Cash vs card: Which wins in 2024?

We hit the streets to find out what Brits have got in their pockets.

Do you carry cash? Or do you just tap and go? The Finder team roamed the streets of London to quiz the general public about whether they prefer cash or card. In an increasingly cashless society, we were surprised by what we learned.

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Why carry cash?

For many of us, carrying cash feels outdated. But if you actually looked in your wallet or purse, what would you find?

There are still many scenarios where we need cash. That pesky £1 for the swimming pool locker, the chained-up shopping trolley or your local barber who hasn’t yet made the leap to a card reader. And that’s before you even consider the Tooth Fairy.

I still use cash every now and then… Sometimes you might get those smaller sort of bakery stores that accept cash only, just because it’s easier for them.”

Bun lover

What are our cash habits in 2024?

Cash usage in the UK has been on a steady slide over the past couple of decades. In 2009, close to 60% of all payments were in cash. This dropped to 23% in 2019. Then during the COVID pandemic, cash usage plummeted to just 17% of all payments made in 2020.

However, the cost of living crisis has meant that cash usage is climbing again for the first time in a decade. Some households have turned to cash to help them budget more carefully. Despite that, it still accounted for only 19% of all transactions in 2023.

We asked the public what they’d do if they walked into a store or café that was cash only. We got a mixed response!

Some said they’d head to the nearest ATM. Although a steep hill would be enough to stop one.

It depends on where the location is. As sometimes uphills or downhills… it’s just too annoying.”

Hill hater

Meanwhile, others said that they’d just turn around and leave, taking their business elsewhere.

I’m leaving. I’m going to the coffee shop over the road that accepts card. Too time-consuming to go and get cash out these days.”

Card carrier

Do people see the value in cash?

As cash is less used in our day to day, do people see the value in cash any more? We asked the public how they would feel if a friend repaid them in cash. One woman loved the idea but not necessarily for the right reasons.

It’s girl math! That’s cash I didn’t have before, so it’s free money.”

Cash queen

For others, receiving cash is just an annoyance – an extra admin task since they’d have to deposit it into their bank account. Note to family and friends of one interviewee: don’t pay her back in cash.

It would annoy me. My dad does it sometimes, because he’s a bit old school. He always carries cash in case of an ‘emergency’. But it really annoys me, as then I have to put it in my bank account. I’d rather just get the money in my account.”

Bank account faithful

However, there are some people who still prefer to handle just cash.

It’s just my vibe. I don’t know why it is, I just feel comfortable when I’ve got cash in my pocket.”

Cash king

Cash and travelling

Despite all the different zero-fee cards available, it seems that some people’s go-to when travelling is still to have a little cash on them.

Just now, yes (I have cash on me), because I’m abroad. Usually (I carry) very little.”

Borough Market tourist

If you’re heading abroad, the cheapest way to pay is typically to use a debit or credit card designed for travel. Some debit cards charge you a fee if you use them abroad. But others, such as the Uphold Card, charge zero fees on foreign transactions and offer competitive exchange rates. This card doesn’t charge annual fees, either, but there is a charge for withdrawing cash from ATMs in the UK or abroad, and there’s a charge for getting a physical card. You can use Uphold everywhere that Mastercard is accepted – over 36 million locations worldwide.

Do cards ultimately win?

There’s no denying that card payments now dominate the way we use our money – be it online or in person, at home or abroad. A quick tap or click and we’re on our way.

But there’s still quite a range of answers to the question: “Do you have cash in your pocket?”

No, not one penny!”

Market browser

Generally, I do not carry cash. I can say that definitively. It’s a hindrance!”

Bank account faithful

Uh, probably about £500.”

Cash king
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To make sure you get accurate and helpful information, this guide has been edited by Liz Edwards as part of our fact-checking process.
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Written by


Kate Steere is an editor at Finder, specialising in fintech, banking and cryptocurrency. She has previously written for The Motley Fool UK and Fitch Solutions, where she covered a wide range of personal finance topics and kept a close eye on market trends. Kate has a Bachelor of Arts in Modern History from the University of East Anglia. When not working, she can usually be found curled up with a good book or heading out for a run. See full bio

Kate's expertise
Kate has written 175 Finder guides across topics including:
  • Fintech
  • Banking
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Mortgages
  • Payments

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