Using your phone to make payments isn’t new. Google Wallet has offered the capability for years, letting you make purchases by tapping your phone in the checkout line.
It’s easy to view this as the wave of the future, a relatively secure way to avoid carrying around a pocket filled with credit cards. But there are many reasons not to whip your phone out at credit card terminals. Here’s why I still intend to continue shopping by doing the opposite — using cold, hard cash.
1) Cash is Accepted Almost Everywhere
Mobile payments promise convenience. Rather than carrying around a thick wallet, just turn to the phone that you already have on you.
Except you still won’t actually have the option to leave your wallet behind. Even setting aside the necessity of having your driver’s license or some other form of ID, you’re still going to need an alternative form of payment to do any practical shopping.
A number of banks and stores have announced support for mobile payments. Restaurants like Domino’s, Chipotle, and Starbucks have already had perhaps the most success, as many customers have grown accustomed to using apps to pay for orders and skip the line. But most establishments haven’t embraced phones yet. So unless you actively try to limit all of your purchases to places that do, you’re going to need to carry around something else to fall back on.
In that case, it’s more convenient to stick to swiping the same card that you know will be accepted versus having to ask every time you go to make a purchase at a new place.
Samsung Pay serves as an exception here, as it works almost anywhere you can swipe a credit card. But if you own one of the many Samsung devices that aren’t top-of-the-line models released in 2015, you don’t have the MST technology necessary to use it.
And even then, if you really want to be sure you can make a purchase, take cash, especially if you like to support farmers’ markets and other local businesses that may not accept credit cards, let alone NFC.
2) Cash is Anonymous
Privacy seems to be an increasingly fleeting concept these days. You can’t browse the web without sites and advertisers trying to create a profile of who you are (even if they have no interest in figuring out your actual identity).
Unfortunately, shopping isn’t any better. Credit card companies keep up with every swipe. Stores offer discount cards that enable them to do the same. Whether or not someone is abusing this record of your spending doesn’t change the fact that it exists.
With Android Pay, you’re not just giving these companies your payment history, you give Google a record of every card you sync to your account. Even if you’ve long decided that you trust the search giant to act responsibly with your data, this is still yet another piece of highly personal information someone can get access to if your account is ever compromised.
Cash doesn’t come with this form of tracking and record-keeping built in. Yes, that makes it harder to recover if stolen, but it also makes it more difficult for someone to monitor your activity. This is why people who want to evade law enforcement don’t use their cards, because you’re not only telling people what you buy, but where.
3) Cash is Better for Your Budget
Okay, this one is pretty subjective. There’s no reason why you can’t glance at your checking account each day and keep tabs of the math. Alternatively, some people rely on credit cards with low limits to reign in their spending. There are no shortage of apps that can help you manage your finances regardless of how you swipe cards or count bills.
Nevertheless, many financial advisors recommend people who want to control their spending start by using cash. There’s something psychological about handing over a large amount of physical money that makes us more likely to think about what it is we’re giving up. Seeing an 8 drop down to a 2 on a computer screen doesn’t have quite the same impact as handing over two twenties, a ten, a five, and five ones.
Also, cash limits you to however much money you choose to carry around in your wallet, which is presumably how much you plan to spend in a day. Whereas a debit card limits you to all the funds in your bank account and credit cards let you borrow thousands of dollars on an impulse.
4) Cash Is Simple
How annoying is getting to the front of a line only for the cashier to tell you that the card reader isn’t working today or that they don’t take Discover or American Express? Maybe they accept debit but not credit. Maybe they accept everything, but for some reason, your particular card still isn’t working. Swiping a card seems pretty straightforward, but there’s a lot going on in the background.
Mobile payments add another layer of complexity on top. Not only are you still open to these risks, you still have to make sure the Android Pay app is up to date. Your phone has to be charged and on. Software bugs happen, and do you really want to have to deal with one with a line of impatient shoppers behind you?
Meanwhile, a dollar is still a dollar regardless of if the power is out and the machines are down.
5) Cash Puts You in Control
Mobile payments give corporations more control over how you live your life. Since you can only use devices with NFC support (and, ideally, a fingerprint scanner), you commit to buying specific phone models. If you’re heavily invested in Android Pay, it’s going to take work to switch to Apple Pay, and vice versa.
And if you like Samsung Pay the best, like Apple Pay — you’re committing to buying phones from one company going forward. To embrace mobile payments, you also give up the choice of using a basic flip phone or trying less popular smartphone options like Firefox OS and Ubuntu Phone.
Marketing becomes even more important. You won’t just need a smartphone to stay in touch with people, provide directions, take pictures, and listen to music. It’s your wallet as well. People are given yet another reason to obsess over their gadgets and every decision their manufacturers make.
Because if any of these tech companies decide that this whole mobile payments idea was a waste of time, there goes that. Just like with cloud computing, these services are only available for as long as the provider offers them.
The value of cash may be determined by governments and economic forces, but aside from that, you have control over how you use it. The bills in your wallet don’t become inaccessible if a company on the other side of the country lays off a department. The risk of loss or theft is there, but those concerns don’t go away when your spend your money digitally either. And at least with cash you don’t have to spend so much time notifying companies and cancelling accounts to avoid identity theft afterward.
Will You Be Using Mobile Payments?
This isn’t to say that mobile payments have no benefits at all. If your phone is always on you, why not carry one less thing in your pocket? And in an age of RFID fraud where people can steal credit card information without ever laying a hand on your wallet, smartphones offer extra protection.
Then there’s the plain nicety of not having to carry around a wad of cash or a dozen cards in your pocket. To many minds, this seems like a win-win.
But as always, there’s a trade off. Apple and Google already have a great deal of sway over what many of us can do. Should we really give them access and influence over another area of our lives? When is enough enough?
How do you feel about mobile payments? Have you been longing for the day to arrive when more retailers start giving you the option to pay using NFC? Do you view this as a fundamental change in how consumers will spend money going forward? Is this all a novelty at best? Chime in below!
Image Credits:Customer paying with NFC by s4svisuals via Shutterstock