One-man cashless society
London Guardian | April 3, 2007
We will be living in a cash-free society by 2012, if the chief of Visa is to be believed. But research shows 81% of people prefer paying by cash, and Jim Griffin is one of them. So how did he cope with a cashless existence? For one week Jim lived without coins and notes, only spending money on cards, and discovered that a cashless society is a long way off yet .
How will I cope?
Talk of a cashless society brings me out in hives - I feel nude without some notes and coins in my pocket. Naked and covered in weals - it's not a pretty image.
I have a debit card with my HSBC bank account, but it's generally only used to withdraw money. I've always used cash - it feels real. You take out £40 and see it dwindle before your eyes. You know how long it's got to last, you see what you're spending it on, you're occasionally distressed at how fast it goes, but at least you're in the know.
I also like the freedom it gives me to buy something when I want it - a magazine, some chewing gum - and I remain frustrated when caught out by the £10 minimum in a pub. I don't really want that appletini chaser, barman, but if it takes me over the threshold I'll have it. It's no coincidence that the only time I use my card is for big items - my monthly travel pass, clothes, internet shopping, train tickets. Then I don't have to admit it's gone until I check my statement online. I don't think I'd do it if I had to hand over that much in cash.
I suffered the ignominy of having my card cut up in front of me in an off-licence at university - one too many Switch transactions apparently. It always did feel like I wasn't really spending anything. That remains my biggest fear over the next week. Maybe I'll keep my receipts this time round ...
Sunday evening was a bottle of wine over Point Break, which left me a touch dry this morning (the wine, not the film). I realise I can't stop in the newsagent on the way to work for a can of Coke, and that the cash-only canteen and the office trolley man are also out of bounds for the next week. This is bad. I head out to the local market for lunch but realise all the stalls are out of bounds, as is Greggs, the deli, and the chippy. There's a Sainsbury's at the end of the road, which will surely take my custom. It does indeed, with no amount deemed too small. One average sandwich later and I resolve to buy enough food on my way home to make my lunches for the rest of the week. I go to Tesco and buy some baps, tins of tuna, a load of fruit and some crisps. I even get enough food for my tea over the next few nights and hand over my card to cover the £30 bill. Plastic has brought out the planner in me. Had I been using cash I would have balked at spending that much on food. As it is, I don't even blink.
I swoosh into work on a prepaid bus. I have a mountain of fruit at my desk that I merrily munch on all day. Lunch is a pre-prepared tuna sandwich with crisp accompaniment and more fruit. I swoosh home on another prepaid bus. I eat my tea, which was bought last night. I go to bed. I haven't spent a penny - utterly unheard of. I marvel at the efficiency of my plastic world and go to bed, perchance to dream of a brand new chip and pin card.
Plastic may have brought the planner out in me, but it's done little for my creativity. Lunch is tuna sandwiches, a bag of crisps and fruit. Again. I go to a gig in the evening - Tilly and the Wall, pop fans - and get accused of being cheap when I have to decline buying a round in the pub beforehand because I don't make the minimum spend. I rebuff this slur and am later vindicated, if a little peeved, when the bar at the gig venue charges me a whopping £14.40 for four cans of Red Stripe, easily surpassing the £10 minimum. The receipt is filed and I manage not to spend anything further that night. But only because kebab shops don't take Switch.
I must hold my hands up. I had a meeting over lunchtime that left me no time to nip out and buy something to eat (I couldn't face another day of homemade tuna sandwiches), so instead I went to the cash machine and headed down to the cafeteria. Curry day has never been so good, but my standards have admittedly been lowered by successive tuna lunches. I go to the theatre this evening - Boeing Boeing, thesp fans - where a friend is left buying the pre-show and interval drinks because they don't take cards. If this had been a date she'd have every right never to see me again. Come to think of it, she hasn't called me since. I partially redeem myself by finding a bar for a post-show drink that has no quarrel with card transactions.
I bin the bread I bought for the week, and the tuna stays in the cupboard. I'm eating out today. Lunch is sushi and salad from Tesco, which like Sainsbury's lets you put any amount on card. God bless the faceless multinationals! I go to a friend's leaving do in the evening in a pub. I invite trouble by putting my card behind the bar and starting a tab. As I leave I only half look at what I'm signing for. It's best that way. I'm also beginning to lose the paper battle - the receipts are pouring out of my pockets - and I've a terrible feeling I'm haemorrhaging cash.
I now realise that if I spend my entire time in a pub with three mates buying rounds I can forever hurdle the £10 minimum. The Man United-Liverpool game causes me no problems - average pub fare and a couple of shandies (this is a midday kick-off after all) are all paid for successfully. Heading out in the evening for a friend's birthday we go for a curry. Again, this is successfully navigated - restaurants are no strangers to splitting a bill over several cards. I've no idea how much I've spent today.
A day of rest. The local shop takes Switch at £5 and over, so the paper and some eggs, bacon and orange juice get me over the hump. I toast the end of a cash-free week later by heading to the supermarket for steak and wine. I'll count the receipts up later.
How did it go?
The first thing I noticed was how constraining it is to have to spend on card - you're forced towards the big chain shops that have the technology in place to handle plastic transactions. I couldn't spend any money with the people I usually would - small, independent stores that tend to be cash-only outlets. I don't know if I spent more than I usually would, but I felt less in control of my money. Just handing over a card each time isn't real enough for me. Even though I kept the receipts this time, I still didn't really look at them in any meaningful way. I need the reminder of having to go to the cash machine to make me feel like I'm spending anything.
Of course, a mix of cash and plastic is the ideal, and as we stand we're definitely not equipped to be a wholly cashless society.
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