When I was 14 years old, I was traveling through the Middle East. On one weekend, my older cousin suggested we fly to a nearby island in the Mediterranean. Upon arrival, I paid for my single-entry visa to Cyprus. At the end of the weekend, instead of flying back, we decided to take a boat trip back to Lebanon. We arrived in the marina and went off to meet family for dinner. When it was time for my 12 year old sister and me to end our vacation, we walked through a customs checkpoint, and the officers checked my passport to see where I had been. They found a single-entry visa into Cyprus, but not one showing a return to Lebanon. On the spot, I was asked to pay $75 to rectify the issue, but came up $15 short. Not realizing what could possibly happen in the case of an emergency, my parents, who had flown back a few weeks before, had not foreseen the need to give me more cash.
Long story short, after 45 minutes of demanding I pay, a few of the officers graciously decided to pitch in and we ran to our gate, barely catching our flight. Had they detained us, we would have missed our flight, certainly not been able to pay the airlines fees to book the next one, and wouldn’t have been able to contact anyone since we did not know a single family members’ phone number. It was from then on that I realized I should always carry about $80 to $100 cash with me.
In a time when almost everyone uses credit or some form of plastic, carrying cash seems rare and old school. However, there are many reasons to carry some cash with you – enough to save you in times of trouble or an emergency, but not so much you are asking to get robbed.
In Case of Emergency
As the previous example demonstrated, some places or circumstances just don’t allow for credit cards and will require you to pay cash. Other situations that require cash at hand include tow trucks on road trips when you don’t have an AAA membership, natural disasters that may leave you stranded from home, taxi services at home or abroad that don’t accept credit card payments, and even when you are getting robbed.
You are probably wondering, why do I need to carry cash when I’m getting robbed? A relative was once able to negotiate keeping his identification, credit and debit cards in exchange for all his cash because the thief was satisfied enough stealing the money. He argued that there was no point in stealing the credit cards or ID because the cards would be denied after a call to the company and the ID was useless. Instead of committing multiple felonies, he could walk away with just petty theft. The robber agreed and ran. My relative was able to walk away uninjured and avoided potential identify theft.
Precautions Against Identity Theft
Ever been to a shady looking convenient store, had to pay a parking meter, wanted something out of a vending machine, used a self-serve car wash, or stopped at a gas station in a not-so-safe part of town? There have been many instances where thieves have hacked gas station and car wash payment systems to steal credit card numbers and information. Other situations have included unscrupulous small businesses that sell personal information for purposes of identity theft.
If you are foreign to an area or city, and are not sure you want to trust that establishment with your credit card, debit, or personal information, use cash. For example, just recently I incurred random charges on my credit card. I hadn’t lost or misplaced my card, so how did these fraudulent charges come about? I’m guessing I used my credit card somewhere I shouldn’t have, and the information was stolen or sold, which is really unfortunate because I prefer to use credit cards to earn cash rewards or points for flights, vacations and hotels.
Either way, fortunately I have a Discover Credit Card and they are incredibly pro-consumer. My account was immediately closed and I received a new credit card within a few days. Thankfully, I am not liable for any of the charges; however this situation could have possibly been avoided had I used cash for some of my purchases.
It Helps You Control Your Spending
Some consumers don’t realize how much they spend until the credit card statement comes each month. These are the unfortunate individuals who sometimes accumulate $50,000 or more in credit card debt and spend a decade paying it off. The ease and convenience at which credit cards can be swiped often times leads to mindless spending, and thus irresponsible spenders should consider using a cash system. By limiting shopping or spending sprees to the cash contained in wallets, consumers can control how much they spend and how often because they physically see the cash (or lack thereof). The cash system encourages smart budgeting and prevents over-spenders from incurring debilitating debt, unless retailers suddenly start accepting IOUs on napkins.
Splitting Bills, Tipping, and Tolls
Although some restaurants will print out separate checks upon request (sometimes with an additional fee), it is always much simpler to pay as a group. Similarly, if you want to split a gift or purchase with a friend while shopping, it is better to pay for your half and avoid the reimbursement later, especially if the other person doesn’t have cash and will end up owing you the money. This also avoids the uncomfortable conversation of asking or reminding people they owe me money.
Moreover, servers and waiters prefer cash tips and will likely be more grateful when you don’t use a credit or debit card. For valets, cash is the only way you will be able to tip them. If it’s a restaurant or place you think you will visit frequently, you definitely want to offer a small tip every single time or you may find your car with random scratches and bumps.
Additionally, some cash-strapped cities have incorporated tolls throughout their highway system. The Sam Houston Tollway (Beltway 8) in Houston, the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Delaware Turnpike, and Chicago Skyway all charge a few dollars to drive on. Since credit cards aren’t accepted, not having cash on you may lead to the grueling and inconvenient task of filling out paperwork and reimbursement forms just to pass.
Cash Is King
Cash is still king. The benefits of carrying some cash around are plentiful and ultimately outweigh the disadvantages. Determine how much cash you feel comfortable walking around with and stash it away in your wallet, or alternatively in your car’s glove compartment.