I set myself a resolution last year – go 12 months without using physical cash. No coins, no notes, no gold bullion, no cheques. I attempted to do all my spending on credit card, Direct Debit, and bank transfer (BACS).
It worked! Mostly… Here’s where it didn’t work, and what I learned from it.
Went to Hong Kong and withdrew £100 in local currency. Was completely unnecessary. Everywhere took card / contactless. We didn’t stray away from the tourist trail, which may have helped. Carrying cash had a mixed effect on my anxiety. I was slightly nervous about getting mugged, but that was offset by knowing we could jump into a cab if we encountered any local difficulties.
Similarly, we went to Australia and took out the same amount of cash. We were driving in some fairly rural locations – although not the outback! – and wanted a small safety net. Again, completely unnecessary. Everything from parking meters to tiny ice-cream stands took contactless.
Spoke at a conference in Denmark. Was only a quick visit, so didn’t take cash. Tried to buy a chocolate bar and drink in the train station, but was told my card wouldn’t be accepted. I wasn’t sure if it was the small sum, a foreign card, or something else. Bit weird, but the rest of the trip was fine.
Countless trips to the EU. I already had some € coins and notes. The first few times I took them – but they were never needed. Even in small bakeries my card or phone were accepted.
This was a horrific situation. I was due in hospital to undergo a surgical procedure and the minicab driver was screaming at me to pay him in cash. We’d booked the night before and paid in the cab firm’s app. What we hadn’t realised is that they’d outsourced the job to a different firm, who’d outsourced it to yet another firm. Somewhere along the way, the driver wasn’t told it was a pre-paid fare.
We couldn’t get hold of any of the firms so, reluctantly, we had to take cash out of an ATM using our credit card. We didn’t have a debit card with us – because we never use it.
The cab firm eventually gave us a refund, and the credit card company agreed not to charge us their usual extortionate interest rates for cash withdrawal.
Lesson learned – always take a taxi which is required to accept card, or confirm with the driver before travelling.
Most of the lunch stalls near my work take card. The ones that refuse don’t get my custom.
Except for this amazing salad bar round the corner. I took out a couple of fivers to pay for a massive box of salad. I did ask the owner a few times if he’d consider taking card. He said the only way he could keep the price low was with minimal overheads. Considering how long the queue was to pay – which often prevented people entering the venue – I think it’d pay back quickly. But it’s not my position to tell him how to run his business.
LOL! I haven’t paid with a cheque in years. Annoyingly, a few companies decided to send me refunds via cheque. My bank account doesn’t have any local branches. So I either had to post them off, or use my backup bank. I think I’ll start having to charge a cheque-processing-fee for old-fashioned companies.
I suspect that companies send out refunds by cheque because they know it’s a pain. I bet lots of them go uncashed.
Odds and Sods
Our local off-licence tried to charge us an illegal card-fee. So I walked out and left the bottles on the counter. Then reported them to Trading Standards.
Similarly, a few places have insisted on a minimum transaction amount – this is against the terms of most providers. I’ve either picked up some sticks of gum, or bought elsewhere.
I received a few paper vouchers for a department store. They all had redemption codes, so I could use them online.
All of the plumbers and electricians I dealt with either accepted card or gave me their BACS details. A couple of clicks later and they were paid.
For group events at work, no-one wanted to deal with cash. We either transferred the money directly to whoever was organising things, or each paid separately.
Things I wasn’t able to do
The UK doesn’t have much of a tipping culture. I used to round up the bill, or add a fiver, if I was paying cash. These days, most places have a button on the credit card terminal with a suggested gratuity amount, or a free-form entry. I resent being forced to tip, so this seems like a sensible solution. Perhaps my tips don’t go directly to the staff? That’s not really my problem. Does that make me an arse?
No cash-in-hand discounts. Again, there’s not much of a haggling culture in the UK. Occasionally I’ve been able to say “What’s the best price you can do” but no money off for undeclared income.
Donating to charity. I don’t give to people in the street, and I don’t put coins in buckets. The majority of my charitable spend goes via Payroll Giving for tax purposes. But, most charities take contactless now:
Nifty! Charity using NFC payments to solicit for donations. pic.twitter.com/4hag3gzVET
— Terence Eden (@edent) May 31, 2017
Oh no! Someone can track my spending!!! I literally don’t care. Middle-aged bloke spends too much on beer and electronic gadgets. Shock. I catch the same train to work each day. Scandal!
Perhaps I’m being naïve. I’m not involved in anything revolutionary or seditious. I’m not buying illicit pharmaceuticals or private entertainment services. Maybe I’m complicit in bringing forth a dystopia – but I place a high value on convenience.
Please argue in the comments about why I’m wrong.
In the UK, if you live in a city and have a credit card, it is absolutely possible to live without cash. I’m lucky that the public transport options where I’ve lived are modern and accept contactless.
With the exception of an angry taxi-driver, no one has been upset that I didn’t want to use cash.
The vast majority of my transactions were via Google Pay. I waved my phone near the terminal, and the rail barriers open as if by magic.
Foreign travel was painless – but we weren’t exactly going off the beaten track.
Tracking my own spending using Money Dashboard became much easier. We can look at our household budget and quickly see where we’re wasting money.
So, could you go cashless for 2020? If not, what’s stopping you?