What Does Your Payment Diary Reveal?

In the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice survey, Americans across the country shared how they pay for everyday purchases, helping the Fed estimate future cash demand. Do your payment preferences reflect national trends? Play our Payment Diary Game to find out.

For each of the following ten purchases, select your preferred payment choice—cash, debit card, credit card, check, or electronic payment (funds transfer from a bank account or electronic bill pay).

Please note: Payment options below were those used in the 2012 Diary survey. Mobile was also an option, but made up a very small percentage of payments, and so it is not included in the game.

Cola pouring into glass

You get a refreshing cola for $1.50. How do you pay?

  • Cash
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Card
  • Check
  • Electronic Payment

The Diary of Consumer Payment Choice found that consumers use cash most frequently for small-value transactions. And there are a lot of those small transactions every day.

Lunch comes to $22. How would you pay?

  • Cash
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Card
  • Check
  • Electronic Payment

This one’s a toss-up with consumers. The average cash transaction is $21, and cash is used half of the time for purchases under $50. Debit and credit cards are most popular for the other half.

Gas or electric — how would you pay a $72 utility bill?

  • Cash
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Card
  • Check
  • Electronic Payment

To pay regular bills, consumers often use checks, online bill pay, or electronic payments from a savings or checking account.

Your groceries ring up to $100. How do you pay?

  • Cash
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Card
  • Check
  • Electronic Payment

Paper or plastic? Debit and credit cards together are the first payment preference for 65% of consumers.

You decide to catch the latest blockbuster. Your movie tickets come to $42. How do you pay?

  • Cash
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Card
  • Check
  • Electronic Payment

We’re no box office experts, but we do know that the average value of a debit card transaction is $44. When consumers prefer to pay by debit card, they also typically use cash 36% of the time.

You get a trim for $25. How do you pay for your haircut? Don’t forget the tip.

  • Cash
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Card
  • Check
  • Electronic Payment

Did you have trouble choosing? Debit and credit cards are popular for purchases under $50, but so is cash.

Traveling for business or pleasure, how would you pay for a $350 plane ticket?

  • Cash
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Card
  • Check
  • Electronic Payment

With the ability to earn rewards and travel miles, credit cards are preferred by 22% of consumers. However, 53% of them would choose cash for purchases less than $10.

Your quiet dinner for two comes to $75. How do you pay?

  • Cash
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Card
  • Check
  • Electronic Payment

Debit and credit cards combined are used more frequently for everyday purchases over $20.

Picking up a cup of coffee for $3, how do you prefer to pay?

  • Cash
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Card
  • Check
  • Electronic Payment

Most consumers use cash for purchases under $10, regardless of payment preference.

To pay for a $180 gym membership, which payment instrument would you flex?

  • Cash
  • Debit Card
  • Credit Card
  • Check
  • Electronic Payment

Although consumers don’t use checks or electronic payment methods very often, when they do, it tends to be for much higher-value transactions such as bill payments.

Here’s how you paid

  • 00% Cash
  • 00% Debit Card
  • 00% Credit Card
  • 00% Check
  • 00% Electronic Payment

The 2012 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice identified several important trends reflected in the Payment Diary Game. The three key takeaways are:


  1. Cash is the most frequently used payment method because consumers prefer it for purchases under $10, regardless of payment preference.


  2. 70% of consumers prefer cash as either a primary or secondary payment instrument.


  3. The payment instruments used least frequently—checks and electronic payments—are the ones used most for higher-value purchases.

For a quick look at study results, visit our Infographic on Consumer Preferences and the Use of Cash.

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