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Cash as Money in 2012

Tom Winnifrith
Saturday 23 June 2012

I find myself reflecting on how odd it is, the way that we use paper money at all in 2012. Most of my transactions are, these days, done by card or online. Once every two weeks I draw out £200 from a cash machine and then steadily spend it. Once I quit smoking (again) that should be once every three weeks that I visit an ATM. Cash as a means of transaction is becoming less and less relevant to my life.

Yet, yesterday as I wandered by the Bank of England, armed police stopped me (and others) as a huge lorry pulled out from the bank. A gun toting met officer who looked a lot like Francois Pienaar (but I am sure was not the great man moonlighting) said that this was an unusually big stash of cash being sent out. To where? National Bank of Greece? NatWest to pay its bills as it sorted out its software glitch? Who knows? But it just seems odd in a world of electronic money to be sending lorries hither and thither carrying stacks of bank notes.

Last night I dropped in at Real Man Pizza Company to check on a few things and to pick up the petty cash. Now I am not running dual books in case the HMRC is reading, it is just that I do pick up petty cash and so found myself wandering home with almost £3,000 in my pocket in folded bank notes. I have stared at this huge (for me) wad several times today and it just feels strange having so many folded notes in your possession. My credit card may have more firepower but the notes are bulkier. It feels odd.

Determined to slim the wad, I strode off to Blackwell’s to buy Birthday presents for my daughter Olivia. I shall not ruin the surprise for her 11th birthday (as I know that she has read this blog in the past) by saying what I purchased but she will be happy to know that she is getting “books of a factual nature” – a phrase she coined four birthdays ago to describe what she wants most. Coming to the counter to pay the man told me the total and then pushed a credit card machine my way. Even as I fumbled with my slice of wad to pay he kept pushing it my way as if Blackwell’s did not actually want hard cash or as if – despite the evidence of his eyes as I counted bank notes – he was auto-programmed by habit to only deal with credit and debit cards.

Cheques are already semi obsolete with more and more folks refusing to take them. They are a pain in the neck to deal with – folks deliberately put the wrong year, they take a while to clear, etc. In the business world, cheques are a means of delaying payment rather than making it. I wonder what percentage of transactions were by cash rather than card/electronically 20 years ago? What is the percentage today? And what will be the percentage in 20 years? I suspect the last number will be pretty small indeed.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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