Business

Cash or No Cash?

June 15, 2022

In a constantly evolving economic landscape, how close are we to the reality of an entirely cashless society?

a person holds cash that is on fire

The pandemic caused us to shift the way that we do many things in the U.S. It forced most restaurants to offer some kind of a curbside pickup. It necessitated grocery delivery companies offering a contactless drop off option. And it catalyzed the accelerated pivot away from cash spending.

person washing hands

People were terrified to spend cash during the height of the pandemic for fear that the virus would spread via bills and coins, although there was no concrete evidence that any significant spread was happening via cash. At the same time, there was a national coin shortage. Certain business and bank closures effected the circulation of coins, and caused many businesses to refuse cash unless a customer could pay with exact change. But even as things return to some semblance of normalcy, many still are using less cash than before. According to data collected by the U.K.’s largest ATM cash machine network, 50% of people say they are using less cash than they were pre-Covid.

In the last few years, we have seen a boom in the variety of ways people can make a cashless or contactless payment. A city in China is even piloting a program to attempt to switch to 100% digital currency that is backed by the People’s Bank instead of a third party app. Whether you use Venmo, Zelle, ApplePay or even Bitcoin, the many ways to pay for something digitally are making it easier to choose those methods over pulling cash out of the bank and keeping it on hand.

ATM with screen reading: "ATM OUT OF USE DUE TO SOCIAL DISTANCING"

But are we really headed towards a 100% cashless society? While some people are afraid that this is our inevitable future, experts say it would be very difficult to do away with cash in the U.S. altogether. In fact it is widely accepted that the idea of a “less cash” society is far more likely. While in Sweden it is common to see “No Cash Accepted” signs on businesses, in cities like New York and San Francisco legislation has been passed banning businesses that refuse to take cash payments.

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The people who stand against the idea of a fully cashless future have many compelling points, but some that seem to verge on the plot of a dystopian novel. USA Today covered several viral Facebook posts on the subject. In the article they paraphrase the posts saying, “there will be no more money in birthday cards and no more odd jobs or side hustles for a few bucks. But it won’t stop there… in a cashless society, banks will have full control of every single penny you own and that everyone’s movements and actions will be traceable. All money will be taxed, and the government will decide what you can and cannot purchase.”

While this is a terrifying prospect, people are more often than not discussing the more reasonable sounding cons.

Among them are:

people using phones
  • Budgeting Issues: It can be much easier to spend extra money digitally or with a card than when you are forced to budget with a certain amount of cash. For many American’s who are experiencing the stress of inflation, budgeting is becoming more important than ever and cash can be a helpful tool for sticking to a strict budget.
  • Emergencies: In the event that the internet is not working, people still need to have a way to use currency. The ability to pull physical cash out of the bank is one many people still feel is a necessity. 
  • Lack of resources: Without cash there is a heavy reliance on smartphones and the internet. There are still many communities where access to these tools is difficult to obtain. In a society with zero cash, impoverished people would feel the weight of this change disproportionately more than the middle and upper classes.
  • Abuse: Cash is a tool that has many benefits. If a person finds themselves a victim of domestic violence they can often be controlled and abused financially because their abuser has sole control of all online accounts. Without cash there would be no way for someone secretly save money as part of a way to escape a bad situation.
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Although the cons seem pretty overwhelming, it is always important to listen to both sides of any argument. People on the pro side claim that there will be less crime because there is no money to steal or launder. Many businesses also like the idea of eliminating the costs of handling and storing cash. If this were to go away the costs and fees associated with accepting digital currencies would likely be less than many merchants pay to deal with cash. Many also claim that traveling would be far easier because exchanging currencies would be so seamless if done digitally, versus changing out stacks of cash and then coming home with an un-spendable form of currency.

person uses phone to pay for a service

While both sides have some merit, it seems like the idea of fully eliminating cash is one that is not going to take hold in America for many years to come. As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, I am sure we can’t even imagine what the future of money will look like. But for now we can enjoy the freedom of cash as well as the ease of the many digital choices for buying and selling.


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