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Kate: Why We Should All Carry Cash

The article appeared in the Sunday Style on 03/04/16 

Sometimes, the world changes in such subtle increments that it takes a while to notice. Then, one night, you untether your horse and cart to ride home from a jolly knees-up at the local tavern, only to realise you’re the only chump who hasn’t bought themselves a shiny new Model T Ford.

Anyway, the other night I had dinner with a group of friends before a concert. It was humid outside, with big drops of late-summer rain, so by the time we all made our way downstairs to the restaurant, we were steamy and damp-haired. We happily squeezed into our booth — so thrilled to see each other that Taylor Swift could’ve posted a pic of us and captioned it #squad (if members of her posse actually included men, and people who were permitted to like pasta and Katy Perry).

Anyway, there we were: drinking prosecco and gin and tonics, eating, laughing and generally catching up. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

Then the bill came.

My friend JJ did the maths and worked out our tab was $65 each, which was, quite frankly, a bargain. There was the characteristic flurry of people scrabbling through their bags and rifling through their wallets, and then this happened: Everyone at the table, except for two of us, foraged fruitlessly about in their wallets, and then sheepishly said, “I don’t have any cash. Can I pay on my card?”

And there was something about the way they all prefaced the question with a sort of hapless shrug that made me realise I was hearing that phrase more and more. Because people have stopped carrying cash. And aside from being annoying, I reckon it’s nuts. For starters, what kind of restaurant wants to put seven cards through to pay for one table? And who wants to wait, while everyone else enters their PIN and works out what account they’re withdrawing from?

At my work, the lunch-trolley guy now spends most of his time swiping cards. Seriously, most people don’t carry enough cash to cover a packet of $6 rice paper rolls. They PayPass to buy a cup of coffee. And they’re proud of it.

But here’s the thing.

Cash is a use-it-or-lose-it scenario. If we stop using it, one day there won’t be any. And then you’ll be forced to leave an electronic trail of EVERYTHING YOU EARN and EVERYTHING YOU BUY. Really, it’ll be the end of privacy. This will be brilliant for government. And genius of Big Brother. But terrible for babysitters, beggars or people wanting to hold a garage sale, who’ll all have to start carrying payWave machines.

And as flimsy as notes are, they’re also the only physical proof that you’ve actually got any dough. Otherwise, you’ve just got a bunch of numbers on a screen — the bank’s screen — and, one day, it could be your word against theirs that you ever had any money in the first place.

Friends of mine were on holiday in Greece a couple of years ago when that economy went down the pooper. It once seemed impossible, but they closed the banks. Businesses stopped taking credit. And locals couldn’t take out more than 60 euros a day at ATMs. So, if you didn’t have a stash of cash to back you up, you were pretty well malaka-ed.

One night, my friends didn’t have enough money to get a taxi back to their hotel. Luckily, a nice old man gave them a lift in his horse and cart.

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