This Aisle for Cash

by | Oct 18, 2018 | Financial Planning

I am reading an excellent book titled “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.  It is about how little habits can either build into a successful day, or drag your day down the drain.  It’s interesting to see how a small change here and there (over longer periods of time) can truly add up to bigger differences.

With the idea of “changing habits” in mind, I read an article in today’s Wall Street Journal with much interest.  The article was titled, “You Want 20% for Handing Me a Muffin? The Awkward Etiquette of iPad Tipping”  (link: needs a subscription to WSJ)

I’m going to sound like an old, grumpy guy.  But, what is wrong with having cash?

The article on lamented how people are now being “guilted” into tipping someone at a counter for bringing them a muffin, bringing them a pizza from the other side of the counter, etc.  This is because these places use new payment systems (like Square), where the iPad, or tablet, gets flipped around while you are paying, giving you the ability to leave a certain amount of tip, before signing your name.

cash in handI’ve seen the same practice in taxi cabs – maybe you have, too.  And the payment system will suggest different tip levels – sometimes in percentages, sometimes in dollar terms.
Hey, if you get exceptional service, by all means, leave the person who helped you a gratuity –  for the effort.

The WSJ article shares anecdotes from folks who feel as if they must (or at least, ought to), leave a tip for something many consider to be normal and customary.  Again, nearly all the comments used in the article talked about how people FEEL.  No one is twisting their arm to leave a tip.  In fact when asked on Twitter, Square’s company account responded “Tap ‘no tip.'”

It is completely OK.
You have our permission to change your feelings.
And you also have our permission to leave a gratuity when you have been dazzled with great service.

But there should be no guilt.  This is about feelings.  There is only one person who can control your feelings.  That’s you.  You worked hard for that money, don’t let it slip through your fingers carelessly.  You should reward someone for exceptional effort.

I’m certain someone in the financial planning industry will write a book someday equating the practice of tipping to the practice of “eliminate the $4 latte to reach your financial goals.”   That seems like a stretch, but it is a good habit to build upon.   Still, I return to my original question, “what is wrong with cash?”

When you have cash, you know exactly how much you spend.  Having cash makes you think twice about the spending decisions you make.  Growing up, I knew when there is no more cash in my pocket, it was time to go home.  Now, with plastic, there is no end in sight.

When “swiping” with a debit card, or using a credit card (to buy coffee and a donut?), it’s difficult to keep track in your mind all the actual cash that gets spent during a consumer-driven day.  Please don’t tell us you are using your credit card “for the points” – there are few points (in any system) for a cup of coffee.  We have had similar conversations when discussing “buying a train ticket to Boston” versus driving through tolls and buying gas.  Do the math — we hardly think about the cost of the tolls when we zip through them with EZ Pass.

The point is using cash forces folks to stop and think when they have to reach into their pocket and hand over the cash.  Your cash.

Your way of life comes from all the habits you have accumulated, large and small.  The habit of how your money gets spent is critical.
Stop before you swipe.  Can you pay in cash?  Can you afford this?

For the ultimate “tip” here is Carl Spangler (Bill Murray) from Caddyshack (1980):



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