Money lessons from Uber


When it comes to technology I am a slow adopter. I got an email account only after most of my friends already had one. I started using Facebook and Twitter after these two social media websites had already taken off big time. Further, its been less than a year since I got a smart phone and given that I have only recently started using the app-based Uber taxi service.

For those who have used Uber will know that the company primarily offers three levels of taxi service. Its most basic service is uberGO. This is followed by uberX in the mid-range and UberBLACK in the top-range.

Further, the company does not take cash payments. In order to use Uber, you first need to create a wallet account with Paytm, transfer money into it from a bank account and then link it to the Uber app on your smart phone. The cost of the travel is deducted against the money in the Paytm account.

After using the Uber service, you don’t pay paper money or cash to the company. As mentioned earlier, the payment is deducted directly from the Paytm account. Hence, in that sense the situation is similar to when you buy something using a credit card or debit card.

And this is where things get interesting. Research shows that when people use their credit/debit cards they are likely to end up spending more in comparison to when they use cash, simply because there is no pain of purchase, as is the case when using cash.

Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich explain this phenomenon beautifully in Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them: “Credit card dollars are cheapened because there is seemingly no loss at the moment at the purchase, at least on a visceral level. Think of it this way: If you have $100 cash in your pocket and you pay $50 for a toaster, you experience the purchase as cutting your pocket money in half. If you charge that toaster though, you don’t experience the same loss of buying power that your wallet of $50 brings.”

The same stands true about using a debit card as well or for that matter a wallet account like Paytm, to purchase things. “In fact, the money we charge on plastic is devalued because it seems as if we’re not actually spending anything when we use cards. Sort of like Monopoly money,” the authors add.

Hence, as people don’t feel the pain of spending money, they are likely to spend more. “You may be surprised to learn that…you not only increase your chances of spending to begin with, you also increase the likelihood that you will pay more when you spend than you would if you were paying cash,”Belky and Gilovich write.

So how is all this linked to Uber? The area that I live in central Mumbai, uberGo, which works out cheaper than even a kaali-peeli taxi and is air-conditioned, is not so easy to get. On days I don’t find an uberGo I end up using an uberX which is more expensive than a kaali-peeli. And on a couple of occasions I have also ended up using UberBLACK, which is significantly more expensive than a kaali-peeli taxi.

The reason for this is straight forward. Since I don’t have to pay Uber in cash, I don’t feel the pain of paying and end up using a service which is more expensive than a kaali-peeli. In fact, since I am paying using a smartphone the pain of payment is even lower than when using a credit or a debit card, given that payment through a smart phone using a wallet is one more step removed from cash than a credit or a debit card.

This also explains why almost every e-commerce site wants you to shop using an app and not from their website. Since you may pay using a smartphone through a mobile wallet account, there is chance that you will end up spending more money.

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He can be reached at vivek.kaul@gmail.com)

The column originally appeared in the Bangalore Mirror on June 17, 2015 

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About vivekkaul
Vivek Kaul is a writer who has worked at senior positions with the Daily News and Analysis(DNA) and The Economic Times, in the past. He is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. Easy Money: The Greatest Ponzi Scheme Ever and How It Is Set to Destroy the Global Financial System , the latest book in the trilogy has just been published. The first two books in the trilogy were published in November 2013 and July 2014 respectively. Both the books were bestsellers on Amazon.com and Amazon.in. Currently he works as an economic commentator and writes regular columns for www.firstpost.com. He is also the India editor of The Daily Reckoning newsletter published by www.equitymaster.com. His writing has appeared across various other publications in India. These include The Times of India, Business Standard,Business Today, Business World, The Hindu, The Hindu Business Line, Indian Management, The Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle, Forbes India, Mutual Fund Insight, The Free Press Journal, Quartz.com, DailyO.in, Business World, Huffington Post and Wealth Insight. In the past he has also been a regular columnist for www.rediff.com. He has lectured at IIM Bangalore, IIM Indore, TA PAI Institute of Management and the Alliance University (Bangalore). He has also taught a course titled Indian Economy to the PGPMX batch of IIM Indore. His areas of interest are the intersection between politics and economics, the international financial crisis, personal finance, marketing and branding, and anything to do with cinema and music. He can be reached at vivek.kaul@gmail.com

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