There’s a vintage gag sign that shopkeepers with a sense of humor used to post that read, “In God We Trust. All Others Pay Cash.” Not anymore.
In my car console, I keep a baggie of quarters to feed parking meters, and a separate baggie of dimes, nickels and pennies that I grab by the handful if I’m going into a store where I will pay cash. Yet I often forget to grab the small coins, and parking meters are being upgraded in places like Pleasantville and Peekskill to accept cards.
It’s as if any collection of change these days is a rare coin collection. What’s also rare is the retailer who doesn’t accept a debit card, even for smaller transactions.
As was predicted decades ago, in a famous line from Dustin Hoffman’s breakout movie “The Graduate” (based on a book by Charles Webb), plastic’s where the money is.
Each day, I find myself spending less money in the form of cash. Instead of lugging my wallet everywhere, I fold whatever bills I have, slide my debit card between them, and hold it all together with a tie clip that was a gift from my daughter Elissa. I don’t wear ties, but the “Love You, Dad”-engraved pin is always on my person in the form of a very functional money clip.
Even my debit card does not come out as often as it once did. Smartphones now are used to pay for a growing number of “app”-etizing goods and services. For quick-service restaurants like Panera, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, my fingers nimbly tap dance on the screen to pre-order and pre-pay before I get there. Then, my feet take over as they tap dance to skip the line. I pick up my goodies and bolt, without going near a cash register.
For toll roads like the Hudson River crossings between New York and New Jersey, staffed booths are quickly being replaced by cashless and even gateless E-Z Pass lanes. The Henry Hudson Parkway toll plaza is exclusively E-Z Pass. Motorists who pass through that Bronx plaza without the plastic device are charged nearly twice as much for a toll as an E-Z Pass holder; the Port Authority of New York tracks you down by automatically capturing your license plate image and mailing you the bill.
While the Port Authority charges more when you pay cash, some gas stations charge less at the pump when you do pay cash (or with a debit card). The reason is the same in both cases: It costs the government money to employ toll takers who handle cash, and it costs retailers money to process credit cards.
“I think we are sort of on the edge of seeing more and more businesses that don’t take cash.” That’s what economist Jay Zagorsky of Ohio State University told newspaper USA Today last year, as quoted in a story whose headline asked if we’re headed for a cashless society.
Other monetary experts interviewed by the publication have similar views on the steady, if slow, disappearing act that cash is making in our culture. Federal Reserve Bank economist Paul Traub explains in the same article that unless a state legislates otherwise, a business does not have to accept cash payment for goods for services. No federal law requires it.
Another economist whom USA Today spoke with, Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff, isn’t calling for a cashless society. He’s calling for a “less-cash” society. One suggestion he posits is reducing the number of $100 bills in circulation.
At the other end of the legal-tender spectrum, reducing, or even eliminating, pennies in circulation is an idea gaining currency among monetary experts. Who would argue that making fewer cents makes sense?
What might the future hold for advanced forms of payment? With voice recognition expected to dominate activities like online search, it’s already becoming viable to merely utter the dollar amount of a transaction for it to take place.
Can payment by mind control be far behind? Except it’ll cost a lot more than a penny for your thoughts.
Bruce Apar is chief content officer of Google Partner Agency, Pinpoint Marketing & Design, as well as an actor and a regular contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce the Blog on social media. Reach him at email@example.com or 914-275-6887.