Fewer Americans Carry Cash Regularly

[A rare day with a few dollars on me]


A new survey by Capital One finds that most Americans don't really care all that much whether or not they have any cash on them. Here are the numbers:

  • 29% of us say we rarely or never carry cash
  • 41% say we regularly carry cash
  • The other 30% really don't pay attention -- cash or not, it's all good.
  • Of the 2000 people surveyed, 55% had less than $10 with them at the time of the survey (including 16% with no money at all)

So that's a majority of people who either don't carry cash, or don't really concern themselves with having cash on them. And of course, there's a good reason for this. We have our debit cards and credit cards, and even a small purchase is more convenient with a card. (Remember when we used to avoid credit cards for small purchases?)

A few weeks ago, we went to an island on Mexico's Gulf Coast called Isla Holbox; and that was a bit of a money culture shock. Not because we were spending pesos, but because we were actually spending cash. Few places took cards, and it brought back memories of when we always had to be aware of how much money we were carrying with us. Did we have enough to order dessert at the restaurant, for example? It's been awhile since we've had to think about those things, and I kept checking my money everyday -- just in case a trip to the ATM was needed. Ironically, one of the very few people who took cards on that trip was the guitarist who was serenading diners in town. Yes, the restaurant was cash only, but the guy who sang for us accepted American Express.

Back at home, there are fewer and fewer reasons to carry cash. Yet I can think of at least a couple of important reasons, like parking meters. In Mobile, the meters still take cash. More specifically, they take change. This old school way of doing things means we still have to carry some money with us, even if it's just left in our car's change holder. For what it's worth, there are now parking apps and meters that take credit cards in many cities; so eventually, this reason for carrying money will go away (please!). 

Most important, it's good to carry small bills for tips. Before we go on any trip, whether it's a big vacation or just a weekend in New Orleans, I'll get some money out of the bank and break it down into $5 bills and $1 bills. We'll leave a few dollars on the bed each morning for maid service. Housekeepers work hard for very little money, and while the majority of us still don't tip housekeeping, we really should. There are others who do little things here and there, who make things easier for us and make their living off tips; so we'll make sure they're taken care of. I actually worry about the future of workers in these jobs, because so few of us now carry much cash with which to tip them. 

On the bright side, the move to cards is probably directly responsible for a reduction in robberies. After all, why risk a jail sentence over someone who likely doesn't have more than a few dollars on them anyway? And of course, money is filthy! It's probably one of the most disgusting things we touch. I shudder to think of it.

Mostly, we'll be fine without more than a minimal amount of cash. (I can't remember the last time I had a $100 bill). But I still really like using cash when I'm traveling outside the country. I like to spend that country's currency; and somehow putting 1500 Mexican pesos on a credit card isn't quite as fun as having that colorful (and unique to me) money in my hand.



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