New payment methods
I wonder how long it will take for purses and wallets to become as charmingly retro as cigarette cases or leatherette chequebook holders. Spending, or rather paying, habits have now been turned completely upside down. A few years ago using anything other than cash at the corner shop was a seen as slightly odd and an almost provocative attempt at queue clogging. Now that same look of exasperated pity is saved for those who prise open a purse and have the temerity to count out notes and coins to pay for their groceries.
Cheques have all but disappeared and now that the school has embraced online banking my free time has increased by about an hour a year as I know longer have to waste 20 minutes every term looking for the chequebook to pay for school dinners and the after-school club.
I think the last time I must have actually taken a chequebook out shopping with me was Christmas 1999, just before Marks & Spencer dropped its King Canute style war against the rising tide of credit cards. (I never did get round to applying for those cutesy ones with the squirrels on them.)
Almost everything I buy now is done either online or using a debit or credit card. I use a swipe card on the bus and a credit or debit card for almost everything else. It’s not always quicker – the last two times I’ve bought train tickets online I’ve missed the train by seconds waiting for the ticket machine to spit out more tickets than the amusements on Yarmouth seafront. I ended up trapped on the wrong side of the barrier helplessly watching the ticket barriers clang shut three minutes before the train leaves, tickets finally in hand, as the train disappeared like Von Ryan’s Express.
But cash is no longer king – according to the Halifax only £17 out of every £100 is actually spent using real hard cash and it’s becoming less popular by the day. The banks are even retiring the current pink £50 note, featuring the face of Sir John Houblon (first governor of the Bank of England) which will stop being legal tender in May, though you can swap them at banks until the end of October and at the Bank of England forever. Even traditional “loadsamoney” professions like builders have gone off cash. Our builder prefers his money pinged across the internet rather than counted out in grubby £50 notes – the increasingly fat wad of notes was probably spoiling the line of his vintage 501s.
So now the only time I really feel the need to visit a cashpoint is if I’m venturing across the road to our cutesy pub whose original features include a real log fire, a weekly piano player and a cash only bar. That and dinner out with the girls, where no night out is complete without the traditional divvying up of the bill, which is much smoother and includes less talk of who only had a starter and who had a pudding if we count out folding money rather than ask the already exhausted waiter (I have quite high-maintenance friends) to take £27.67 from each of four different cards. The last time we did that we each took home the wrong card and forgot to include a tip. Blame it on the Pinot.
But as of Tuesday (29 April) even that need to reach for the folding stuff has become obsolete with the arrival of Paym – an app that allows us to move money round the world by phone. Instead of rooting around our purses for cash, one of us will pay the bill and the others simply tappety tap our share across the table out of our account and into hers. I get to try it out on Thursday – with “hilarious” consequences no doubt. I’m not good using financial technology under pressure, especially late at night. The last time I was allowed near any kind of accounting machine in a pub was when I spent a night “undercover” as a barmaid. Within an hour of being let loose on the electronic till I’d charged a builder and his mates £2,000 for a round of double bloody Marys. Delicious irony I called it. What he called it was virtually unprintable. Like the bill.