My Last $100…Mardi Gras Edition

Me, enjoying the best hotdog of my life, to be referenced below

In an average week, I find myself spending $100 at an alarming fast rate, on items that never seem to physically possess after my spending spree (read: I spend most of my money on food which is devoured in minutes of purchase). The general trend that I have observed in my spending is that I usually spend it via digital platforms such as on apps or via entering my card information on online websites. However, my job as a bartender means that I receive the majority of my salary in cash, which rarely makes it into my online bank account, but rather seems to fly out of my wallet at record speed.

This weekend, I trekked down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, which I knew would make for an interesting assignment when I tracked my $100. I was concerned about how much money I would be spending, and how quickly I would spend it, but I was pleasantly surprised on return that I was more frugal than I had anticipated. The following is where my $100 disappeared in a matter of 48 hours…

$26.80 — A tank of gas in the rural community of Gadston, Alabama : We decided to make the 15 hour journey down with five people in the car, each rotating in shifts to make sure one driver wouldn’t get too tired. We anticipated multiple stops for gas, and decided that we would also rotate who would pay for gas with their credit or debit card each stop. This would save continual money transactions between people, and operated on the basis that we each trusted each other to dutifully pay for a tank each on rotation. This notion of trust is discussed by Brett Scott — we operated on the basis that “every monetary transaction is a leap of faith. And faith has to be carefully maintained”. It was certainly true that each time people were paying for gas, we would carefully check that each time the price was comparable to the person who had paid previously. If it was thought that one person was paying a significant amount more than the last, this would have perhaps created tension or unease within the group.

$7.90 — Venmo payment for fast food : To save time on the trip, we ate exclusively at drive-thru fast food places, in true long roadtrip style. We stopped for lunch at a drive-thru, where everyone in the car informed the driver of their orders, and then we put all of the money on one card for ease of breaking the transaction into multiple orders over the drive-thru speakerphone. I was able to efficiently Venmo my friend for the food with the click of a button; I didn’t have to leave my car to obtain the food, take a card out of my wallet, and I barely thought about the physical price of the meal as I paid through my Venmo “balance”. This digitization of money is in keeping with Zelizer’s notion that “not all monies are equal”— I barely thought about the physical act of spending this money as I was able to send it to my friend, sitting only two feet away from me, in a matter of seconds without considering the full cost of $7.90 that I was spending. My Venmo money becomes fantasy money, and is differentiated as “special monies”.

$5 — paid in cash for the best hot dog of my life: This was the first and only time I used cash on the trip. After arriving in New Orleans after the drive, we checked into our hotel and hit the streets to explore the French Quarter. Feeling hungry after the long drive, I purchased a hot dog using $5 cash from a respectable-looking hot dog stand. This was the only means of payment I could have used, as it was a street car that did not have the means to digitally process a card transaction. They seemed to be doing good business using exclusively cash, and so it seemed the old-school method of payment proved equally as successful for the vendors as modern money technology.

$11.50 — a famous NOLA Hurricane: I forked out for this sickly sweet famous regional beverage, mostly for the novelty aspect as I tend to dislike sugary beverages. I ordered this drink mostly because my peers had suggested that I try it before I left, and the friends that I was with all also ordered the same drink. Hurricanes came in special cups which could be kept as souvenirs, which added to the novelty aspect of the drink purchase. At this point, the money that I spent on the drink lost its physical monetary value, and gained social value — I paid more for a drink that I usually would because it carried social value for me at the time. If everyone else was buying the drink, then surely I should too?! As Ferreira and Perry state, “money is embedded in social practices” and in buying the Hurricane, I was engaging in the social practice of participating in a group phenomenon to fit in with my friends.

$4.40 and $9.80 — Uber split charges: In an effort to get from the French Quarter to Uptown to watch the parades, the best feasible option was to take an Uber or a Lyft as the cabs weren’t very frequent in the area. The majority of the friends that I was with had the Uber app on their phone so we opted to use this over Lyft. In the past year, Uber introduced a “split fare” feature which allows users to “share” payments during their rides. This is favorable to putting the price of the Uber on one person’s account and then using a different app (most likely Venmo rather than physical cash) to divide the cost and reimburse the person that called the car. As with Venmo, this money is conveniently and quickly extracted from my account with the ease of simply accepting to “split” the fare with another user. It highlights the fact that technology has a huge part to play in the formation of Zelizer’s “special monies”.

Overall, this $100 was spent in a similar way that it would have been spent in Charlottesville on a normal week: I spent it on dispensable goods such as food and travel, that have no physical return for the money that I spend on them. This spending process was most certainly expedited due to the special circumstance of the weekend, but it appears my app-based digital spending, mixed in with occasional cash transactions, translates across to many different social circumstances that I partake in.