Right now I only have $10 in my wallet. I know I’m a Broke Professional and whatnot, but I usually had more cash than that when I was an even more broke college student. That’s because I used to pay for everything with cash, including gas, which means I had to talk with those rays of sunshine who worked inside the gas station convenience store. Then I got my first credit card, which was a 5% gas credit card for BP, still a pretty good deal nowadays. As soon as I got to experience the convenience of credit cards (and got a little cash back for my regular spending), it was credit cards all the way for me.
And many others are going in that direction also. According to a recent survey at Bankrate, half of Americans surveyed carried less than $20 in their pockets (try buying a tank of gas with that). This shows that most Americans are opting to use credit or debit cards for their purchases. There are a number of reasons for this, but I think the biggest reason is simply convenience. Carrying a lot of cash (and God forbid, coins), can be cumbersome. Making a purchase of any kind is a lot easier with a credit card because you don’t have to fumble around looking for exact change (don’t you love getting stuck in line behind those people?) or find somewhere to put your coins which will end up getting lost under your car seat. Pulling out a solid rewards earning card for all of your purchases seems like the most efficient way to buy anything nowadays.
But having lots of cash in your wallet makes you feel like a high roller. Is there any better feeling than pulling out your wallet or your fancy money clip and seeing everyone’s eyes bulge out of their sockets as you count your cool stack of Washington’s? Yes there is something cooler, and that is going on your smartphone and checking your budget and knowing you have more than enough to spend with your credit card. The ability to do almost everything financially on your mobile device has really made needing cash a thing of the past. It is also easier than ever to pay for things with your mobile device as well. A number of big companies have apps to download where you can pay straight from your phone. There are also companies like Square and PayPal that make it really easy to pay for services. Companies that accept cash only are becoming more of a rarity than ever before.
Some argue, and there are even studies, that show people spend more when using credit cards than when using cash. I would argue that the people who do this don’t have a great grasp on their financial situation. Make no mistake, the credit card companies know that most people spend more when using credit cards and they want you to keep using their cards instead of cash. That’s because there are many irresponsible people out there who get caught in the credit card trap and end up paying month after month of interest to the credit card companies. Visa can continue to get rich off of those people and I will keep using credit cards for their rewards and being able to easily track my purchases. In my case, credit cards have become such a normal thing for me that I would probably spend more if I had cash because credit card spending seems “real” to me.
There are people in both the cash and credit card camps who are sure that there way is the path to financial salvation. The cash only camp is getting decidedly smaller over time, however, and we may be nearing an era when we will have hardly any incentive to use cash instead of credit.