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.

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 favorite 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 criticized for being discriminatory.

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Still, it’s not terribly surprising to see this recent Pew Research Center study, which found that 29 percent of Americans make zero weekly purchases with cash. That’s a modest increase from 24 percent in 2015, but the percentage of people who use cash for everything has dropped from 24 to 18 percent in the same time period. According to the same study, just 53 percent of Americans try to make sure they have cash on their person at all times—a seven percent 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 $100 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 defense, the “Cash Only” sign was covered up by sticky notes in the window.) We had to beg a nearby friend to lend us $25, 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? Tell me—do you still pay for things with cash, or like me, are you mostly digital?

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About the author

Victoria Song

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.