The 5-Minute Prepper #7: Go Back to Cash

Debit and credit cards can be quite convenient, but they have an “achilles heel”: When the power or network goes down, the electronic system cannot verify the card and the transaction is denied. This can also happen with paper checks. When this occurs, making purchases with your checks or debit or credit cards comes to a stop.

There was a time not too long ago when most people used cash. Today, the majority of us use cards to pay for purchases and carry few bills in our wallets, or have stopped carrying cash altogether. There are several significant reasons why you should start using cash again and veer away from the “cashless society.”

Benefit #1: Cash Is King

As noted above, there are any number of reasons that could prevent merchants from processing cashless payments. However, if you’re standing at the gas pump with an empty tank and the pump won’t accept your card, you won’t care what the reason is—only that you’re unable to put gas in your tank. Having cash can make the difference between whether you are able to get fuel or not.

More seriously, if the dollar collapses or there is other economic collapse in the U.S., you’re going to see many stores stop accepting any form of payment except cash. In times of uncertainty, people become very protective, and even business owners won’t be too keen on accepting forms of payment that they can’t be assured of getting reimbursed for.

Benefit #2: Get to Know Your Neighborhood Merchants

When you use cash to pay for your fuel, you typically go inside the station to pay for it. This gives you the opportunity for the small talk that occurs while you wait for your sale (or pre-sale) to be run through the register. Likewise, when you pay with cash at other places, there is a more personal interaction with the clerk. You never know when you may need the help of one of these people—and them knowing you can go a long way.

Benefit #3: Start a Small Savings Account at Home

When you use cash, you get change in return, including coins. Don’t spend any of the coins! Even if you can make exact change, use a bill instead. When you get home, put the coins into a coin jar. Depending on how many times you use cash throughout the average day, you could be adding $1 to $2 to your coin savings every day. It’s an easy way to save up a little extra money without putting a strain on your budget.

Benefit #4: Keep Your Debt Low

None of these benefits are more important than the others, but the importance of keeping your debt low cannot be understated. The less debt you have, the more financial freedom you retain. With the current average interest rate of credit cards hovering around 17%, using credit is tantamount to shackling yourself into financial servitude. We’re lured into thinking, “It’s only a small payment. I can afford it.” In truth, all it does is make you a slave to the issuer of the credit card.

By using cash, you’re paying for something now, not later. We’ve seen what happens when families get in over their head (repossessions, foreclosures, stress, divorce, suicides, etc.), but it can be avoided by not getting into debt in the first place.


This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on September 26, 2013.

Rob Hanus is the author of “The Preparedness Capability Checklist: A Planning and Evaluation Tool for Becoming More Self-Reliant,” an easy-to-read book that offers the absolute best method for intelligent and deliberate prepping. Rob is also host of the Preparedness Podcast.

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This post was written by Marjory Wildcraft


  • Jenny Gibbons says:

    Relying on cash can be every bit as crippling as relying on credit.

    Cash is not king. There are a number of places where using cash is difficult or impossible. You can’t buy food on airplanes with cash. It is difficult to rent a car or buy a plane ticket with cash. My mom found this out the hard way. When I ended up in the hospital unexpectedly, she couldn’t get to me quickly — because she didn’t have a credit card.

    If the dollar collapses, no one’s going to want cash (aka dollars). I think a well-prepared person should have multiple means of paying for goods. Cash, credit, and barter goods.

    Benefit #2 is mostly irrelevant. With most purchases, you have to go through check out. And your ability to talk isn’t affected by the type of payment you use. Even at the fuel pump, you can still talk to the attendant. I know I do, even though I use credit there.

    Benefits #3 and #4 are important points. If you can’t pay your bill in full every month, I don’t think you should be using credit. And the penny jar is a wonderful source of funds in an emergency. But I still feel that relying heavily on cash is just as unwise as relying heavily on credit. My mom is justifiably proud of her ability to live off the grid. However if you can’t function in the outside world, you’ve partially crippled yourself — as she found, when she wanted to come help me…. and couldn’t.

    1. Marjory Wildcraft says:

      Hi Jenny,

      I’ve done enough collapse survivor interviews that most of them do say that cash is vitally important at different stages.

      I agree that at big stores, cash or credit is not any difference, but I mostly shop at local stores, and yes, having cash is appreciated (they don’t have to pay a transaction fee) and you do get to know the shop owners better. I suppose its a lifestyle thing, but aren’t you shopping at farmers markets and local as much as possible anyway?

  • Chris H. says:

    The above link to ‘Save Your Nickels’ does not work. Try this one:


  • Great Grey says:

    Credit card use should be treated just like you had written a check and take the amount from checking account balance that way you can pay it off every month.

  • ieducate2008 says:

    Cash is very important. But so are credit cards. Many stores are not accepting cash due to COVID-19. So, a credit card is needed if you want to shop there. A benefit of using cash is that your purchase is not traceable. If you’re someone who enjoys a certain amount of privacy, cash is the answer. Your purchase is not traceable through the system. However, if you use credit cards, the purchase is traceable and stored in a data bank forever. Credit cards are needed for online purchases, which don’t accept cash. Also, if you stay at a hotel, you can pay with cash but they want a credit card on file for incidental purchases.

    Bottom line: A person needs both cash and credit cards.

  • tuliv4 says:

    There’s definitely a long standing debate on this subject- cash or credit.
    Credit – is certainly convenient and faster to check out with. Type those lovely card #’s into the computer to make online purchases; You can make returns at some stores without a receipt as long as you have the credit card the purchases were made with. Every transaction is recorded and archived.
    Cash – every bill has a serial #, so they’re traceable. Sometimes I really like to throw out a receipt for purchases I will never return.

    I saw a movie about the evolution of bartering to the use of money. Having an agreed upon system of exchange has it’s appeal.

    Cash carries with it certainty, as far as- you know how much you have in hand. Have you ever gone to make a purchase and had your credit card declined because the company suspected fraud. The system is turned on or off remotely And there’s aspects to it that are out of our personal control.

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