The subversiveness of an all-cash lifestyle

By Patrice Lewis

Many years ago, my husband and I discovered a large well-known store that carried supplies we used in our home woodcraft business (band saw blades, sanding belts, etc.) for a better price than we had been paying elsewhere. At the time, we paid for most of our purchases with checks (remember those?). But each time we went to purchase supplies from this store, the same conversation ensued:

Cashier: “May I have your phone number, please?”

Me: “No thanks, I don’t give out our phone number.”

Cashier: “But this way I can sign you up for our store card, which gives you discounts and cash back at the end of the year.”

Me: “No thank you, I just want to purchase these items.”

Cashier: “Are you sure? There are all sorts of benefits from having a store card.”

Me: “No thank you, I just want to purchase these items.”

Cashier: “How about your cell phone number?”

Me: “No thank you. I don’t give out that number.”

Cashier: “Then I can sign you up for the store card with an email address.”

Me (getting annoyed): “I don’t want a store card. I simply want to purchase these items.”

Cashier (shocked): “But you’re missing out on a great opportunity! A store card gives you cash back at the end of the year!”

Et cetera. Eventually the cashier took my check and gave me a receipt, but he wasn’t pleased. I didn’t blame the clerk – he was just doing his job, and probably received a commission for every card issued – but I wasn’t about to divulge information that didn’t need to be divulged just to purchase sanding belts.

This was just one of several experiences spurring my husband and me to adopt an all-cash lifestyle about 10 years ago, a decision we’ve never regretted.

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We’re fully aware this doesn’t make us invisible. Since tracking is everywhere, people can’t just melt into obscurity. But using cash remains our small stubborn act of rebellion. In fact, some might view it as subversive.

Adopting an all-cash lifestyle is now considered bold and daring, akin to navigating a city with nothing but a paper map (remember those?). Endless articles are written about the breathless experiences and tragic difficulties involved with living without plastic or smartphone apps.

Yet the financial advantages of cash are myriad. Cash (usually) prevents you from spending above your means. If your money is gone, your spending is done – an advantage if you live within a budget. Credit card use often leads to debt if the balance isn’t paid each month. With cash, the debt is already paid.

With credit cards, the price of convenience is very high. Despite their pretty words about what a “valued customer” you are, credit card companies can behave with a staggering lack of ethics. Their algorithms for charging more fees and penalties from customers is so convoluted “that even an M.I.T mathematics professor couldn’t figure it out,” according to James D. Scurlock in the excellent book “Maxed Out.”

Not only do credit card companies charge exorbitant rates of interest (up to 30% in some cases!), but they’re quick to slap on late fees. Some companies have even been demonstrated to hold onto payments until past the due date, so they can charge late fees.

Minimum payments are calculated to string out payment schedules for years, even decades. Most credit card statements now include information about how long it will take to pay off the amount if only the minimum is paid every month, and 19 or 20 years is not unusual (and include tens of thousands of dollars in interest charges). And this, of course, is assuming no additional balance is ever added to the card. It’s a spiral from which some people can never escape.

But for the government, an all-cash lifestyle is viewed with suspicion (“What are they hiding?”). Several years ago, the FBI and other agencies started sending brochures to “farm supply stores, gun shops, military surplus stores and even hotels and motels. The brochures ask proprietors, clerks and others to watch out for ‘potential indicators’ of terrorism, including ‘paying with cash.'”

See? Cash is subversive.

Withdrawing cash from a bank is, in itself, becoming an act of domestic terrorism. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that banks are already unpaid government spies,” notes this article. Banks are required to report large cash withdrawals by filing “suspicious activity reports” (SARs), allegedly on the grounds that such withdrawals indicate nefarious activities. It can’t possibly be a simple desire to avoid using credit cards.

I know perfectly well our all-cash days are limited. Already cash users can be punished with higher prices. Allegedly limiting cash transactions is for “security” purposes to thwart criminals, terrorists, drug runners, money launderers and tax evaders. To live an all-cash lifestyle, therefore, automatically lumps us in those nefarious categories. Governments all around the globe are doing their best to implement cashless economies, and for good reason: It’s the ultimate in control.

The effort to make cash suspicious starts early. Classic games such as Life and Monopoly are now offering cashless versions (can’t let the kiddies learn how to handle physical money!).

Sometimes this decision to go all-cash has some amusing downsides. A few years ago while on a business trip in a large city, I had the good fortune to find a rare open parking space on a busy street. I parked and then searched for coins in my wallet, only to find I was short on change. So I entered the upscale boutique I’d parked in front of and asked if they could break a dollar. And here’s the thing: They couldn’t. Two clerks and the store manager all searched pockets and purses and their (ahem) “cash” register, and couldn’t come up with change for a dollar.

“But that’s OK,” they told me when I mentioned it was for the parking meter in front of their store. “Those meters don’t accept cash anyway.”

Puzzled, I walked back out and examined the parking meter. They were right – it didn’t accept coins, only credit or debit cards. This was a new one on me. Sadly, I had to leave that rare parking spot and go find somewhere more primitive to park.

Remember, a cashless society isn’t about convenience, it’s about control. It isn’t about deterring theft, it’s about tracking consumers.

So in our own small way, we’ll continue to be subversive and keep up our habit of using cash whenever possible … until it’s no longer possible. My – ahem – two cents’ worth.

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