Paper or plasticÖ the new debate

 

Have you heard the world is going paperless? Or, more specifically, cashless?

Chances are actually good that for most things, youíve already made the transition. Not completely. But a majority of the time. My guess is that if you pull out your wallet to settle a bill, more than half the time you are looking for a credit or debit card and not cash.

Roughly thirty years ago, I bought my first car. I have vivid memories of stopping at the bank more often after the purchase. Iíd be there to get twenty-dollars out of my checking account to pay for gas.

Usually I bring that story up to talk about the costs of the world. Because I would fill the tank of the car and then still have enough change from that twenty to grab a grinder at a local pizza shop or cover a single movie ticket. It was a glorious time. (Not the single movie ticket part. That was sad. But the car was pretty great.)

More to the point of this essay however, the story covers a different aspect of the world. I had to make the withdrawal. No gas stations accepted debit cards at the time.

Terry and I have been fortunate enough to travel a bit over the years. And we have encountered a few hotels that act as cashless properties. Honestly, itís nothing all that fancy. More of a charging-it-to-the-room scenario. Essentially you put a credit card on file when you check in, and for any purchases around the resort during your stay you either settle the tab with your credit card or have it added to your bill. But still, no cash involved.

The times, they are arriving in the future.

As a bit of full admission, a part of the cashless society canít come soon enough. Most of you probably know that currency is some of the most disgustingly dirty stuff you could ever handle. (Try not to think about it. Just shove it off to the side of your mind. Better off not letting it take over your thoughts.) So, yeah, yuck.

(And now that youíve had a moment to wash your hands or put away the PurellÖ)

I donít remember the last time I used cash at a gas station. I know I have. Iím sure I had a five or ten in my wallet, needed some gas, and decided to just pay with that rather than fill the tank. But I have zero memories of it. For any time in years that involves getting out and putting gas in the tank, my recollection says I took care of the transaction by paying at the pump.

The same rings true for paying the check at dinner, heading to the store for orange juice and bread, shopping for clothes and on and on. Weíve become so accustomed to the ability to pay with something other than cash, so spoiled by the convenience of paying with something other than cash, that often we find ourselves with little to no cash on hand.

When was the last time you used a gift card?

Seems like a simple and innocent question. We all get them, and all use them. Perhaps not often, but we are aware of what they are and how they work.

Do you ever feel pressured by them?

You walk into a restaurant or store with a $50 gift card. While looking over the menu or the merchandise, you begin to figure out how to use the $50. Perhaps the place was convenient for you, or maybe it wasnít your tastes. Do you want to try and save some for a future visit? Do you need to spend as much as you can because youíre not planning to ever return?

Did you feel pressure to figure out how to spend the $50? Did you need to go over that total so you had a small balance remaining that would allow you to put a tip on your credit card? Did you buy something you wouldnít have otherwise in order to use the full amount available?

If you work in a business that associates your service with gratuities, how do gift cards and coupons and such change the way customers tip? Do you have a preference on whether customers use cash or cards?

Itís an interesting scenario, this debate over cash. Some people never get receipts. There are people that donít trust banks. At all. And, for a variety of reasons, Iíve seen statistics that say approximately six percent of people eligible to have banking accounts of some type simply donít. Six percent use cash and nothing else. Not checks. Not debit cards. Not credit cards. They rely on cash being a universally accepted form of commerce.

Weíve all seen the cash only businesses. Thereís a good bakery near me that only accepts cash. A place I used to frequent for awesome sandwiches began accepting credits cards only because they were toying with the idea of adding limited delivery options. And, there are probably moments when youíve wandered into a business and suddenly wondered if they accept credit cards.

How often do you wonder if a place accepts cash?

Well, the time has arrived when itís something you might want to be a bit more aware of as you head out the door for dinner or a weekend away.

 

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com