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We tried going cash-only in Kent for a week


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Could you get by without paying for things via bank card or smartphone for a week? KentOnline reporter Marijke Hall reveals how she got on...

Money may make the world go round, but cold hard cash, it seems, does not.

KentOnline reporter Marijke Hall tried using only cash for a week
KentOnline reporter Marijke Hall tried using only cash for a week

Notes and coins have been pushed aside to make way for a card-tapping, online bank-transferring, smartphone-paying society, where you can easily go months or more without visiting a cash point.

The switch has been rapid, sped up by Covid and the need to reduce contact during the height of the pandemic, when the contactless card limit - previously £30 - was increased to £45 and then, last year, to £100.

Card payments are undeniably quick, convenient and efficient, saving you multiple trips to the ATM. Thanks to online payment service RingGo, there's also no more panicking in a car park as you frantically search your glove box for spare change.

It's annoying when you need a pound for your Tesco trolley, though.

For some, however, this swift change hasn't been quite so easy to digest.

Helen Nattrass and Sheila Miller expressed their anger over the RingGo payment method at Seasalter
Helen Nattrass and Sheila Miller expressed their anger over the RingGo payment method at Seasalter

Our Secret Drinker reviewed a pub on the Isle of Grain last week that only accepted cash.

And recently, a group of pensioners in Seasalter complained that a new roll-out of the pay-by-phone service at some Canterbury, Herne Bay and Whitstable car parks is ageist.

They say having to use their mobiles to pay for stays via the RingGo app or over the phone, rather than use a machine with coins, is discriminatory to the elderly, many of whom don't have smartphones or knowledge of how to download apps.

They also claim older generations are wary of scams and therefore cautious about handing over bank details.

So is it ageist? Is this contactless way of paying catering for today's more technologically-advanced masses? Are councils, like that in Canterbury, just responding to customer demand?

And in reality, how difficult is it day-to-day for those who prefer to pay with cash over card?

Queueing to get cash out
Queueing to get cash out

So, with that question in mind, the challenge was set - live ‘cash-only’ for a week and find out. For someone who very rarely uses cash, it would be a change in behaviour.

The first task was to actually find a cash point to get some money out. This has become much harder to do, with only one left in Broadstairs high street. Indeed, figures from the House of Commons show that across Kent there are now 200 fewer free-to-use ATMs than four years ago - a fall of 16%.

Finally, with cash in hand, I arrived at the Tesco petrol station by Westwood in Broadstairs. Before long I was stood in a queue inside, waiting to pay the server in cash, after reluctantly rejecting the offer to ‘pay at pump’.

So used to being able to tap-and-go, waiting in line to get cash out to then have to queue up to pay the person behind the till seemed nonsensical, when you can now do it all at once at the pump.

But the options for both cash and card are there at service stations, so actually, for those who prefer the traditional method of payment, there’s no real problem.

.

However, arriving at work - my office is based at Canterbury College - I came across my first, admittedly small, hurdle.

It’s unsurprising really, given the young demographic of the college, that the canteen and café are cashless.

Yet there I was, trying to hand over a crisp £10 note to the woman behind the counter who tells me it’s card only. The coffees I ordered for my colleagues were in the process of being made and I floundered, not really sure what to do. I only had cash.

Instead, embarrassingly, I had to head back to my office and ask to borrow a bank card from one of my colleagues who I’d offered to buy a coffee for. If this hadn’t been an option I would have had to leave the half-made coffee. Not a huge problem in the grand scheme of things of course, but a pain all the same.

The next few days passed uneventfully, I didn't encounter any issues using cash and I actually felt strangely reassured having money in my purse.

The 'card payment only' sign in Tesco Extra
The 'card payment only' sign in Tesco Extra
The large card-only signs at the checkouts in Tesco Extra
The large card-only signs at the checkouts in Tesco Extra

As much as those who use just cash can encounter 'card-only' problems, I'm no stranger to finding myself caught short when needing some coins, particularly for a tooth fairy visit or at the school/nursery gates when there's a cake sale, for example, that I'd forgotten about.

At Christmas, when there were numerous stalls selling treats, I was that parent shaking out their handbag hoping a coin would fall out or, failing that, borrowing a pound from a friend.

For fundraising events such as Red Nose Day, however, you have to pay through an online school money system - even for small amounts - and so thankfully, during my cash-only week, I didn't have to do that.

I did cause a slight problem at Tesco Extra when doing my weekly shop, though, when I inadvertently put my shopping through a card payment-only till.

I didn't realise until the cashier watched me pull out some notes and informed me they didn't take cash.

Paying for parking with coins at Joss Bay
Paying for parking with coins at Joss Bay

He kindly humoured me, saying the signs weren't that big as I looked up and saw the very prominent 'card only' sign and another propped up at the end of the till. He also told me it 'happened all the time' and simply whisked me and my shopping bags down to a cash-accepting till and put it through there.

With car parks - the thing that sparked this task - the ones I used (and I realise this may differ in other parts of Kent) all accepted cash. My only issue was not having change.

During my cash-only week, I actually ended up spending less, mainly because the ease of spending by card wasn't there. It also made me more aware of what I was spending.

But the convenience of using card and online payments was noticeable.

I'm not a prolific online shopper, so that aspect didn't affect me too much, but not being able to make any bank transfers was tricky. When I was emailed by a campsite asking to pay - over the phone - the full balance for an upcoming stay, I was somewhat stuck. Fortunately I could ask a member of my family to do it for me and pay them the cash.

I was lucky that I didn't encounter places which were unable to help when I realised they only took card. This of course may not be the case for others in different situations.

I'd be lying, though, if I didn't say that life is made much easier for those using card over cash.

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