What Even Is Cash Anymore?

Do you still use cash? (Photo: Getty Images)

Laundry days are the worst. Not because I hate doing laundry—I love warm, fluffy, clean clothes—but because I need cold hard cash to use the machines at my local 24-hour laundromat. Legitimately, I’ve sat here for 20 minutes trying to think of anything besides laundry that I regularly use greenbacks for. I got nada.

How An Expired Bank Card Upended My Life

As Gizmodo's deputy editor I never expected to become the physical embodiment of 'old man yells at cloud' for anything tech related. And yet a few weeks ago I became my own worst nightmare.

My bank card expired, and a replacement didn't arrive for a month. Life became extremely difficult, extremely quickly. I subsequently found myself walking around mumbling about the evils of a cashless society. This is my story.

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Apple Pay. Credit cards. Venmo. PayPal. Zelle. Autopay. This is how I pay for my food, rent, bills, household goods—everything. Technology just makes it so easy for me to eliminate any need to drag myself to the bank or an ATM for physical currency. I can even pay with my Apple Watch. Plus, more of my favourite lunch spots have started sporting signs reading, “This establishment is now cashless.” Even the ABBA Museum in Stockholm is cashless. It’s a business trend that’s catching on like fire—one that’s criticised for being discriminatory.

Still, it’s not terribly surprising to see this recent Pew Research Center study, which found that 29 per cent of Americans make zero weekly purchases with cash. That’s a modest increase from 24 per cent in 2015, but the percentage of people who use cash for everything has dropped from 24 to 18 per cent in the same time period. According to the same study, just 53 per cent of Americans try to make sure they have cash on their person at all times—a seven per cent decline from three years ago.

So at least according to Pew, nearly half of Americans are feeling me on this cashless thing. After all, who has time to google the closest bank ATM? (Content doesn’t create itself, you know.) And while New York City is relatively safe, I don’t feel particularly comfortable walking around with more than $US100 ($139) on me anyways. Plus, large, cash-only transactions make me feel like I’m partaking in something très sketch. If I lose my wallet—and trust me, I’ve lost it twice in the past six months—I can easily cancel my credit cards, report any fraudulent purchases, and there’s nothing in there that can’t be replaced at a minor inconvenience. If I forget a purse full of ten crisp Benjamins on the Q16 bus like my auntie did, I can kiss that moolah goodbye.

That said, I’ve been wondering if my cavalier, cash-free attitude is a good thing. Recently, my partner and I were forced to scramble when a cash-only parking garage held his car hostage. (In our defence, the “Cash Only” sign was covered up by sticky notes in the window.) We had to beg a nearby friend to lend us $US25 ($35), run two blocks to get it, and then sprint back to the garage. I immediately paid my friend back on Venmo.

So should I learn my lesson and change my cash-hating ways? Or should I run full speed ahead toward a cashless future?

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