Cash has to be one of my least favorite inventions of all time. I avoid using it as much as possible.
This year we had a whole slew of currencies to deal with… UK pound sterling, Euros, Polish złoty, Swedish krona, and Norwegian krone. And maybe Icelandic króna on a layover… Plus a few US Dollars…
Every time we were about to switch currencies it became clear these pieces of colored paper were doing nothing but occupying space in my wallet. So we decided to make a real go of it – could we go completely cashless?
If I only listened to my high school history teachers, I would think that cash and coins were invented because the world was stuck in place due to the difficulty of barter. (Not true, debt and credit were the way of things.)
Even though we spend a lot of time in a largely cash economy (Taiwan), ignoring rent for the moment I estimate at least 75% of our transactions and 90%+ of our total spending are digital.
(Taiwan has a huge cash economy but it is changing quickly – even 7-11 accepts Apple Pay now. Even so, we’ve gotten really efficient at major cash withdrawals. And we still get some paper checks in the mail (from so-called Technology companies) that I deposit electronically… )
Still, we could do better. My dislike of cash is multi-fold.
We track every penny we spend. With cash, there is no automatic transaction record. Digital transactions are auto-recorded in your tool of choice (mint or personal capital, usually.) With cash you either end up with a giant pile of torn and mutilated receipts, or no record at all.
The taxi guy never has the right change and always takes 5 minutes to get it right (cue Uber.)
When you do get change, it is always in the form of bulky and heavy coins. Nobody wants coins, especially the currency conversion places.
Speaking of which, currency conversion is a huge scam. I was once quoted $10 to convert a mixed bag of about $20 worth of Mexican pesos, Thai bhat, and Phillippine pesos into Euros. (Bills only, sorry.) Credit card transactions always have a reasonable exchange rate.
There is always an ATM nearby somewhere, but this credit card and Paypal are right here right now. “Do you take Apple Pay?”
When you lose your wallet (or it is stolen) the only thing not replaceable is the cash.
Credit card transactions cost exactly the same as cash transactions, but you earn points and get 30 days of free float.
Stores prefer digital too… my local coffee shop gives a discount (~11%) for using a card instead of cash.
I could go on and on…
In Spain I withdrew 50€ from the ATM. One month and 5 countries later we still had most of it.
In Warsaw we stepped into a coffee shop to escape the heat of the day. It was a credit card only business (no cash, please.)
We entered Estonia (the “most advanced digital society in the world”) with 40€ in cash. We left with 40€.
Bus and tram tickets were purchased online or through an app, and cost half as much as paying cash with the driver.
Every restaurant and vendor accepted credit cards, and the transactions were quick and easy.
Cash wise, every country we visited seemed equally happy to avoid the paper and coins. Apple Pay was nearly everywhere.
It’s getting easier…
There were a few occasions where we (almost) needed to switch to cash…
In the middle of nowhere Norway, we stopped at a food truck for Thai food and Jr suddenly needed to use a bathroom… the public restroom had a subway style rotating security gate and a 10 kr entrance fee (~$1.25.) We had zero coins. Fortunately a Chinese tour bus had the same need and I used my limited Chinese to ask the tour guide to let us slip in with his group. (Ironically, per the guide, this gate had only been installed in the last week because of the Chinese tour groups…)
Elsewhere in Norway we needed to pay for parking. Cash was an option, but so was downloading an app and using Apple Pay. Another Norway challenge was gas pumps would only take cards with a PIN or cash. I opted for the debit card.
Vending machines – I tried to buy a bottle of water from a news stand in Stockholm, but it was cash only. I found a vending machine nearby that took a card and cost less.
Farmer’s Market – in Seattle a market vendor asked if we could pay with cash instead of card. But they didn’t have correct change for a $20 so used Square instead.
Street performers – anytime we stop to watch or listen to some street performers we give them a tip. Jr loves throwing coins into an open guitar case. Sometimes they sell CDs but we don’t have anything that would play one…
Taxi – in one case in Lithuania we paid cash for a taxi, because the driver was obviously a huge crook. (He was friendly enough, but “meter is broken”, “that street has heavy traffic”, etc… We used Uber and public transit for the rest of our stay.)
Tips – I prefer to tip with cash especially if the service is great. You never know how a restaurant treats its employees…
Charitable giving – if we are ever asked by somebody on the street for some change, I always give what I have. Sometimes that is food, but usually coins or small bills. No questions, no judgement.
Tolls – a toll booth in California was cash only (somewhere between San Jose and Sacramento)
Uncle Ike’s – some businesses are cash only for obvious reasons.
Rent – we still pay our rent in cash.
Getting rid of a currency – as we were getting ready to leave a currency (e.g. leaving the EU) we paid cash for some things just to get rid of it.
We made it through several countries this year without using cash, and avoided a couple ATM withdrawals and occasional excessive exchange fees as a result. We managed to skip some currencies entirely (Norwegian Krone and British Pounds.)
It’s definitely getting easier to go cashless, with more of our transactions and total spending becoming purely digital. This year was the first time I remember a business that was credit only. If we can move rent to online payments our transition will be nearly complete.