Cash, Credit, or… Does Anyone Still Write Checks?

The other day I was in Costco buying dog food.

Heck of a deal, 24 cans for $19.99. That’s less than a dollar a can — 83¢ to be exact — for good quality dog food. This is smart shopping in action, folks.

Since it was just the one item, I didn’t bother with a cart. Lines move fast at Costco.

Or at least, they usually move fast. When you’re holding a case of dog food, a case growing heavier by the second, it slows to a grinding halt.

I look ahead to see what the issue is: a woman writing a check. (Seriously? Who writes checks anymore?!)

I stare at her in disbelief. Surprised Costco even takes the things. (Several places don’t.) Also, I’m willing to bet the woman’s handwriting is immaculate. She takes such inordinate care with it.

I shift the now 300-pound crate in my arms. Finally she’s done. Her check noted in her register and the subtraction completed (good Lord!). The woman ahead of me checks out quickly. She uses her debit card. Zip, zip, she’s done.

My turn.

The clerk thanks me for my patience. I ask her how often she gets checks.

“Not often. Maybe two or three a month.”

She scans the case, tells me the total. I hand her a couple bills. “Oh, I might have change.”

She waits as I search for coins.

Only later did it occur to me how I slowed down the line nearly as much as the check woman.

It was about 17 years ago, almost to the day, that Husband and I switched to using cash for almost all of our daily transactions. We had recently moved to Phoenix, a local radio station played the Dave Ramsey show — maybe you’ve heard of it? — we decided to give his envelope system a try and was surprised how well it worked for us. We’ve been doing it ever since.

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However — lest you fear this is turning into a Dave Ramsey infomercial — I’m not saying it’s for everyone or even that it’s the smartest way to handle your money. I’ve heard many with different opinions.

Ryan, my cashier at Target, said he never uses cash. Not even for a candy bar. He said this after I declined his offer for a Target Red Card (5% off all purchases!).

“I never have to worry about cash getting stolen, ya know?” he said, as he took my money. “If you don’t carry it, they can’t take it.”

I could have pointed out that if someone takes my cash, they only have my cash. If someone takes his credit or debit card, theoretically, they could empty his account or at least make his life hellish for a little while.

Even so, Ryan the Target Cashier is not the only advocate for a cash-free society. There are many saying we’re headed there, it’s only a matter of time. Some countries, most notably Sweden, are nearly cashless now. Safety is the biggest advantage cited, as well as convenience and, yes, speed. But not everyone is convinced it’s the way to go, and since Americans do love their privacy, it’s unlikely I’ll have to switch to digital currency terribly soon.

Though there is that Bitcoin thing. (Does anyone understand how that works? Truly?)

The thing is, I like cash. I like putting all the bills in my wallet, in order, heads up of course. I like adding up purchases in my head as I’m shopping and taking a guess at the total before the clerk hits the button — I love it when I’m super close, like within a few cents, and am already handing the amount to the cashier.

Oh, the power of Math.

Even so, I will say that while using cash has been instrumental in helping us stick to a budget, for increasing our savings nothing has worked better than depositing everything into a savings account first, and moving only what we need for monthly expenses into a checking account. Also, money is moved automatically into a long-term savings account. All deposits and transfers done electronically, most without us doing a thing. Works like a charm.

So I understand people’s love of digital transactions. I expect they might feel a little less tied to their money, maybe a little more secure with their purchases. And if Ryan the Target Cashier thinks he does a fine job staying on budget, who am I to say otherwise? Nevertheless, for groceries and what-have-you, I’m sticking to cash only, please.

I will say this however: From here on out, I’ll knock it off with making exact change. That is my pledge to you, impatient Costco customer behind me.

Photo of billfold by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash
Featured photo my own (Yes, that’s my money)
(No, you can’t have it)