I went cashless for a day; it was rewarding and challenging
Go a full day without cash? Hah, I thought. Cashless was used to describe my National Service and university days, associated with a lingering sense of poverty and youth.
In today’s context, going cashless has a totally different meaning. When I was challenged to go an entire day without cash, it wasn’t meant to test my resolve to not spend a single cent.
Instead, it was a challenge to use the various cashless payment systems, such as Apple Pay, Visa Paywave and many more, to live through the day. As I discovered (as did other Singaporeans who we've talked to in our latest GoBearTV episode), going cashless affects you in several ways, both good and bad.
The morning rush
“Going cashless makes you spend more”, is what mum told me when I was leaving the house. I rolled my eyes and said “That happens to weak-willed and undisciplined people”, and promptly spent $21 to Uber to the office instead of taking the bus.
Yes, I know. There goes my case.
After getting to the office 90 minutes ahead of time because I used Uber, I decided to sit down and do some work-related research (hey, reading 9gag is research), as well as give myself some industry updates. By industry updates, I meant browsing Facebook pictures and nurturing a deep hatred for my peers who can afford vacations. Probably because they don’t spend $21 to Uber to work.
The coffee and kaya toast stall I like is open, but then I realise two things. First, I have no cash on me, and they don’t take cards. Second, I’m pretty sure the guy making the toast just wiped his nose with the same towel he used on the tables.
I head to Starbucks instead and spent $8+ on a Mocha-froo-froo-whatsit. I do this with Apple Pay: you just hover your phone an inch from the reader, place your thumb on the scanner and done. It feels strangely satisfying, like I’ve received some sort of free drink.
The person behind me stares. That’s right lady, I say to her in my imagination, I’m on fleek. But when I raise my iPhone in a toast, all she does is make a snorting sound and looks away.
Cashless lesson 1: you spend more
Yes, it’s partly because I have the discipline of a starved chihuahua in a steakhouse. But even then, there’s another reason going cashless makes you spend more.
A lot of the cheap food options, like my coffee and dubious kaya toast haunt, don’t have modes of cashless payment. You know what sort of outlets have cashless payment options? More upscale places. Places like Starbucks. The limited options contribute to your higher spending.
That said, note that some hawker centres in the CBD – like Amoy Street Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre, and Hong Lim Food Centre – have cashless payment options. You just need to scan the stall’s QR code, and use apps like DBS PayLah.
But if those cashless payment options don’t happen to be near you? Enjoy your Mocha-froo-froo from Coffee Bean or wherever; that’s probably where you’ll end up.
Time for a break
After attacking my workload with my usual tirelessness and dedication, for 11 whole minutes, I decided it’s time for a snack. There are two options: the nearby canteen that sells char siew buns - which is so rubbery, it can also be used to patch car tyres in a pinch - or something edible from NTUC FairPrice.
Because I want something that doesn’t taste like overcooked pork and disappointment, I opt for NTUC. I buy a box of sweet rolls and an apple; because if you eat one healthy thing, it negates the cholesterol and sugar of the other*.
What? Okay fine, it’s self-justification for my food and probably life choices.
This time, I used Visa PayWave, and it makes a difference. Usually, it takes me a couple of minutes to dig through my pockets for loose change. About five minutes gets wasted in line, as I sort through my wallet’s notes, coins, three years of conservancy bills, and insurance agents’ name cards just to pay for that “healthy” food.
This time it’s just tap and go; and I have to say our lives would be better if everyone could do that.
Back at the office, I spent five minutes at the water cooler, explaining to my colleagues why everyone should go cashless. My colleague joked that he is cashless every day on account of being broke. I congratulate him for being the one millionth person to make that joke.
Cashless lesson 2: it speeds things up and makes you an evangelist
It is faster to go cashless, end of story. There’s no need to fidget about with notes and coins. The minutes saved might not matter to everyone, but it will in some cases.
Oddly though, you get a bit irritated at people who don’t use cashless, and start telling them about it. Like the people who insist on having their Visa card inserted, even when the PayWave system is there.
This is my favourite part of the day. I used UberEats for lunch, and it changes everything. The big difference is that I’m not confined to food “in the area”, and my colleague doesn’t need to use her car. I also use a nifty trick to max out my credit card points here.
I order for everyone in the office, and they pay me via DBS PayLah. By using my phone number, they can send money into my current account. That money goes back to repaying my card, so there’s never any interest.
I charge about $30 to $70 per workday on my credit card this way (depending on hungry everyone is). On my American Express KrisFlyer card, that’s 30 to 70 bonus miles every workday, for free.
This is, of course, something you can’t do with cash payment.
Cashless lesson 3: you can max out your credit card rewards more easily
This should be self-evident. If you’re going cashless, it’s easy to rake in the frequent flyer miles, cashback, etc. Just be sure to make full repayments, so you don’t incur interest.
Never forget you can charge “virtual” dollars to your card, by combining many people’s payments onto your card, and collecting repayment from them with other means.
And people say I don’t maximise my credit cards. Pfft. If only they knew how much time I spend looking through the options available.
Well, more like a misadventure here: I accidentally left my phone in the office, and wander down to the taxi stand. When I see the queue, I try to call for a cab, and realise I don’t have it in my pocket.
That sends me running back to the office and sneaking in via the backdoor (a client is in the waiting room, and I’m trying to avoid another work revision request).
With the grace of an obese, arthritic penguin, I sneak to my desk, fumble for my phone, knock over the inbox, and end up with everyone staring.
I left with my phone. And three revision requests.
I went to Tiong Bahru for dinner, just because I wanted to try a cashless payment called Liquid Pay at the hawker centre. Liquid Pay essentially lets me use my credit card for hawker food; I just need to scan the QR code.
I heard that the hawkers have no idea how it works, so I was bracing for some confusion. As it was, the duck rice uncle simply pointed at the code, I scanned it, and $4.50 gets charged to my card. But the duck rice uncle noticed my iPhone, and gave me a three-minute rant on how Apple sucks because the last update bricked his phone.
Going back, I call for an Uber again because it’s raining. I’m relieved to see that, even with surge pricing, it’s only $15.
Cashless lesson 4: stick to your phone like superglue
Or is it the other way around? Either way, going cashless makes you super-dependent on your phone. If you lose it, you’re in a serious jam – you better have some loose change on you, so you can at least take a bus. Otherwise, you could really end up stranded – unable to call anyone or pay for your ride back.
We’re probably not going to leave our wallets home entirely, not until the inevitable day when our phones are grafted to our foreheads.
Can we truly go cashless?
Using your smartphone or credit card to pay is super convenient and it’s easier to max out your credit card rewards.
On the downside, you do tend to spend more, but it’s not so much about willpower. With more affordable eateries going cashless, this will be less of a problem.
You really do need to watch out for your phone though – if you lose it, you lose both your money and your communications. It’s best to carry some notes and coins still, just in case.