managed, by us. I’d been lax about checking the account and balancing the checkbook . . . for the past 3 months. Everything had been going along just fine prior to that, so I wasn’t overly worried about it. But then, Christmas happened, we took on a few new expenses, and my mental image of, “Yeah, I’m sure that’s all working out ok” was just wrong.
We basically had 2 weeks with no money. It was no fun. We ate a lot of leftovers and a lot of pasta. We didn’t buy anything we didn’t absolutely need, and we didn’t do anything that didn’t absolutely have to be done. We made it, but it was close. And there wasn’t anything we could do about it from a cash flow standpoint — we couldn’t buy our groceries on credit instead, or just eat dinner out at restaurants. We had to tighten everything up and make it work.
It’s all sorted out now. The budget has been adjusted and we’ll be fine from here on out. But, yikes. I really am generally glad for the practice we’ve gotten at living on what we have in our account, but I sure was missing my credit cards for the past few weeks.