Dissing Cash

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New poll results from the Pew Research Center show a large decrease in Americans’ use of cash in the last seven years. Forty-one percent of individuals asked by Pew in July about all their purchases “in a typical week (including things like groceries, gas, services, or meals)” indicated that they used cash to pay for none of those purchases. This is a big increase from just seven years ago. In answer to the same Pew query in 2015, the cashless spenders came in at 24 percent.

Meanwhile, there was a big decline in the percentage of polled individuals who answered that they used cash for all or almost all such purchases. In 2015, that was the answer of 24 percent of polled individuals. In July of this year, these cash devotees came in at only 14 percent.

The percentage of people who gave the middle ground answer that they used cash for some of the purchases dropped from 51 percent to 44 percent over the seven years.

These poll results are concerning because moving away from using cash for purchases tends to bring with it moving away from privacy. Credit card and cashless payment systems leave a trail of who bought where, and often what was bought as well. Cash transactions, in contrast, tend to leave no trace in databases of what particular purchasers did.

The danger of digital trails of purchases was recently highlighted when credit card companies put in place the means for tracking purchases at gun shops. This tracking can be used to launch investigations of and take actions against such purchasers even though the right to keep and bear arms is explicitly recognized in the United States and state constitutions. Similar targeting of individuals could be undertaken because of their purchases at businesses that provide other products that may be frowned upon by government and corporate interests as politically incorrect, against the “green agenda,” or somehow suspected of being related of bugaboos du jour such “white supremacy” and “domestic terrorism.”

One big change over the last seven years is the rise in businesses, including entertainment venues such as sports stadiums, going “cashless.” This has increased the pressure on people to reduce their use of cash. If you value privacy, you can look for alternative places where cash is accepted. Places refusing your cash can push, but you can often step out of the way, opting to shift your purchases to alternative places where your cash is accepted.

By the way, here is another advantage of using cash more for purchases. Doing so can advance frugality, helping individuals pay down debts, avoid overspending, or make more money available for funding investments and dealing with emergencies.

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