Why do I still have to carry cash?

By glblguy

Cash Only
Photo by: Andrew Ciscel

I’m trying really hard to stop using cash. But it seems no matter how hard I try, I run into some situation that requires cash. Some weeks back, we decided to take a ride on the new light rail system our city recently built. I did all the research online on where the stations were located, how to get there, and even how much it would cost. On the price page, both the Visa and Mastercard logos were prominently featured. Great, I can just use my debit card.

We gathered (pun intended) the kiddos together and headed to the station. We arrived, walked up the station and over to the fare booth to purchase tickets. To my surprise, they didn’t take debit cards yet, and won’t for a few more months. There we are, train is pulling up and me with no cash. Kids are yellow “Dad! Dad! The trains coming, hurry up!” I looked at the lady in the booth, “Is there an ATM here in the station?“. Thinking surely there would be. “No, sorry.” she replied.

I looked at my wife and kids and said, “Well, I’ll be back in a few“. Off I headed to find an ATM, thinking there would be one right outside the station. Not! I ended up having to drive a good 10 minutes up the road finally finding on one at a run-down convenience store, which of course had a $3.00 ATM fee! We ended up being able to catch the next train and had a wonderful time, but my trip for cash was an unexpected surprise.

I continue to be surprised at the number of places that still don’t accept debit cards. Granted, it’s getting far better, but we still have a ways to go. Ironically enough, I work for a bank and the cafeteria in the bank building where I work only takes cash. Now fortunately, being a bank there are plenty of ATMs, but I wonder, how hard would it be to take Visa or Mastercard??

I don’t like cash. It makes my wallet thick, my pockets heavy, it smells funny, and frankly is kinda gross. Have you ever considered where that money you’re carrying has been and what it might have been exposed to? I’m not a bacteria or germ freak, but I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on the bacteria count of a well used $1.00 bill?

I would be just fine only using my handy little debit card. It’s small, payment is easy, and the transaction is automatically logged for me so I don’t have to keep the receipt or even type it into YNAB. I just download and import.

Why can’t we just get rid of cash all together? We would save trees, reduce government costs for making money, and thin up millions of wallets around the world! With today’s technology here in the US and other modern countries, everything should be able to take debit cards right? So why do I still have to carry cash?

How about you? Do you prefer cash, credit card, or debit card? Ever been in a situation like mine? Can we get rid of cash? Share your story and perspective and add a comment!

38 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Why do I still have to carry cash?”

  1. SingleGuyMoney Says:

    I try not to carry cash as much as I can. I agree that it is really dirty and weighs down the wallet. It’s also much harder to track where your money goes.

  2. Laura Says:

    There are some places by my old apartment that only take cash. These are mom and pop restaurants. I love the food, so I carried cash just in case I stopped by. :)

  3. Tim Says:

    Wouldn’t save any trees really :)

    What are paper notes made of and which company manufactures the paper for the U.S. notes?
    All U.S. notes are made of 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen. This special paper is made by the Crane Company, Dalton, MA, which created it for the Treasury in 1879 and holds the patent.

  4. Kacie Says:

    I can’t stand cash, either. I use Mint.com to manage my money, which doesn’t have the ability to account for cash easily.

    I keep $15-20 cash in my glove box in case I’m out and absolutely need cash only.

  5. Sonyia Says:

    I don’t like cash either. I almost never have it. I’ve been that way for at least the past 10 years. I use Quicken and by using my Check Card I can track every last dollar spent this way very easily. My husbands check is direct deposit and almost all of our bills are on EFT withdrawl. I love the ease of it all!

  6. Lynnae Says:

    I never ever have cash on me. And I got burned once too, when I was grocery shopping and the debit machine wasn’t working. I had to choose between paying the ATM fees or start my grocery shopping all over. I had my 5 year old with me, so I ate the fees.

  7. Trent Hamm Says:

    I use a credit card for everything because they seem to be accepted ~everywhere~, then I just pay off the full balance each week – it’s part of my Sunday routine. It seems to work well for me.

  8. PT Says:

    I carry a little cash to avoid all those little reciepts and to avoid situtation similar to your above.

  9. hickss Says:

    We carry cash for purchases such as groceries, dining out, clothing, and entertainment. You spend on average 12 – 18% more money when you use plastic. I don’t even have a CC, and only use debit card for gas and to take cash out for envelopes.

  10. KMunoz Says:

    I hate having to carry cash. It’s annoying to keep track of and I find I buy small, impulse purchases a lot easier when I have it on me. If I have to whip out my debit card, I tend to forgo buying a coffee or a bag of chips at lunch or something.

  11. Laura Says:

    I can’t agree more! I hate carrying cash, and rarely do. It’s so frustrating when you’re at a place that only takes cash, and then you can never find an ATM around that won’t charge you the fees!

  12. sara l Says:

    I’m a credit card (paid in full monthly) girl. Cash seems to flow away from me when I use it and I hate carrying change around. To deal with the issue you had at the train station I keep a bill tucked into the back of my wallet. It starts with a 20, becomes a 10, and then a 5.

    When I’m out and need cash I tend to run to a drug store and do a cash back transition on my card. I figure if I’m going to have to pay for the transaction I might as well get a pack of gum out of it.

  13. Kristen Says:

    I rarely have more than $5 in cash on me. I don’t use credit cards, only my debit card. I went to a hockey playoff game last night and was surprised to discover the vendors don’t take debit/credit cards. I’m not talking about the guys walking around the Igloo, I mean the food vendors that have cash registers. Who with a cash register at a major venue doesn’t take plastic? And don’t even get me started on the food prices … You practically have to take out a loan for nachos and a Coke!

  14. No Debt Plan Says:

    I don’t carry cash for purchasing purchases. In fact, I have three different currencies in my wallet just because I didn’t know where else to put them: 1 US dollar, 20 pesos, and 15 British pounds. :)

  15. deepali Says:

    I find that I spend cash like I’ve got tons of it. I’m much more responsible with a debit card/credit card. I would love if everyone took debit cards (my cafeteria will FINALLY be adding swipers).

    I recently lost my wallet, and luckily I got it back, with everything intact. Except the cash. It wasn’t a lot, but once you lose cash, it’s gone.

  16. Becky@FamilyandFinances Says:

    I also avoid using cash. I usually keep $20 in my wallet, just in case. It usually sits in there for weeks before I end up in a situation where I actually need it.

    I use my credit card for everything and pay the balance in full each month. I use a cash-back card. I love getting cash back!

  17. Gina Says:

    Right now I am working to pay off debt, so I am living in a cash environment – for the reason “hickss” mentioned … I would spend more using plastic of ANY kind, includijng my debit card. Since my savings account is attached to my debit card, I would think of it as another credit card and spend as much as I wanted (not needed). Living on cash is painful; once it is gone that is it! However, living this way has helped me wean myself off of credit cards. I am more aware of what I have and what I don’t.

    Once I get the behavior corrected AND my debt paid off, I can see the use of using only plastic.

    I would like to see a comment from a merchant/vendor about the use of MC/Visa/AmEx/Discover. I know there are fees associated with the use of credit cards – merchants pay a fee for our convenience, which I’m sure gets passed on to the consumer.

  18. stngy1 Says:

    I have one $20 bill. If I use it (an “emergency”) and have “paper” change I swing by a new ATM, deposit the bills, and pull out a 20. Coinage goes into a piggy bank we take to Coinstar once a year for a Amazon GC. All this on the same day. This way I have my paper trail, kind of do the BoA trick of rounding up for savings, and make it a bit of a pain which makes me think twice ’bout using the money. We keep a few quarters in the car for whatever.
    Two current uses for coins do come to mind:
    Laundromats and parking meters. I know parking meters are switching over; what about all those other coin operated machines (e.g., at laundromats)?

  19. Peter Says:

    I’m with you on this one – cash (and checks for that matter) should just go away. I hardly ever carry cash, i use mainly debit cards. When i carry cash i tend to spend it, and not keep track of it as well. Using the debit card allows me to more closely track our expenses, and make sure we know where money is going.

    We do know some people who are using the envelope system where they actually pull all their money out in cash every month and put it in envelopes. I don’t know if I could do that. I think i’d rather do a “virtual enveloping” type system.

  20. Erin Says:

    I try to not carry cash mainly because I end up spending it and having no idea where it went or anything to show for it. Plus, it’s just easier for me to not have to lug around all the bills and change. Being a mom with two littles I have enough to carry around. :)

  21. Eden Says:

    I used to be somewhat anti-cash, but I’m changing my tune recently. I needed to buy lunch at the cafeteria by my office and their credit card system was down. As I had to stand there and leave without my lunch I thought how dumb it was that I didn’t even have a couple of bucks to pay for food. Since then, I visit the ATM at the start of every week and make sure I always have some pocket money.

    I now think of it as the ‘not looking like you are too broke to buy cafeteria food’ fund. :)

  22. Jordan Says:

    My debit/ATM card is a Visa Check Card, which means it can be processed just like any Visa credit card, but debits my checking account. You may want to check with your bank to see if you can get this kind of card… or if you already have one (the card will have the credit card company name/logo on it), next time just ask the cashier to process it like a credit card.

  23. MITBeta @ Don't Feed The Alligators Says:

    I’ve had a $1 bill in my wallet for about a week. I don’t spend cash unless I absolutely have to, but usually have <$40 in my wallet. I get cash when I think I’ll need it, but I use my rewards credit card for everything I can, no matter how small the transaction.

    This particular card still has a 0% interest rate for the first year, so I’m up to a balance of about $30,000, all of which I have sitting nicely in my Money Market account earning a nice return.

    Sometimes credit cards have their advantages…

  24. CindyS Says:

    From a merchant’s point of view, taking credit cards and debit cards is expensive. Not only do I pay a percentage of the sale but I also pay a monthly fee. Debit cards are a set fee per transaction which is great if they are large transactions but not so great if they are small ones. All totaled up I probably wind up paying about 5% of each credit or debit card transaction. I offer it as a convenience for my customers but I grit my teeth when I have to pay the monthly fee.

  25. Mrs. Micah Says:

    I rarely use cash. I actually take debit card money more seriously as money because it’s so easy to track and see what I’m spending.

  26. Frugal Dad Says:

    I wonder how many postures have been ruined sitting on a thick wallet all day long! And I think you are on to something with the dollar bill germ angle.

  27. Esther Says:

    I use my debit card most frequently. Currently I am debating if I should start using my credit more so I get more points. Points are converted to groceries. The problem with that is that I seem more controlled when I spend using my debit card.

    I find I have to pay cash for babysitters, buying something used from online (our community swap shop), parking meters, I always pay cash for tithe (because I don’t like using cheques). A while back I know that some retailers charged a fee for debit use if it was under $5, but I haven’t noticed this in a while.

  28. Ron@TheWisdomJournal Says:

    I’m like you, I hate to have to carry it, but in my neck of the woods, there are still a lot of places that don’t take debit or credit cards. I usually keep around $100 or so just in case. I do a lot of business travel and don’t want to find myself in an area that I really need some cash but don’t have access to it.

  29. AnnMarie Says:

    I’m a credit card person–paid off every single month. Never owned a debit card; never wanted to use one. My husband is so much better with cash. When he doesn’t have his spending money in cash, he ends up spending it over and over again with a credit card. I prefer to not carry cash, as it’s something to keep track of. but I’d feel weird paying for a 40 cent stamp with a credit card (and my local post office outlet doesn’t take CCs anyway) or a $1 candybar at the convenience store. My husband also prefers us to leave cash tips when we go out to eat. So I always keep some cash around for things like that.

    One of my friends was like my husband. She explained it this way: Let’s say she needs to pay the electric bill, go grocery shopping, and buy clothes. If she has the actual cash in hand, she can set it out and say “$60 for bill. $20 for groceries. $20 for clothes.” With it just on a bank account balance, she thinks “I have $100 for the bill and $100 for groceries and $100 for clothes.” and goes and spends it three times over. I suspect a debit card would feel the same to her, but she didn’t use one.

  30. Jonathan Says:

    I can’t believe people’s aversion to cash. As one person said, it’s expensive for merchant’s to accept credit/debit cards. And do you think the merchant is going to eat that expense? No. They pass that down to us in the form of higher prices, which is why at some places, you can still get discounts when paying by cash.

    I can’t wait for the day when there’s a mass failure of some credit card network and everyone is completely stranded because of the mentality that cash is “inconvenient.” Like Eden was saying above when she couldn’t even buy lunch because the credit network was down at the cafeteria.

    Among other reasons, I use cash because I don’t like all my purchasing habits and history being logged in some database in the sky. I am a very privacy aware individual (not a crazy conspiracy theorist) and I think where I patronize and what I purchase is my business. Everything being accessible by computer is not necessarily a good thing. Look at the TJ Maxx and Choice Point data breach’s, just to name a couple of the dozens that happen every year. I’m perfectly fine with merchant’s who want to take plastic, but I only ask they continue to take both.

  31. BankerExtreme Says:

    I am not a cash user either. I am very fond of my little plastic friend. It comes right out of my checking account, but I do see some reasons why cash is still used instead of just plastic. First of all there are many people in the world who cannot qualify for a bank account or a credit card, so cash is a way of life. Second there are many banks out there that still charge to ust an ATM or debit card for everyday purchases, much less the convienience charge of so many little shops or diners that have the easy $0.45 service charge. Its not only expensive for the consumer but the merchants as well. Thirdly working at a bank, I can’t tell you how many times a day someone comes to me wanting a fee reversed because they couldn’t keep track of how many times they did use their debit card. Many people don’t have the responsibility to make good use of a card, so to eliminate cash completely probably would not happen. :)

  32. glblguy Says:

    Jonathan said: “I canÂ’t wait for the day when thereÂ’s a mass failure of some credit card network and everyone is completely stranded because of the mentality that cash is “inconvenient.”

    Jonathan, I get it you don’t like plastic, but not sure I would wish something terrible like that on everyone.

  33. Jonathan Says:

    I understand that may be a little harsh, but sometimes certain drastic events are necessary to enlighten people and cause them to rethink their decisions. You would think data breaches like TJ Maxx that had some 45 million credit and debit users information stolen would wake some people up. Just wait til people start using the contactless credit cards that you’re starting to see everywhere.

    Either way, I apologize for my harsh comment. However, I’m pretty sure I didn’t state that I wished any one to encounter actual physical harm of any sort.

  34. Lee Says:

    I sure understand the convenience of the debit card and the recording of our transactions, but I still prefer to have some cash put aside. I guess because I lived through Hurricane Katrina and the nightmare of having all electronic transactions and banks inoperable. We wouldn’t have made it through the first week if we hadn’t had cash on hand to buy what little gas and food we could find.

  35. Tom | Easy Googler Says:

    If you think about it, the clerk that takes your debit card has already touched many well-used one dollar bills that day.

    Even if (s)he hasn’t, when you type in your PIN, or take the pen to sign your name, you’re getting all the germs anyways. Sometimes I have to wonder if my credit card is dirtier than cash…