Skip to Content
http://www.wgbh.org/authenticate/login
wgbh News

Listen
Callie Commentary | Jan. 14, 2019

What Does The Future Of Cash-Free Look Like?

(Required)
Anfisa Kameneva /EyeEm/Getty Images/EyeEm
Listen
Callie Commentary | Jan. 14, 2019

My father was known for his homespun witticisms, many of which made no sense to my sister and me when we were younger. Apropos of nothing it seemed he would crack,” Well you know, if you have a dollar in your pocket, can’t nobody make you mad.” It took years to figure out that bit of rural Mississippi wisdom meant it’s really hard to make somebody angry who is flush with cash at the moment.

Daddy might have to tweak his favorite saying these days, not because the overall meaning is any less true, but because fewer and fewer people have actual dollars in their pockets. Cash dollars. Used to be that retail outlets and restaurants which only accepted cash were out of the ordinary — mostly mom-and-pop shops with hand-lettered, homemade notices on poster board. One of my favorite local take-out places offers a discount if I pay with cash, the same with some gas stations. But, we cash-paying patrons are an ever-shrinking group now, as most people either tap or swipe their payments and never carry cash.

I’ve been watching this happen as the XY alphabet generations have turned to the internet to navigate every aspect of their lives, and as banking services like credit and debit functions are increasingly available through companies other than banks. Plus, I recently learned that there is no federal law which mandates the use of cash. Add to that less need for physical money interactions and we’re moving toward a wholesale cashless society — one in which cold, hard cash is no longer the gold standard. Even though I enjoy the ease of paying with my debit card, I prefer cash I can hold in my hand in general, and specifically as a way to keep my spending in check.

Most consumers still carry some cash, if only a little: Just over half of all cash transactions are $10 or less. Retailers say not only is cashless a natural evolution, but it is also helping to improve onsite security. Security and efficiency are two reasons the MBTA is moving closer to a limited cash payment system later this year with a new tool called AFC 2.0. No more paying with cash on the bus or train. Passengers will be able to “tap and board at any door with a fare card, smartphone or contactless credit card.” They will only use cash to reload their balance on a card or device. But here’s the problem: A good percentage of the people who use the T don’t have a debit/credit card or a smartphone. They’re caught in a technological bind — they can’t afford the newest cashless tech, but they also can’t afford not to be able to ride the bus or subway.

I’m uncomfortable about the cashless creep which is gradually taking away my ability to decide when and how to pay. Thank goodness I live in Massachusetts. It’s the only state that requires cash be accepted as well as debit/credit cards. That’s a relief because, for me, there is nothing as satisfying as pulling out an Andrew Jackson twenty. And when there are more than few in my purse, I’m always in a pretty good mood.

WGBH News coverage is a resource provided by member-supported public radio. We can’t do it without you.
Expand