Pandemic has dethroned cash as the monarch of personal finance

Your parents say it, the experts say it, people who are wealthy say it – if you’re buying something, pay with cash, not credit. And even debit cards can come with hidden fees, they say.

But this crazy pandemic situation has us all tap, tap, tapping away for groceries, for gas, for a box of beer, and any of the other services we can actually spend money on. Could this represent a sea change for the use of cash, or is it just a blip? Save with SPP had a look around the Interweb for a little fact-finding.

Proponents of cash include Gail Vaz Oxlade, author and TV presenter who has long advocated for using cash for expenses, rather than adding to your debt.

“I’m a huge fan of hers and have read every book and watched every episode of Til Debt Do Us Part, Money Moron and Princess… the premise of the system is to use cash only (no plastic), storing it in envelopes or jars, sticking to a budget, tracking your spending, and once the money is gone, there’s no more until next month’s budget,” reports The Classy Simple Life blog.

It’s true – we have read her books and if you follow her advice your debts will decrease.

Other cash advocates include billionaire Mark Cuban. He tells CNBC that while only 14 per cent of Americans use cash for purchases (pre-pandemic), he sees cash as his number one negotiation tool. “If you want to take a yoga class, and they say it costs $30, say `I’ve only got $20,’” he says in a recent Vanity Fair article. More than likely, he notes, they’ll take the cash.

Cash is great because it is (usually) accepted everywhere, there’s no fees or interest associated with using it, and it has a pre-set spending limit – when your wallet is empty, you stop spending. But these days, cash is no longer sitting on the throne of personal finance.

Globe and Mail columnist Rob Carrick notes that more than six weeks into the pandemic he still had the same $50 in his wallet that he had when it started.

“Paying with cash is seen as presenting a risk of transmitting the virus from one person to another – that’s why some retailers that remain open prefer not to accept it. Note: The World Health Organization says there’s no evidence that cash transmits the virus,” he writes. In fact, he adds, the Bank of Canada recently asked retailers to continue to accept cash during the crisis.

A CBC News report suggests that our plastic money may indeed present a risk, and that the COVID-19 virus may survive for hours or days on money. The piece suggests it is a “kindness” to retailers to pay with credit or debit, rather than cash.

“Public officials and health experts have said that the risk of transferring the virus person-to-person through the use of banknotes is small,” reports Fox News. “But that has not stopped businesses from refusing to accept currency and some countries from urging their citizens to stop using banknotes altogether,” the broadcaster adds. The article goes on to point out that many businesses are doing “contactless” transactions, where payment occurs over the phone or Internet and there is not even a need to tap.

Putting it all together, we’re living in very unusual times, and this odd new reality may be with us for a while. If you are still using cash, it might be wise to wear gloves when you are paying and getting change. Even if you aren’t a fan of using tap or paying online, perhaps now is a time to get your grandchildren to show you how to do it. The important thing is for all of us to stay safe – cash may be dethroned for the short term, but things will eventually return to normal, and it will be “bad” to overuse credit cards again.

And if that cash has been piling up during a period of time when there’s precious little to spend it on, don’t neglect your retirement savings plan. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers a very safe haven for any unneeded dollars. Any amounts you can contribute today will grow into a future retirement income, so consider adding to your savings today.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

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