'Cashless' Stores Don't Work for Everyone

Paying cash has plenty of advantages, including making it easier for anyone to stay on a budget. (Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

When I was living near the poverty line for a couple years, the only way I could keep from overdrawing my bank account was to pay for day-to-day necessities in cash.

It's just easier to control your spending when you use cash. You open your wallet and can't help but see exactly how much you have, and how much you have left. When you're out of money, you're out. Since most banks I've done business with (three of the big names) will let you keep using a debit card for purchases even when you're at a zero balance (charging you a hefty "convenience" fee each time), it's easy to get into a hole accidentally using a card.

My situation is just one example of why cash is so important. Of course, some people are paid in cash, and others don't qualify for a credit card. Some people just don't like using banks at all — and there is no legal requirement for anyone to have a bank account.

Where cashless stores are illegal

Despite the myriad reasons someone might want to or need to pay cash, plenty of new businesses have gone cashless (or tried to). And they've been encouraged to push the cashless approach by those who benefit from more swipes, like MasterCard and Visa. It's currently illegal to refuse to take cash in Massachusetts (a law there has required it since 1978) and New Jersey passed a bill banning it last year. The cities of San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., have as well, and New York City is the most recent city to pass a bill banning the practice.

Simply put, "Consumers should have the right to choose if they want to pay in cash or not," Councilman Ritchie Torres, the New York bill's lead sponsor, told The New York Times.

Businesses have argued that it's easier and faster for them not to accept cash, and the NYC burrito chain Dos Toros said that eliminating cash both led to a more efficient operation and solved the problem of potential robberies. "For a business, running an efficient operation is the difference between staying open and shutting down," Leo Kremer, co-owner of Dos Toros Taqueria, said at a city council hearing on the subject.

While that might be true, not accepting cash plainly discriminates against those who cannot or choose not to have a credit or debit card. "In the end, I think the need for equity outweighs the efficiency gains of a cashless business model. Human rights takes precedence over efficiency gains," said Torres.