Cash Is No Longer King: Stockholm Homeless Now Take Plastic

We’ve been hearing about the “cashless society” for years, a time when paychecks are replaced by ACH and you swipe a card or even scan your phone to pay for everything from your morning paper to nighttime drinks. But, in the states at least, there are still plenty of times that you need cash on hand. Many small shops still don’t take plastic, and you are likely to find that cab drivers, farmers markets and others aren’t ready to take anything except folding money.

But, in Europe, many people have transitioned entirely to virtual transactions. And, members of Stockholm’s homeless population have learned to adjust. Many of the city’s homeless support themselves selling a local culture magazine called Situation Stockholm. The publication covers local celebrities and can be purchased for 50 kronor (about $8). Sellers keep half the money they earn selling the magazine. But, with a little less than 3% of transactions in Sweden being made with cash, very few Swedes carry coins or bills anymore, which made it hard for Situation sellers to get a sale.

To combat this, magazine sellers are now carrying mobile card readers. Experts at the magazine suggest that the switch could increase sales by 20% or more. Many people in Sweden believe that the country will soon be the first truly cashless society.

Going cashless has a number of benefits, but also some serious drawbacks. When you go plastic, you get to enjoy a few perks:

  • instant records of all transactions so you know where your money goes.
  • protection against theft. With debit and credit cards, you are usually only responsible for up to $50 of unauthorized charges if you report the irregularity immediately.
  • bonuses like points and cash back. Many people choose to put every transaction possible on a rewards credit card so that they can get reap these perks.

But, there are also some downsides to trading paper for plastic:

  • you need to be much more careful about your spending. People who pull out the plastic can spend up to 30% more than those who use cash.
  • you can get hit with a lot of fees. Gas stations often charge a small premium for using credit instead of cash. Many credit cards come with annual fees. And, if you are rebuilding and need to use prepaid debit cards, those can have everything from monthly fees to charges for using the card.

In the end, the most savvy shoppers will keep a combination of cash, debit cards from a free checking account and at least one credit card with no annual fee. By having all of those available, you can pick and choose in each situation which option works best for you.