Viewing posts in series: Cash Only

Sorry, Cash Only: Returning to the World of the Banked

My month-long experiment of surviving on cash only is at an end. One question I had hoped to answer was whether switching to purely cash transactions would cause me to spend less. To find out, I took three months of transaction data from last summer from Mint.com. After removing spending anomalies like an unusually large student loan payment and an airplane ticket, I averaged the expenses for this time period in a number of categories like “entertainment” and “groceries.” I compared the three-month averages with my one month of cash spending during Sorry, Cash Only.

I suspected that the numbers would reveal that I spent less during my cash month. Existing research shows that convenience, reduction of barriers to spending, and even perception of credit all contribute to higher spending with credit cards. However, I wasn’t prepared for how much less I spent . . . 

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Sorry, Cash Only: Midway Reflections

Last Friday marked the halfway mark in my experiment to only use cash for 30 days. I still have a few weeks to go but I wanted to reflect on some of the major insights I’ve gained so far.

Increased Anxiety and Insecurity – Going into this month, I expected to feel an increased sense of worry around personal theft. However,  I live in a relatively safe neighborhood, the cash under my proverbial mattress is decently secure, and never carry huge sums of cash on me so the threat of theft is not what has been causing anxiety. What has is the realization that dealing in cash means operating without a safety net. Having multiple payment options is not only convenient but functions as a form of personal insurance. If there is an emergency, if I do not correctly plan my financial day, if I forget cash at home, I am out of luck. (Of course, I realize that these feelings would be amplified if I also had the additional pressure of low income, which is one of the biggest distinctions between this project and the realities of the unbanked.)

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Sorry, Cash Only

In the grand tradition of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, I’ve decided to do a 30 day experiment. I’m putting away the plastic, denying my debit card, and avoiding the ATM. I’m going unbanked for a month.

In work at FAI, I am constantly reading research on increasing financial inclusion. Recently, I read The Fletcher School’s Cost of Cash report that said it is more expensive for low-income, unbanked populations to use cash but paradoxically, they rely on cash the most! This (and many other influences including Lisa Servon’s recent investigative work on cash checking services) got me thinking. What would my life be like if I couldn’t use any of my banking services? What is it like to operate purely in cash, especially in a hyper-connected, fast-paced city like New York? I hope to gain some insight into those questions and others over the next month . . . 

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