consumerism economics lifestyle shopping

Ignore these ads – cash is alive and well

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Have you seen these ads? Maestro have been flogging this horse for a while now, and their latest incarnation, ‘cash has retired’ is everywhere at the moment. The four ads feature Darwin, Dickens, Adam Smith and John Houbion, all faces on UK bills, enjoying their retirement. Before this admittedly rather wry series we had ‘cash stinks’, ‘coins get lost’, or the travel related ‘no juan likes coins’ and ‘this is a passenger denouncement for cash’. The campaign was devised by McCann Erickson and aims to ‘reposition the Maestro debit brand as the better way to pay for small value items’.

I heartily recommend ignoring these ads.

They’re kind of fun, but they offer very bad advice. According to a recent piece of research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, we feel no pain in spending unless we pay in cash, and we tend to treat all other forms of payment as ‘monopoly money’.

“The studies suggest that less transparent payment forms tend to be treated like play money and are hence more easily spent,” says author Priya Raghubir, a professor of marketing at New York University. People who pay by credit or debit card are more likely to spend more at once, and less likely to be aware of how much they spend, than those who pay by cash. It’s only by physically counting out the money that we appreciate how much we are spending, and feel any ‘pain of paying’.

Maestro would rather we used our cards, and that we spent as much as possible. It would suit them very well for us all to lose touch with how much we’re spending and go to town on the plastic. But if you value money, and you want to be in control of your spending, consider cash.


  1. Well, even though I don’t have a Maestro card, I do think that cash should be outdated. Now, a debit card (such as Maestro) is not like a credit card, i.e. money that you don’t have, but is directly linked to your current account. I never carry more than a fiver on me and a lot of times I actually don’t buy stuff that I want just because the shop offer no debit card facilities, e.g. Nero Café shops. It doesn’t really matter whether someone uses either cash or debit cards; it is the lack of financial education that causes so much grief to people.

  2. You’re right, learning to use your money well is the most important thing in all of this. I just think it’s interesting from a psychology point of view, that we think differently about our spending depending on how we pay.

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