Financial LiteracyFinancial LiteracySupplements

Cashless Culture on the Rise?

On a recent trip to a local salad shop a massive queue of customers could be seen turning around and exiting — without their food. Amid the murmuring, one customer angrily shouted back to employees, “This is still America! You have to accept cash!”

What this gentleman and many other Americans are finding is that cash is no longer king and a growing number of businesses have opted out of accepting cash as legal payments for goods and services in a bid for streamlined, efficient operations.

“We save a lot of time not having to count registers, there is virtually never a case of our books being unbalanced, and we have more time to focus on food preparation,” said the store manager, Stephanie Webb. “It does mean that a lot of people who do not have credit or debit cards or who do not have our app, aren’t served, but so far, that’s been a small minority of customers.”

But that small minority tends to demographically include the unbanked and those in disenfranchised communities.

Keya Strong, a Northeast, D.C. resident and college sophomore said the push to go cashless goes against many of the tenets of a healthy economic system she learns about in school. It also forces students to use credit for frivolous things.

“Some of my friends and I have experienced situations where because we had to use credit to buy lunch, we neglected to add on the interest or caused an overdraft on our accounts,” Strong said. “We are always been advised to use credit for emergencies only, but then you go to buy a burger or get a salad, and no one wants your cash money, so you have to use it for frivolous things.”

Strong said that in addition to making the average young person seem irresponsible, the overdrafts later impacted her ability to establish another bank account. To simplify things, Strong said if she cannot pay cash, she will not make the purchase.

“My grandfather used to say, ‘never owe or borrow against the store’ meaning don’t live using credit and owing other people. He lived to me almost 100 and kept a wad that could choke a mule in his pocket. I was able to restore my relationship with my bank, but I live my grandfather’s rules now. Cash only.”

Across the U.S. a backlash has begun in several cities, including San Francisco and Philadelphia to ban cashless businesses. One salad chain, Sweetgreen, reportedly reversed its decision to go completely cashless, though individual locations in the District continue a credit or app payment only system.

Opponents cashless stores say the move hinders privacy, as each transaction that goes through a middleman (banking system) takes note of what is being purchased, at what frequency, and by whom. Cashless businesses also deny access to those who are unable to acquire bank accounts because they lack proper documentation.

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