Skip to main content

Cash still wins in this spending race

Sweden might be leading a march to a cashless society, but the United States doesn’t seem inclined to follow.

I noticed a story on CNBC this morning about the use of credit cards.

Check it out. It is interesting.

The headline is that 17 percent of Americans use credit cards for purchases that cost less than $5.

Now this could just as easily have been written to state that 83 percent of Americans use cash for purchases under $5.

I am making an assumption here.

They might use debit cards.

They might pay by check.

But the implication seems to be that most Americans still feel as if a credit card is a powerful tool like a jackhammer not be used when a screwdriver is all that is necessary.

Using the 83 percent cash figure doesn’t make it seem like we will wake up tomorrow with no notes and coins in our pockets.

There are generational differences in behavior.

I expect that to be the case. You do too, I’ll wager.

But the differences do not seem all that large.

It says Millennials use credit cards for transactions of less than $5 just 21 percent of the time.

For Baby Boomers the figure is 12 percent.

If 79 percent of the upcoming generation does not do something in their financially formative years, I would expect their habits will persist for a very long time into the future.

The oldest Millennials are in their mid-30s while the youngest still have college on their radar.

This should give cash another 40 years of significant use.

And as a Baby Boomer, it is interesting to see that my generation’s behavior in this regard is not so very different from Millennials.

After all 79 percent using cash or 88 percent is not a divide of earthquake proportions.

For Baby Boomers, charge plates were exotic until Karl Malden told us not to leave home without it.

But credit card companies and banks want us all to reach for that plastic.

They will keep trying to persuade us to do so.

Who doesn’t like thinking about cash back rewards, or the travel deals that come as rewards for using plastic.

In this regard I will bet all generations are equal.

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