Thursday, September 10, 2009

Got Change for a Nickel?

Cash is dead. Am I the only one mourning? These days, I always seem to be pouring out a little liquor for the once-almighty dollar. It seems in this plastic world we live in, hard currency gets zero props.

I like physical representations of things. For music, I like CDs and LPs. For money, bills and coins please. However, since debit cards arrived on the scene and ATMs became ubiquitous and VISA and Mastercard started handing out credit cards to the unwashed masses, cash has steadily been losing its cachet.

If people want to use plastic to make all their purchases, I'm cool with that. What burns me up though, is when my neighbourhood barista looks at me funny when I want to pay for my coffee with a hundred dollar bill. "Sorry, we can't break that. Do you have anything smaller?" They've got nerve telling me they can't break a hundred, when they've probably done a thousand in sales before 10 AM. Then again, maybe all their customers paid with credit or debit or pre-paid cards, in which case they really can't break a hundred.

Coming from Japan, where I spent half of the last decade, I find this near-contempt for cold, hard cash in Canada galling. Japan is still a cash society (although that is changing as people start using their mobile phones to pay for all kinds of things). I could pay for a $2 beer at 7-11 with a $100 bill, and the clerk wouldn't even blink. You can put a ¥5000 bill ($50) in a vending machine for a soda and you'll get $48.75 change with your refreshing drink.

I get the convenience factor of using plastic to make purchases. I understand that by not carrying cash you have less to lose if you were to ever get mugged. But for the minority of us who like to see how much we're spending, please don't diminish my customer service experience. My cash helps to pay your salary. It makes no sense to refuse it. If my money (the paper kind) is no good in your establishment, I will take my business elsewhere. I guess you are recession-proof and don't have any problem watching would-be paying customers walk out the door empty-handed.


Wade said...

Nice to see another post, Steve. And on a topic I have personally discussed with you and know you're very passionate about.

I agree with you that it's nice to have that physical representation of money in front of you because you can clearly see how much you have (or don't have).

Plastic in all forms is one step removed from hard currency and therefore is seen differently by people. One of the books I read over the summer delved into that very subject. It talked about some experiments that showed people are more likely to cheat when they are one step removed from money. Very interesting stuff. The easiest way to think of it is this: The average person with criminal tendencies wouldn't beat up an old lady for her purse, yet they would readily steal someone's identity online because they are one step removed from cash, and there's a higher level of anonymity.

The one downside to having hard currency with me is that for some bizarre reason I feel the odd pang of guilt when I lie to a panhandler about not having money. I've always found that interesting.

Dan V. said...

I'm not a big fan of cash. In fact, I can't wait until we can use our thumbprints to pay for everything. Just like in Back To The Future! I guess they;ll get on that right after the flying cars.

I do feel your pain when it comes to places not being able to break $100 bills, although that's more an avoidance of counterfeit money than anything else. I'm extremely disappointed that our government can't make currency that is counterfeit-proof.

kyozoku said...

"Please don't diminish my customer service experience." Seems like a good tombstone for you, Mr. St. Louis.

Kenton Larsen said...

Hey, Steve.

Great to see a new blog post!

I made the mistake of withdrawing $200 from the Grant Park CIBC cash machine the other day, and got two $50 bills.

I can't find a single store that will take them, or that is willing to make change.

I'm going to have to deposit them again. Thank you for the convenience, CIBC!

Wade said...

I would kill for $50 bills from the ATM. I hate getting nothing but $20's. Although, that raises a whole other issue for me: ATMs that stock $10 bills but will not let you take out cash in $10 increments. I'm a credit union guy so I encounter it a lot with Cambrian and Assiniboine Credit Union ATMs.

Jazz Winnipeg said...

But aren't you a germaphobe?

Your hatred of filth and your love of cash is incongruous.

Steve said...

Nothing 25 hand washings a day won't take care of.

Richard said...

I'm also a 'credit union' guy, and love the fact that I can take out $10 bills. Much more convenient, as I find that paying with a higher denomination (20s, 50s) often leads to the clerk panicking to find the right amount of change.

That change is sometimes returned in numerous small denominations like twonies and loonies.

Paying with 10s and 5s is my preference. Good topic, Steve!

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