Editorial Policy

5 Times I Wished I was Carrying Cash

Allie Johnson

January 17, 2013

It’s easy to get so used to paying with plastic that you never carry cash. I always have my cards with me, but often lack paper currency. And lately I’ve been in many situations where it would be so nice to have a little wad of bills handy. I can just hear my mom saying it’s always smart to carry an emergency $20 (though today that’s probably more like $50).

Are you a plastic-dependent person like me? Here are five scenarios where you might wish you had cash:

1)      Leaving a tip – Yes, we card users are used to just scrawling a tip amount on the receipt, writing in the total and signing. But in some cases, you need cash to tip. Last year, for example, I went to get my hair cut at a new salon. I was able to pay for the service with my debit card, but there was no place to write in a tip. When I asked, the owner said I couldn’t use my card to tip. I was really embarrassed, and for weeks kept forgetting to swing back by with the tip.

2)      Small purchases – I like to buy inexpensive items with cash when I have it on hand. I think it’s easier to purchase a cup of coffee or some mints with cash. Plus, some businesses ask that you buy at least $5 or $10 worth of merchandise before you use a card, so you could end up either not being able to buy what you want or grabbing some stuff you don’t really need.

3)      Old-fashioned businesses – Believe it or not, there are still some restaurants and other mom-and-pop establishments that take only cash. Unfortunately, most of us never think to call a restaurant ahead of time to ask, “Do you take plastic?” Last spring, I went out to eat at a hole-in-the-wall vegetarian restaurant with my parents. After we had stuffed ourselves with barbecued tofu and greens, we learned they only accepted cash. Fortunately, my parents had plenty on them. (See, mom was right.)

4)      Chipping in with friends – What about those times when you’re with a group and everyone decides to chip in and order some food? That happened to me a few months ago at a friend’s house when a decision was made to order subs. I hate that awkward feeling I get in a situation like that when I realize that, once again, I have no cash.

5)      Helping someone out – Whether you usually give money to strangers or not, you never know when you might want to give someone a hand. As I was heading out of town to visit family right before Christmas, I had just paid for my gas (after standing in a long line) when I overheard the clerk say to a young man who was putting a dollar’s worth of gas in his pickup, “Only $1?” The man said, “That’s all I have. But I’m going to a job, so I’ll earn some today.” I was already late and in a huge hurry, and when I checked my wallet, I had only $2. I gave it to the guy, but I would have really liked to have bought him a tank of gas without having to go back into the store and wait in that line again.

Experts often mention that it’s a good idea to have an emergency credit card in your wallet, and I think that’s true. But it’s also probably a good idea to have some cash in there, too. I’ve decided to start stashing a few ones, a few fives, some tens and a twenty in my bag for those unexpected situations where plastic just won’t work.