Consumers continue to rely heavily on cash for in-person purchases and reliable store of value, according to supplemental Federal Reserve report

SAN FRANCISCO –Consumers continued to increase the amount of cash they are carrying and/or storing, while nearly 80 percent of respondents who made in-person purchases did not indicate that they were avoiding or averse to using cash during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are two prominent findings from the most recent consumer survey conducted jointly by the Federal Reserve System’s Cash Product Office (CPO), based at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

The Federal Reserve conducts this annual survey, The Diary of Consumer Payment Choice, to better understand U.S. consumers’ payment behavior and preferences. Recognizing the COVID-19 pandemic’s extraordinary disruption to the economy, payments practices, and potentially cash usage, the CPO and Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta conducted supplemental consumer surveys in April 2020 and again in August.

The April supplemental survey, “Consumer Payments and the COVID-19 Pandemic: A supplement to the 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice,” indicated consumers more than doubled the amount of cash they stored at home, and also increased the amount of cash carried in wallets.

The subsequent findings from the August 2020 report, “Consumer Payments and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Second Supplement to the 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment,” indicate that survey participants continued to increase substantially the use of cash as a store of value. However, the rate of increase slowed relative to the beginning of the pandemic, and this slowing is reflected in currency in ­circulation trends. 

“This second supplement provides valuable insight into how consumer payment behavior has evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mark Gould, chief operating officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and cash product director of the Federal Reserve System’s Cash Product Office.

The August 2020 supplement to the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice also found:   

  • Cash holdings have increased throughout the pandemic, with an average household store of value in cash of $530. Respondents stated that cash held in their pocket, purse, or wallet has remained stable, at around $70.
  • The share of respondents who made an in-person payment in the 30 days prior to completing the survey increased to 60 percent, up from 34 percent in April.
  • More than 40 percent of respondents reported switching in-person payments to online or over-the-phone.
  • Most consumers using cash reported no issues with receiving change in coins, despite the coin circulation disruption experienced during the pandemic.

Just as the pandemic’s ultimate economic impact remains unknown, it also is unclear whether long-term shopping and payment behaviors will undergo significant changes. However, the pandemic’s disrupted flow of cash and coin throughout the economy has already underscored the importance of maintaining a flexible and resilient U.S. cash supply chain.  

About the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice

The Diary is a survey designed to study payment behaviors using a nationally representative sample of U.S. consumers. Participants are asked to record information on all transactions – purchases, bill payments, deposits, withdrawals, etc. – conducted during assigned, overlapping consecutive three-day periods. The COVID surveys described in the two recent supplement papers rely on this nationally representative sample, asking Diary participants to answer questions describing recent payment behaviors along with other questions regarding the pandemic. The Diary of Consumer Payment Choice is a collaboration between the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Boston, Richmond, and San Francisco (Cash Product Office).

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (SF Fed) works to advance the nation’s monetary, financial, and payment systems to build a stronger economy for all Americans. As part of the U.S. central bank, the SF Fed serves the Twelfth Federal Reserve District, which covers the nine western states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawai’i, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—plus American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. By pursuing our two key goals of maximum employment and price stability—known as the Fed’s dual mandate—we work toward supporting an economy that works for everyone.