Who Holds Cash?

Federal Reserve Cash Product Office Policy Analyst Claire Wang asks San Francisco residents about their cash holding and spending habits (video, 2:53).

Join Federal Reserve Cash Product Office Policy Analyst Claire Wang, who authored the FedNotes paper Who Holds Cash?, as she asks San Francisco residents about their cash holding and cash spending habits.


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Today’s consumers have more choices than ever in how to pay. Debit cards and credit cards are growing increasingly popular, and new payment apps seem to pop up every day. Despite all these choices, some people still choose to pay with cash.

“Hi, I’m Claire Wang with the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. In a recent paper I wrote for the Federal Reserve’s Cash Product Office called “Who Holds Cash?” I look at people’s cash holding and cash spending habits. This research was based on survey results from people like you and me. But it got me thinking – how does San Francisco compare to the national averages? Well, today, I’m here on the streets of San Francisco to find out.”

  • “I use cash more often than I use my cards because I have a whole amount in my bank and if I use cash than I don’t see that number get smaller. So, I tend to just use pocket cash a lot.”
  • “For 50, 60, 70 dollars I’ll typically use my card. Usually, I don’t carry more than about 100 dollars.”
  • “Yeah, I do not have any dollar bills on me. I really don’t use cash anymore.”
  • “Right now, I have 10 dollars on me.”
  • “Well, to be honest with you, I rarely bring cash with me because I have my debit card with me all the time. I just have probably 40 bucks with me, just in case something happens along the way.”
  • “I just use my cards, basically. I’ll bring cash if I know I’m going to the farmers market and I know they don’t use cards. What about you?”
    • “I feel like I’m scared to carry cash. Every time I carry it, I end up losing it. So, it’s just so much easier to have cards. I feel like I get annoyed when people say something is cash-only anymore.”
    • “But my mom comes out to visit me and she always has cash with her. And I think it’s so funny because you don’t need it!”
    • “My mom will always be like ‘make sure you have enough cash on you,’ and I’m like ‘I never need it!’”

“The paper showed that 89% of consumers continue to hold cash to some extent. But are these consumers also spending that cash?”

  • “We had sushi, we bought some honey sticks, we bought some water, and all of a sudden, 30 dollars in cash just gone!”
  • “Oh, I like to pay in cash. I don’t like to review my credit card statement and have a lot of little payments.”
  • I use my debit card a lot, but I’m being very concerned recently about using the debit card, and so for small purchases I’m trying to use cash.” 

The study found four types of consumers based on their cash holding and cash spending habits. Curious to see if you fall under one of these types? Visit the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s website, under Cash Publications, to see the full paper Who Holds Cash?


Who Holds Cash? Evidence from the 2012 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice

Cash Continues to Play a Key Role in Consumer Spending: Evidence from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice

Consumer Preferences and the Use of Cash: Evidence from the Diary of Consumer Payments Choice – Working Paper