Different generations talk about when they use cash vs. credit card

How often do you pay with cash? And why?

Millennial

“The only time I use cash is when a place doesn’t take cards, like when I’m buying tacos from a food truck. I don’t like using paper—I have a good rewards credit card (Chase Sapphire Reserve) that gives me at least one reward point for every dollar I charge, so I try to put all my purchases on that (so long as I’m not going over 30% of my credit limit). When I use cash, I feel like I’m ‘wasting’ potential points, which I redeem for flights or hotels or Amazon gift cards. It pains me when I see my friends pay in cash, and in fact I sometimes charge their expenses to my credit card and have them Venmo me back so that I can get the points.

“Also, since I track my bank statements digitally, I like being able to see an itemized list of all the things I’ve purchased. When I use cash, it’s almost like it’s monopoly money. Plus, it’s not reflected in any of my bank balances, and I can’t go back and see what I bought. I also feel more secure going out with a card versus a wad of cash. If cash is stolen, it’s gone. If someone steals your credit card, you just cancel it. I’m a big fan of plastic—so long as I make sure to pay off my balance each month.”

—Cassidy Fang, electrician, Nashville, Tenn.

Gen Xer

“I pay with cash about half of the time. Cash is mainly for eating out, groceries—small stuff. I use my credit card for online shopping and when I travel. I always have some cash on me for small stuff, like coffee. Maybe I’m old school, but I’m not going to bother charging something like that. It’s so much more convenient to hand over cash than to deal with a bill. I guess I break it down like this out of habit, but the distinction makes sense to me.”

—Renee Kohl, bank manager, Dallas

Baby Boomers

“I seldom use cash. If I’m at a restaurant and happen to have enough bills to cover the meal and tip, I’ll pay with cash. I do try to leave a cash tip, though, even when paying by credit card. And I will use cash is if the amount is under $20—if I have gone to ATM beforehand, which I don’t do often. Credit cards are for larger purchases. My husband and I use different cards to earn whatever perk we need at the time. Every month we pay off whatever card we have used, so we don’t pay any interest. Why do I use cards more often? Convenience. No need to plan to get to an ATM before shopping. I mostly use Discover, as they have a good fraud response.”

—Jill Cordell, teacher, Springfield, Mass.

“I used to withdraw $200 or so from an ATM every week or two. I haven’t done that in two or three months. It happened gradually and imperceptibly over the last couple of years as my use of debit and credit cards increased. They seem to be accepted almost everywhere now for more types of purchases irrespective of the amount. Expenditures are easier to track, and I love not having change rattling around in my pocket. Similarly, I write few checks anymore, paying most bills with direct deposits, wires, and bank bill pay systems.”

—Lawrence Hammett, 73, lawyer, Philadelphia

(Quotes have been edited for style and length.)

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