I went cash-only for a week in Portsmouth - here's how I got on

Until the last few days, I can’t remember the last time I actually carried cash in my wallet.

Tuesday, 22nd January 2019, 4:42 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 6:33 pm
When was the last time you regularly carried cash?

Since I got my first contactless card in the summer of 2014, I’ve been all about that tap life.

Whether it’s buying my weekly shop or just a 70p can of pop, my default instinct is to pay contactless. 

It’s a lot less shameful than having to type your PIN number in when using your card to pay for a Freddo.

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But over the Christmas break, I found myself actually carrying loose change and cash in my wallet.

So I thought that I would see how hard it would be to go old-school – and use just cash for a week.

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Here are the results:

Teething problems

It didn’t take me long on Monday to run into my first stumbling block.

I live in Fratton and have to catch the train to Cosham every day to get to work.

Usually I just rush to the nearest ticket machine, tap my card down, grab my tickets and dash to the platform to catch the train.

But on Monday, after withdrawing a £10 note from the cash machine to pay for my ticket I soon realised that all but one of the machines weren’t accepting cash.

Typically the only machine that would accept my physical currency was the one with the queue.

A good start.

Then at lunch I hit my second speed bump, deciding to take a trip to the Co-op at Lakeside and witnessing the lengthy queue waiting to use the manned tills, I tried to skip it by using the self-service machine… only to realise it was card only.

Unfortunately this wasn’t the only time I would make this mistake throughout the week.

I went to the card-only self-check out machines at the Asda in Fratton a number of times.

Being forced to call over to the staff to cancel my shopping and sheepishly slink over to a machine that accepted cash.

Perhaps the worst example of this was during a trip to McDonald’s.

I went to place my order on one of the fancy new touch screen self-service machines, only to realise after I’d click pay that it only took card, and tapping a ten pound note on the reader doesn’t have the same effect.

And it took quite a while to get used to the weight of having loose change in my wallet.

As well as to coins constantly falling out every time I pulled it out of my pocket.

Safe to say my reflexes probably improved in the last seven days.

The Upsides

Speaking of loose change, actually having coins in my wallet meant that I could finally shop at the 24-hour store down the street from my home.

They have a minimum spend limit for cards, so if I wanted to pick up a chocolate bar or a drink on my way home from work I would avoid it as I didn’t want to overspend.

But since I had coins, not only could I shop there but I could also pay with the exact change.

Giving me the chance to support a small business instead of a giant supermarket.

I also found it much easier to keep track of how much I was spending during the week.

With contactless and card payments it can be easy to blow my weekly budget.

So when I went to buy a couple of pairs of new work trousers, withdrawing the cash to pay for them and then hand said money over to a cashier made it feel more like I was really spending it.

That’s opposed to putting my card in the machine and forgetting about it, until I next check my bank account anyway.

It also made it easier to set a budget for a night out.

Knowing I couldn’t just use my card and instead if the cash I’d taken out was gone then that was that.

Human contact

In recent years technological advancements have reduced our need to interact with other humans.

You can do your shopping at a self-service machine, order fast food from your phone without having to call in to speak to someone and check your bank balance without having to go into your local branch.

But by forcing myself to buy things with cash, I had more of the brief interactions with people.

It was nothing earth shattering, just the usual pleasantries, but in the digital age it can be easy to avoid all contact with the real world.


While I did enjoy the challenge of just spending cash this past week, it is definitely not something I plan to continue going forward.

However I will try to avoid being as over-reliant on using contactless and my card going forward and carry more cash.