I like cash. Yes, I have credit cards, a debit card or two, and Apple pay. I have PayPal and a couple copycats, but for many small, daily purchases, I use cash. I also use cash for as many prepper-related purchases as possible, and so should you.
Why should preppers use cash? Two related words: Privacy and anonymity. Using cash allows you to avoid having every purchase becoming part of Big Data, that giant collection of data collected and analyzed by companies to identify you, your likes and dislikes, your behavior, your travel patterns and probably your next move.
For example, it’s no one’s business if I eat fast food every day or have a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit every morning for breakfast, so I pay cash for it. If you buy lots of alcohol, cigarettes or engage in other vices, you might want to consider cash, too, because chances are good your health insurance provider either is or will one day soon be monitoring your health by monitoring your credit card and bank card charges.
Likewise, I may not want Visa, American Express or my bank to know that I shop at Bob’s Gun Store. So I pay cash and minimize their ability to track my purchases. The same goes for buying prepping supplies. I don’t want the government showing up to confiscate my storage food because records show I bought a year’s supply of food. And cash keeps you anonymous to the retailer as well. They can’t tell anyone that Joe Smith from Your Town has bought thousands of dollars of supplies and is ripe for the plucking when the balloon goes up.
Another area to consider is over-the-counter medicines. Think about it: do you really want your credit card company to know you have a rash/a yeast infection/incontinence/herpes/low testosterone, or some other potentially embarrassing condition? Due to HIPPA, your doctor can’t release this info, but if you use your credit card, the folks that subscribed to Big Data know.
Retailers Know Your Name and Number
Now you may say that the credit card company doesn’t know what you buy, only where you spend your money and how much, and that is often the case. If you spend $50 at Bass Pro, your bank probably doesn’t know if you spent $50 of fishing lures or 9mm ammo.
But Bass Pro knows what you bought, and they will use the electronic data on your credit card plus details from your loyalty card to put together a profile on you. I know Walmart uses credit card data to track customers because I have talked to people at the company who helped them build their system. If you shop at CVS, you get to see the evidence at checkout because they always print out coupons for things you’ve purchased before. So if you want to use a membership of affinity card to save money, get a new one every few months, don’t go online to register it, and don’t give them your phone number.
Buying extra food at Costco and paying electronically is fine. Buying food at Joe’s Survival Shack requires discretion, which means paying in cash.
Guard Your Digits
People worry about their social security number being misused, well your phone number is being abused to an even greater extent by social media companies, by advertising companies, by apps, and by big data. Your social security number can be used for a credit check, but your cell phone number can be used to tell them where you are at this exact moment and to traces your steps across the country.
When you call a company, your number pops up and identifies your purchases. There may be a multiple people with your name, but you’re the only one with that phone number. From Big Data’s perspective, it’s better than your SSN.
Criminals use burner phones. Maybe us good guys should, too. We all have throw away email address we use when we shop so we don’t get Spam, why not have a pay as you go phone for the same reason?
When Cash Beats Credit
Spending cash is also good because it makes it difficult to spend more money than you have. Counting out the bills drives home the true cost of your purchase to a much greater extent than paying by card or clicking your phone. If you are trying to live within a budget, cash will help because when it is gone, its gone.
Cash can also help you negotiate discounts. Maybe the guy who sells you firewood will cut you a break if you pay with folding money. Thanks to greed, a big enough bill will often get you special treatment.
Tax avoidance is another reason to like cash. Maybe that small business owner will report the cash, maybe not, but that’s their decision. When you pay by credit card, you force them to record the sale because the card company sends them a 1099 every year.
That’s the reason I like to pay cash or at least tip in cash for personal services. If you leave a cash tip for the person who cuts your hair, waits your table, or grooms your dog, then it is up to them to decide whether they want to report that income on their taxes. If you pay by card, their employer knows and the IRS knows.
When to Use Credit Cards
When do I use credit cards? At the gas station, because it’s convenient and I don’t really care that someone knows how much gas I consume; online; when I need to track tax deductible expenses; when I need to be reimbursed for and therefore need a good receipt; and when I have an unplanned large expenditure, such as a car repair.
Although I like cash and the options it gives you, I think it is a good idea to pay via card from time to time. For example, if you rarely use credit or debit cards, any law enforcement agency that investigates you will see that you live a cash lifestyle and they will immediately suspect you of having an illicit source of cash. They’d think drugs, tax avoidance, or whatever, but it will make their needle move towards suspecting you of being a criminal. But if they access your credit card or bank records and sees an occasionally restaurant, a bunch of gas stations, the grocery store, the hardware store, and a few other “normal” transactions then you have allayed their suspicions by looking normal while also not giving them any transactions that appear to be suspicious about.
Finally, as every prepper knows, cash may quickly become the primary method of payment during a power outage or grid down situation. So keep $1,000 or more cash on hand so you can make emergency purchases in a TEOTWAWKI situation.
Back in January, I popped into a Smash Burger restaurant to grab lunch, and the girl behind the register proclaimed that their credit card processor was down. I told her I was a cash kind of guy and she looked relieved. While I waited for my food, four other customers had to be turned away and only one other paid cash. The machine was still down when I left, so I smiled and nodded at the people waiting for it to be fixed. That day, my old fashioned habit of carrying cash made me look wise.