Last Updated Jul 12, 2011 9:21 AM EDT
You're not the only one fishing around for cash in your wallet or purse. The overwhelming popularity of credit and debit cards is apparently turning U.S. currency into something of an endangered species. The New York Times reports that for the first time in 30 years, the U.S. Treasury did not print any new ten-dollar bills in 2010, and that the number of one- and five-dollar bills being printed fell to a low for that period as well.
Instead, it is the other Founding Father, Ben Franklin, who is the popular face at the Federal Reserve. The production of $100 bills is higher than it has been in two decades, and contrary to what you might expect, most of the 1.91 billion $100 bills printed this year are not ending up in the pockets of rap stars or the walls of James "Whitey" Bulger's Santa Monica hideout. Instead, they're going on vacation. According to estimates by the Federal Reserve, nearly two-thirds of the seven billion $100 bills in circulation are in the hands of foreigners, who covet them for their stability.
Back home in the United States, the "always pay with cash" maxim espoused by Depression-Era grandparents is falling by the wayside as other forms of payment seize a greater and greater share of the retail market. Today, refusing to own a credit card not only limits a person's ability to establish credit, it blocks them off from a wide range of services. Internet retailers like Amazon and eBay do not accept cash; nor does Netflix, iTunes, or the flight attendant with that hypnotically alluring can of Pringles.
What is more, the infrastructure required by physical money is expensive to maintain. "People don't really think about all of these hidden costs [of money]: in making it, in transporting it, in security," says David Wolman author of the forthcoming The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers -- and the Coming Cashless Society. "It's probably not the number one criticism against cash, but [there's] even the carbon emissions of these ridiculous Bradley armored vehicles driving all over the country, stocking up these machines. You start to think this is so antiquated."
In cash's favor, though, it's still the easiest way to tip service people, and many small businesses don't accept plastic because of the fees, so perhaps it's not in danger of dying anytime soon.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Keith011764
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