If you're like me, you started early. Maybe you can recall the days of creating mock registers in elementary school, which required keeping up with all of your purchases and balancing them out. Maybe you were one of the lucky ones who got an allowance and had to ration your few dollars and decide whether to save or spend. Or maybe you remember being at the gas pump, trying to get the total owed to stop based on the amount of cash you had in your wallet?

As our card and payment solutions get smarter (for instance, when machines start making purchases on our behalf), will we as a society become less so? And more alarmingly, will we stop paying attention to how much we spend?

A study by a group of PhDs at the University of Cologne shows that the answer may be yes, especially when paying with a card that serves multiple functions, like a credit card combined with identification features, a loyalty program or a similar dual purpose.

Using cognitive psychology and tracking 496 consumers' spending habits, the study found we may not remember or keep up with the exact details of the transaction as well. (Or in academic terms, our 'recall accuracy' is not so great.) With multi-function cards, participants had a harder time recalling exact dates and amounts spent using that card.

In other words, "Yikes!"

Technology tug-of-wars

Some might say this is the same effect that the smartphone revolution had on people's inability to remember new phone numbers. In some cases, that may be true, but last time I checked, failing to remember a friend's fourth new number has less severe consequences than not paying attention to your spending habits. One results in a "New phone, who's this?" text. The other results in overdraft fees.

"But it's so much easier to pay now," you say — and I agree. As a technologist, I really do love having a real-time bill and transaction record at my fingertips. However, in our non-stop, fast-paced society, we seem to have forgotten to take the time to keep up with our spending habits on our own.

In terms of smart cards, the horse is out of the barn. According to the group’s research, they've grown around 20 percent annually since 2000. So what's a buyer to do?

Heightened awareness for smarter spending

Smartcards for smarter spending

The first thing we could use more of is heightened awareness. Put another way, we need the same mindfulness that's involved with taking five seconds to write down your transaction in a ledger or count out your cash and coins.

This heightened sense of awareness and visualization is key, according to the researchers. They wrote that, "A precise recollection of past spending has an effect on the willingness to spend money in the future." In other words, we are more comfortable spending more if we have a solid understanding of our spending habits — and that includes the why and the where.

To solve for this, you could have your smart device make you sign off on a purchase via retinal scan to make sure you looked your total charges square in the face instead of potentially becoming distracted at the point of sale. You could also have a face-to-face chat with a real person via your mobile banking app to discuss options and spending habits.

You may ask, "Would it make life easier or more complicated?" But the perfect mix of technology and human touch is attainable — and needed.

In the end, this is just another opportunity to be transparent with customers. Helping them to understand how and what they spend can actually help them spend smarter. The research proves it.

Current trends show that by 2020, mobile wallets are expected to surpass the use of both credit and debit cards. New and useful technologies are being introduced in rapid succession. It's safe to say the digital economy is here to stay, if not rule, the majority of our future commerce. So we might as well be the best we can be at it — and that means both smart cards and smarter spending.