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The Good and Bad of Carrying Cash: Does It Really Pay?

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You’re about to charge another $1 iced tea to your credit card. That’s the third time this week. Wouldn’t it be simpler to carry cash, pay for your drinks in dollars and cents, and not have to worry about your tab a month from now?

We think so.

But if you’re still on the fence about the benefits of carrying cash, check out the following good and bad points of paying without plastic. Then decide for yourself if cash is worth keeping around.

First, the Bad:

You lack self-control and will blow through all your money. Children do what feels good, but adults devise a plan and follow it. So be an adult, make a plan for your money, and stick with it.  

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You can’t recover cash if someone steals your purse or wallet. Paulette the Pickpocket doesn’t have psychic abilities (despite her supervillain name). She doesn’t know you have $300 cash in your wallet. And even if she did, it’s not the cash you’ll want back—it’s the hours you’ll spend on the phone canceling cards, changing account numbers, and cleaning up your stolen credit.

You can’t book travel with cash. Debit card. It’s called a debit card, people. And it’s the only (almost) same-as-cash payment we approve of. Go ahead and use your debit card to reserve a hotel room or purchase a plane ticket, but pay cash for your meals, matching airbrushed shirts and collectible Seven Dwarfs fridge magnets.

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Cash is so bulky and messy, plus all that loose change just gets lost. Organizing your cash and coins is as easy as using the envelope system and a simple jar that fits into your car’s cup holder. The cash will stay perfectly organized, and the change will collect nicely until you’re ready to turn it into more dollars!

Cash takes too long to dig out in line at the store. We’re not saying you should be “that guy” and pay for all your groceries in pennies, but don’t be afraid to take a moment and count correct change. Patience is a virtue, so help the three nice folks in line behind you learn it today.

Now, the Good:

What you have is what you get. Unlike credit, your cash envelopes (thankfully) can’t deliver an endless stream of purchasing power. If you don’t spend wisely, you won’t spend at all. Habits change in a hurry the first time you empty your food envelope a week before your next paycheck. Seven days of tuna fish sandwiches may be the best overdraft protection there is.

You spend less when you use cash. Plastic doesn’t hurt like cash. Once you’ve spent some quality time with Benjamin Franklin, you’ll think twice before sending him to a cold, hard cash-register coffin. To stretch his life a bit, you’ll shop around, look for deals, and naturally spend less.

Cash can get you a deal. There’s no better bargaining chip than a pocket full of cash. There’s just something about the smell that drives salesmen wild. Try spreading the scent of cash around the next time you’re hunting for a car. Fun will follow.

Cash is convenient. From your daughter’s piano teacher to the Girl Scouts fundraising at Walmart, there are just some times in life when cash is still the easiest way to pay.

Purchases become a blessing, not a curse. When you avoid debt, something incredible happens: Your brand-new transmission, re-upholstered reading chair and even your kids’ Cap’n Crunch won’t accrue interest—ever.

It’s a beautiful thing.

In order to fully enjoy the benefits of using cash, all you have to do is swing by the bank and actually get some out. It’s pretty much downhill from there—budget well, spend less, and bargain more.

Then, see if that occasional iced tea doesn’t taste any sweeter.

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