Skip to main content

We Should All Carry Cash

Last year I wrote about why I started carrying cash with me most places I go. It's not that I never use my credit or debit card - I just don't use them for small purchases, like those under ten dollars. A few weekends I witnessed an incident that made me think that more people ought to operate this way.

I was in a hole-in-the-wall kind of place looking to grab some quick food. The woman in front of me ordered something and the total came out to about five dollars. When she tried to pay with plastic, the cashier pointed to a hastily made "cash only" sign on the wall and told her she couldn't use a card; at which point she became verbally hostile and said something like, "people don't carry cash anymore! Don't you know this is the 21st century?! How do you expect to make any sales if you don't take credit cards?" Ironic, of course, because there was a line of people behind her with cash ready and in-hand.

(from Flickr user maury.mccown)

It seems like we've gotten to a point where the big banks have effectively convinced a significant proportion of American consumers that it's the responsibility of merchants to accept credit and debit cards for any purchase of any size, under any circumstance, and they owe it to us under the guise of "convenience". What most of them also probably don't realize is that such an attitude contributes to inflation, and the "convenience" comes at a cost that we all pay for.

Consider this... the first year I lived in a college dorm, there was a big controversy (by dorm standards, anyway) about how much electricity and heat was being used in the building. I don't remember the exact monthly bills that were cited, but they were ridiculous. When the university's housing department kindly asked people to shut down their PCs at night and turn off the lights and TV when they went to class, many students responded by saying "screw you, I pay so much money to live in this dorm that I'm going to be as wasteful as I want to be." The attitude ultimately became self-fulfilling. One reason it costs so much to live in the dorm because utilities are so expensive, and because it costs so much, people are content with being completely and utterly wasteful.

I'm not suggesting that people ought to use cash for every purchase they make; but for the small ones, if people were willing to pay cash, because it's the right thing to do, we all would actually be better off.


Anonymous said…
Not to mention the ~2% interchange fee merchants must pay per transaction.

If Phoenix Cafe Grosses $2,000/day, and all customers pay with Visa, that's $40 that goes straight out the door each day.... Or $14,600 a year... or $146,000 in a decade.
Anonymous said…
Small-purchase credit / debit card use is immensely convenient when you're travelling through many governmental jurisdictions, many of which issue their own currency, and you're trying to keep track of your expenses; or, even in a single-currency environment, ditto. A cardslide, a tippytap on the GameBoy, and within the week the expense, denominated in your homebank's currency, is e-listed on a downloadable document and eminently reclaimable.

Over the last week business took me to Poland, Czechia, Austria, Hungary, and Great Britain. Yes, in Poland, for lunch, I sampled fried-cabbage-based treats from streetside vendors. Yes, in Hungary I visited an internet cafe to check e-mail and a cukraszda for a dish of ice-cream. But that was as exploratory as I got in those two countries, because on the same streets were the Colonel and Micky D. Where credit cards are accepted. In Czechia, Austria, and Great Britain -- want to sample the pastry, check the cuisine? The lady behind the counter swipes your card, and the purchase is made. It may seem paradoxical, but availability of point-of-sale funds transfer makes it easier to dip one's toe into a different culture.

"We should all carry cash, and we should all use it as little as possible." That's the rule by which I find myself living. What happened to the second half of your entry title?
Lis said…
I've also read that people are more careful with their money when they pay with cash. It's more tangible than handing someone a plastic card.

I read that when McDonalds switched from cash-only to allowing for credit cards that the average amount a customer spent there for a meal jumped from $4 to $7. That's huge.
Rob Pitingolo said…
This post has generated an unexpected number of nasty comments (none of which I approved here). I realize this is an emotionally-charged topic, and while I welcome dissent, I believe quality discourse cannot occur when participants are unable to respect each other.

Most people disagree with me on this question, and that’s just fine; but for the sake of not dealing with any more rude responses, I am closing the comments on this thread.

Popular posts from this blog

In Praise of Southwest's 'C' Boarding Group

A few weeks ago I saw a tweet from someone complaining that their Southwest Airlines boarding pass had been assigned A20 (meaning they would be at least one of the first twenty passengers to board the plane). Apparently this person though they should have been assigned a higher number, less their flight experience be considerably spoiled.

Despite the complaints, Southwest has resisted demands to assign seats on its flights, a decision which I personally applaud. I'll admit that I was skeptical when they rolled out the newest boarding procedure, assigning both boarding groups and a line number; but in hindsight it seems like one of the best operational decisions they've ever made. If nothing else, it effectively eliminated the infamous "cattle call" whereby fliers were getting to airports hours in advance and sitting in line on the floor as if they were waiting for the midnight showing of the new Star Wars movie.

When I was an intern at Southwest Airlines last winter, I…

So You Want to be a Southwest Airlines Intern?

My personal website must have pretty decent SEO - because in the past year, I've received about two dozen emails from aspiring Southwest Airlines interns looking to draw on my experience in search of their own dream internship. In the past two weeks alone a few new emails have already started rolling in...

(from flickr user San Diego Shooter)

If you've found your way here, you might be hoping for the silver bullet; a secret tip that will propel you above the competition. Unfortunately, I do not know any inside secrets. I can only share my experience as an internship candidate about two years ago and, rather than responding individually to future emails I anticipate to receive, I hope that potential interns will find the information posted here valuable.

Understand: Southwest Airlines is a very unique company. The corporate culture at Southwest is truly unlike that of nearly every other company. But you probably already knew that, since it now seems mandatory for every management,…

Commuting Meets Technology

I'm finally out of the dark ages. I got an Android smartphone over the weekend and have since been in the process of exploring the Android apps market.  One thing I've immediately noticed is the really wide range of usefulness in the apps. For example, the WeatherBug app is fantastic. It automatically determines your location and gives you exact conditions for that location. On the other end of the spectrum, Google's Goggles app is supposed to be a type of 'visual search' where you snap of photo of something and Google searches for it. In each of my attempts to use it, the app hasn't returned any search results. I even took a photo of a bottle of Pepsi (figuring it as a common houseful item) and got nothing.

Somewhere in the middle is this app called Waze. Have a look at their 'guided tour':

Some people might look at it and comment on the amazing evolution of technology or on the incredible value of social networks. To me, Waze says something important ab…