Taking a pure cash-only stance is difficult, if only because saving up a lot of cash on your own is impractical. Even if you have a safe place to store your cash, it won’t be insured, like it would be in a bank. You also won’t earn any interest on your savings — while we may be talking about pennies, it’s important to remember that pennies add up. So, for most people, a cash only lifestyle still involves a bank. It doesn’t necessarily involve a debit card, however. Because one of the benefits of cash only is the fact that making it harder to spend your own money usually translates to less spending, a debit card is out. If you’re planning to make a large purchase (and you’ve got the cash in the bank), checks are generally considered a good compromise.
You can use a credit card virtually anywhere, but it’s much harder to use a check. In some cases, it can actually be harder to use cash, rather than a credit card, as well. Want to rent a car? You’ll be asked for a credit card. Offering cash will only flummox the guy behind the counter. You’ll find yourself jumping through some hoops to spend your own money if you switch to using only cash.
There’s an argument that because it’s so much harder these days to use checks, you’ll be less inclined to go out and spend money. That may be true, but for some people, the ease of renting a car and making other payments is far more important than sticking to a cash only approach. That’s not a reproach on such individuals’ approaches to money: it’s a fact of doing business in the modern world. It’s a more than reasonable objection to the cash only system.
Credit reports are crucial for a lot more than getting a new credit card these days. Employers look at the credit reports of prospective employees, landlords look at the credit reports of prospective tenants and even utility companies look at credit reports before deciding to connect someone’s electricity. And that’s assuming that you don’t want to buy a house — while mortgage may not be a bad kind of debt, it’s hard to get one with no credit history whatsoever. If you go cash only and eliminate your credit cards, it’s much harder to build a solid credit history.
It’s not impossible: you can take out a loan that you have the money for and pay it off quickly or take a similarly roundabout route. You can also point those individuals who would otherwise check your credit score to the FICO Expansion service — essentially a credit score for those individuals who use cash only. You can also use services like PRBC, which reports your bills that you pay on time (such as telephone) that aren’t reported on your credit report, to build up your credit. There are fees involved in using such services, however.
A Credit-Based World
The simple fact is that living a cash-only lifestyle these days is a rarity. Many companies just aren’t set up to help anyone planning to pay cash with the process. If you walk into a car dealership and try to pay cash for a new car, for instance, you’ll have a much harder time completing the transaction than if you finance it. It’s not because car dealers don’t want your money: it’s because that situation is so unusual that a dealership’s staff really doesn’t know how to handle it.
Sticking to cash for all your transactions can end up costing you more time than you might expect. If you feel that your time is more valuable than the money you can save by using only cash, that approach just may not work for you.
Pros and Cons of Cash Only
There are definitely plenty of drawbacks — as well as benefits — to living a cash-only lifestyle. But the thing about personal finances is that they’re personal. Using only cash works really well for a lot of people. But it doesn’t work perfectly for everyone. You may find that a complete conversion to cash only doesn’t work for you, but a modified approach — like limiting your eating out budget to the cash in your wallet — works out great. It is worth at least checking out the cash only approach and seeing if it can at least save you some credit card fees.
If you have gone cash only, successful or not, please comment on your experiences. What worked? What didn’t? What tips can you offer to someone thinking about going cash only? I know what my experiences have been, but I’m always interested in seeing why someone else has an easier or harder time with relying more on cash and less on credit.