Skip to main content

Cash habit makes cent an old friend

Remember Wimpy in the Popeye cartoons saying he would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today?

If he had had a credit card, that is essentially what he would have done without being a mooch.

But times change. The financial plumbing that makes our world go round keeps evolving.

Credit cards are essential in the economy.

I have been feeling like an outlier in recent years because I continue to pay for many of my routine daily expenses with cash – doughnut run, lunch, gasoline, etc.

In part I do this out of habit, but also because I want to see what is circulating out there.

When do new coin dates reach Iola, Wis.? I wouldn't have a clue without making cash transactions.

I can tell you I received my first 2016-D cent in Wisconsin in Germantown when I drove to the Central States convention last month.

I can’t tell much about the wider world from payments I make in other ways.

Perhaps I am not such an outlier after all. I just ran across some figures that show that my behavior is not unusual. They might surprise you, too, especially if you know an individual who claims not to use cash at all.

According to information on the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, one of the 12 institutions that comprise the Federal Reserve System, cash is still used in 40 percent of the payments of the average American.

If you add in debit card use, which is 25 percent, you see that nearly two-thirds of the routine financial life of Americans is based on money that they have in hand at the moment of the transaction, either in wallets, purses or bank accounts.

Credit card use comes in at 17 percent. It would seem airlines still have a huge opportunity to promote airline mile credit cards.

Just about everyone also knows a story about someone – friend, neighbor, relative – who got into credit trouble because it is so easy to run up balances when making minimum monthly payments. That probably keeps credit card use down.

Electronic payments are 7 percent and checks are 7 percent.

I am sure there are many conclusions to draw from this data.

However, for me as a collector, it seems to prove a number of things.

Why are Americans overwhelmingly in favor of retaining the cent even if its value is virtually nil and it costs the government so much to keep minting it?

Since 40 percent of transactions are cash, it means that for most Americans cents come to hand as change almost daily.

We might not re-spend them, but they are as familiar as an old friend. We treat them with the respect an old friend deserves. As long as cash transactions remain so significant, public defense of the coin will likely continue.

This goes double for the $1 bill. It is familiar. It is useful. We do indeed count them out at a counter from time to time when making a purchase.

Then there is the high level of interest in who is on the $10 bill and the $20. The denominations touch us all frequently. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t care.

Cash use is still mainstream. I am not an outlier. I feel better. What about you?

Buzz blogger Dave Harper has twice won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."

• Like this blog? Read more by subscribing to Numismatic News