The findings aren't too surprising at a time when most consumers are able to swipe their debit cards to buy a pack of gum and scan their phones to buy an afternoon latte. Purchases made with cash aren't as easy to track as those detailed in credit card and checking account statements, and some consumers may worry they'll break their budgets by spending any cash they withdraw. But there could be more at play than the rising popularity of paying with plastic.
Some people don't carry cash because they don't have that much of it to spare, McBride says. Some 27 percent of Americans do not have any emergency savings, meaning they are pretty much living paycheck to paycheck, according to a separate Bankrate.com survey conducted last June. "In that situation, not only is money very tight, but you need every bit of it to pay the bills," McBride says. "So you can’t afford to be tucking away a spare 20 in your wallet."
Indeed, the amount of cash people could access easily declined after the recession, especially for minorities, according to an analysis of Census data by the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on social change. The organization found that the amount consumers have in liquid wealth, defined as assets that could be easily turned into cash, declined during the recession and hasn't fully rebounded. In 2011, the latest year for which data was available, median liquid wealth was $10,000 , up slightly from $9,961 in 2009 but still lower than the median $11,518 in liquid wealth that consumers enjoyed in 2005, according to the center.
But in some cases, not stashing cash could get costly. Consumers who find themselves at a cash-only restaurant or in a cab that doesn't accept plastic may have to pay fees after stopping at an out-of-network ATM. The combined fees charged by banks and ATMs in those scenarios now average more than $4 for each cash withdrawal, according to Bankrate.com. Suddenly that $20 bill you didn't carry in your wallet is now worth only $16.