Cash Vs. Convenience

CleverDude_CashKingPicI tried something a little different this weekend, attempting to spend only cash.  I found that sticking to cash only spending can be difficult, as temptation to ditch the greenbacks in my wallet in favor of swiping plastic can rear it’s ugly head at any time. I ran into just such a scenario in Walmart over the weekend.

In a bit of a hurry as I entered the self-checkout area at Walmart, I headed towards the only open register. I got within ten feet of it and noticed the red background indicating that it was in a mode in which it only accepted cards. Looking around, none of the other registers looked like they would be open any time soon. I clutched my wallet, and contemplated my next move.

Option 1: Use My Debit Card

I could use the open register, swipe my card, and exit the store quickly. I only had a few items that would total under $10. It certainly wouldn’t break my budget to make one small purchase with my debit card, and I could deposit the money back into my account the next time I went to the bank to keep myself on track.

Option 2: Stick with Cash

I could get back inline, let someone else use the open register, and wait a few minutes for a register that would allow me to use the cash in my wallet. There would be no need to keep track of how much I needed to deposit back into my account, no extra trip to the bank, and I would be assured of sticking to my cash only spending that has proven to work so well for me.

I quickly decided my fate, and got back into the line. I looked at the person behind me and pointed at the open register stating if they were going to use a card, they could go in front of me. A few minutes later, another register opened, and I proceeded with my purchase.

I chose this option because I knew the outcome was a slippery slope. I would pay for the handful of items with my debit card, but there would be no trip to the bank to replace the funds in my account. I would eventually spend all the cash in my wallet, in addition to the debit card purchase, leaving my spending over budget by s small amount. The more significant worry here is the avalanche effect it could have. Once I start allowing myself to choose convenience over cash, I may do it again and again in different situations, such as these:

  • Gas Station Purchases: It’s inconvenient to have to walk into the gas station and physically pay with cash. It would certainly save me some time to simply be able to pay at the pump and be on my way.
  • Restaurants: It’s nice to be able to just fill in the tip amount, sign, and walk out of the restaurant. The alternative is to wait for the server to return one more time with your change.

None of these examples would add more than a few minutes of time, but in the moment they can seem like an eternity. What I needed to keep in mind was the slipper slope of pulling out my debit card could lead to overspending and being over budget.

How about you, Clever Friends, have you ever tried cash only spending? Do you find it inconvenient?

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • I personally have used credit cards for decades with no problem.

    I have amassed a good amount of wealth, retired at 52, and earned thousands in cash back rewards in the process.

    So I forget cash and am an all credit guy FWIW.

    • That’s great for you, ESI Money – not everyone has the self-control to use credit cards without ending up paying through the nose in interest. Thanks for sharing!

    • ESI Money is obviously better at credit card spending than many others. I think there’s a lot of people that could care less about the cash back rewards offered and rather use cash. They don’t want some unforeseen situation such as losing their job causing them to fall into credit card debt.

  • I noticed something strange about using cards. When I use only a card, I tend to spend far more money on useless things than when I only use cash. At the mall and want a snack, $4 no problem. On the road…$3 coffee no problem. At the end of the month it can be hundreds of dollars.

    When I stick to cash I notice myself conserving it a lot more. I try to stick to cash as much as possible now

    • I’m the same way, Eric…..using cash adds a physicality to spending money – makes me think about it a little more. Thanks for reading!

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