What’s the Cost of Going Cashless?


It’s 2020. Asking ‘Do you take cash?’ is becoming more common than ‘do you take card?’. With the rapid pace of technological advances of contactless and mobile payment or ‘e-Wallets’… are we moving away from cash too quickly? Or perhaps to ask a more ominous question… is going cashless classist?

I relish in the convenience of contactless every time I do a three second swipe instead of having to use the Chip and PIN card reader, and I’m sure you do too. It’s pretty much guaranteed that all students have an active bank account given student finance and the various savvy student accounts that banks now offer. So then, it should come as no surprise to see that our Students’ Union and Sports Centre are trialling a cashless reception desk. It’s clean. It’s efficient. It’s simple.

I’m a STEM student, I geek out over news about quantum computing, I make nerdy jokes in seminars, I should be excited about moving to a more futuristic society! So what’s holding me back? Why can’t I embrace this upgrade? Am I turning into a dinosaur unable to move on from the good ol’ days?

Well, physical cash is still a big part of how we collectively live our lives. The so-called shadow economy of cash-in-hand payments cost the UK Government £1.8 billion in unpaid tax in 2016/17. According to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC):

This consists of ‘ghosts’ (whose entire income is unknown to HMRC), which accounted for £0.9 billion and ‘moonlighters’ (who have at least one source of undeclared income to HMRC), which also accounted for £0.9 billion

So there’s an ethical and economic argument to be made about clamping down on tax-avoidance by going cashless. But things still don’t sit right with me. I still feel sentimental about holding onto my piggy bank.

When I walk to uni, go to the city centre, or travel through London I always walk past rough sleepers and charity collectors. I’ve noticed over the past year or so I have slowly developed the habit of saying ‘sorry I haven’t any change’. For the most part that’s the truth – I usually only carry card and rarely need to take out cash – though recently I noticed that I automatically apologise even when I do have change in my pocket! As a person who doesn’t live paycheck to paycheck, I believe it is only right to offer up any help I can when I have the opportunity, yet due to this technological convenience I am becoming more selfish that I’d like to admit.

Charity aside, there is also a selfish case for halting the cashless transition. The ease of paying by card that I’ve talked about is a double edged sword. I find it hard to resist an ‘impulse buy’ when I get the urge and I don’t feel like I’m really parting with my money until I check my bank balance – which as a student I rarely do. Simply put, we spend less when we have the cash in our hands even if it adds a few extra seconds to our shop.

Maybe keeping our coins will make us more mindful, and perhaps more compassionate, spenders.


Former News & Investigations Editor 2019-20. I'm a serial Netflix-binger, writer and big time radio nerd. I like politics and comedy (the two seem to be more blurred nowadays) as well as Sci-Fi and 'geek culture'. Video essays are my current obsession. Studying Natural Sciences at Uni of Southampton.

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