I know most people think that money is just money. But I can tell you that there is an enormous difference between paying for things with cash and with other forms of payment – including credit/debit cards, checks, or your phone.
Behavioral scientists have done probably hundreds of experiments over the years that clearly prove we have an emotional connection with actual cash that we don’t have with other forms of payment. Here are a couple that I remember hearing about:
- Researchers put cases of soda in college dorm fridges. Alongside the cases of soda, they put paper plates of dollar bills. Then they waited a week and came back to check. The sodas – all gone. Every last one of them. The dollar bills – nearly all untouched. The students viewed the pilfering of sodas as fairly benign, but they clearly recognized that taking money – even a dollar, was just a no-no, even if it was sitting there out in the open.
- In another experiment, subjects were given an easy one-page questionnaire to fill out. Half were paid the grand total of .12 cents in actual cash money, while the other half were given a voucher for .25 cents that they could redeem for a candy bar. Even though the second half was paid the equivalent of twice as much money, the first group spent an average of 10% more time completing the survey. Even though the payoff was such a ridiculously TINY amount of money, it still was recognized as being more valuable.
You can bet that we aren’t the ONLY ones who have access to this research. Every Corporation ever invented knows this research backwards and forwards. They plan their sales strategies to get you to use ANY non-cash form of payment because they KNOW you will spend MORE than if you pay cash. The stinkers! I don’t know about you, but I get a big kick out of doing the exact opposite of what Corporate America wants me to do. I’m just contrary that way.Retailers don't WANT you to pay with cash. You'll buy MORE with plastic! Click To Tweet
They actually had commercials a few years ago that were blatantly anti-cash. They would show dancing water, rotating flowers, and tons of happy people moving in unison to happy music. Then everything would come to a screeching halt whenever someone stepped up with cash in hand. Then someone would whip out a piece of plastic and boom, all the music would start up and all was right with the world. That was about as subtle as a ton of bricks.
Here’s WHY they don’t want you to pay with cash:
- You are much more price-conscious when spending cash. It’s so dang easy to just swipe that little plastic square and not think about the price. There’s no natural stopping point with a card like there is with cash. Plastic just feels unlimited.
- You genuinely might not have enough cash with you. Cash is a finite resource – when it’s gone, it’s gone. No retailer wants to lose a $60 sale because you only have $58 in your hot little hand.
- Cash brings you back to the good old-fashioned state of “can’t afford it”. It just feels more “real” when you are handing over a chunk of cash vs. an electronic transaction. Try doing this with grocery shopping once in a while. You become VERY aware of the prices when you are facing the embarrassment of having to put items back at the register.
I used this strategy on my married son a while back. He had a gym membership that he hadn’t been using. It was set up on automatic payments (here’s a link to why THOSE are such a terrible idea!). So he really didn’t care about it.
I told him to imagine going into that gym every month, reaching into his wallet to pull out a nice, crisp $20 bill and hand it over to the muscle-bound guy at the front desk. Then thank him and just walk right back out the door. That was the reality of it. But he couldn’t see the PAIN until we put actual cash into the picture. He called them up and quit the next day!
Wanna spend less money? Switch to cash and skip the debit or credit card. It will help you SO MUCH!
That’s why those envelope budgeting plans really work. The ones where you put all your money for the month into different budget envelopes. It’s a lot like Weight Watchers – you only get so many points and then you’re DONE. No wiggle room – you spend money here, you have to take it from there. Lawyers call that a bright white line – the clear difference between right and wrong. And it works beautifully, just like Weight Watchers.
That’s why when I’m really broke, or when my spending is particularly out of control, I immediately switch to cash. It’s always a big eye-opener for me and I usually get my finances back under control at that point. How often do you go on a strict cash basis? Probably not often enough…
PS: Tonight we learned the flip side of paying with cash. You can LOSE it 🙁
I gave my High School-age son a $50 bill to pay for his back-to-school supplies. He came up to me with that look on his face – you know the one. The “something really bad” look. Sure enough, it had dropped out of his hoody pocket. Kids! Fortunately, Target shoppers are apparently very unobservant, because he ran back and found it on the floor by where he had been shopping – whew!