Is it better to pay cash than use credit cards? It depends.
To pay cash or not to pay cash: that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to charge everything, to gain rebates and frequent flyer points, but to suffer: The demand of paying balances in full: each and every Month.
Or to take up Arms against a Sea of debts And by opposing, end them: to pay them in full, to sleep soundly and worry-free No more shall we carry balances on our credit cards We shall end the heart-ache of indebtedness. ‘Tis our consumption that must decline For who should bear the Whips and Scorns of outrageous Interest?
(with my apologies to the Bard)
If Hamlet were amoungst us today, would he contemplate out loud whether to use credit cards or cash? He probably had bigger worries. But the best choice for you, dear readers, depends upon a number of factors.
Personally, I despise cash and use it only when I absolutely have to. For me, paying with cash means forgoing – at a minimum – a 1 ½% rebate, or as much as a 6% rebate on purchases. It’s the hassle factor finding a (fee-free) ATM and dealing with handfuls of left-over pennies, nickels and dimes. But most of all, cash expenditures are difficult and tedious to track. I try to keep meticulous records of our spending. Yet, at year-end, there is usually around $100 cash that I cannot account for!
However, if you carry a month-to-month balances on your credit cards and/or make impulse purchases, cash may be the way to go. Here are pros and cons of each:
Paying cash is a great method to limit spending – studies prove that paying cash reduces impulse purchases and spending overall
Unlike credit cards, if your cash gets lost or stolen, there’s no risk of identity theft (assuming your driver’s license or other documents did not disappear with the cash)
Some restaurants and retailers only accept cash
Some gas stations offer a cash discount
Cash is the ‘universal gift card’ – for tips and presents
If you lose cash, it’s …. gone.
Carrying around lots of cash could make you a target
The time and effort required to physically withdraw cash from an ATM or bank. Possible ATM fees
If you have lots of cash in your pocket, you may be inclined to spend it all (‘burning a hole in your pocket’)
Travel can be much more challenging to arrange: from booking hotel rooms and flights, renting cars, to getting cash in a local currency
Cash expenditures are difficult to track. An essential element of being Frugal and Wise is knowing where your money goes
Credit Card Pros:
Convenience – a credit card is always in your wallet. It can be used for faster transactions at gas pumps, kiosks and the like
Security –a lost or stolen credit card can easily be deactivated and replaced, with no financial loss
Rewards, whether cash back rebates (generally a statement credit) or travel points
Protection and the ability to dispute charges when in disagreement with a merchant
Perks such as extended warranties and rental car insurance
Ease of use when traveling abroad (just be sure your card that does not assess foreign transaction fees)
Statements that are a record of your expenditures
Credit Card Cons:
Very easy to spend too much or buy impulsively. Using credit cards requires considerable self-control
If you don’t pay the full monthly balance, you will be subject to interest charges that could really sap your finances
‘Convenience fees’ are sometimes accessed for using a credit card. Example: property taxes, income taxes, vending machines. Be vigilant. A credit card is probably not worth using in these situations
The possibility of identity theft or unauthorized use. Regularly checking credit card activity and credit reports is a must do
Recommendations and Takeaways:
Although the role of cash is diminishing, it’s virtually impossible to use cash exclusively or credit cards exclusively. We all exist somewhere on a continuum (or blend) between the two
If you currently carry credit card balances, cease using your credit cards until the debts are paid off. That should be one of your highest priorities.
Ditto if you are unhappy with your high spending levels and low saving rates.
If you do go with cash, utilize the ‘envelope’ method: split it your cash for the month into spending categories, both discretionary and necessary. Once all the cash in a given category – particularly a discretionary category — is spent, similar expenditures will just have to wait until next month
What are your experiences with cash or credit cards? Please let me know.