I never carry cash. Much like payphones, physical currency is a conundrum that previous generations have left for us to solve. I am rarely in possession of those filthy bills, but there are many situations in which a credit card reader is unavailable, say when buying something on the street.
Predictably, the feisty world of startups has provided a solution. Just as technology has given us alternative methods of communication, it has also begun to give us alternative ways to pay for things that sidestep the need for cashmoney.
One such technological leap is a mobile payment system called Square that is catching on in fair Boulder. Founded in 2010, Square allows users to pay each other by swiping their cards through a personal credit card reader that plugs into your cellphone. Owe someone $10 for lunch but don't have cash handy? You can use Square to pay them back and earn yourself an immediate high-five.
This appeals to me for a few reasons. One, it means that I won't have to visit the ATM quite as often. Secondly, it means that non-traditional businesses that can't normally process credit cards will now have an easier way of taking all my money.
Consider food trucks, the trendiest new business model to emerge in the past few years. Many aren't equipped to conduct complicated financial transactions, leading to a cash-only approach to commerce. But so many of us have given up on dollar bills that this presents a great opportunity for mobile payment processing to shine like my teenaged forehead.
"The biggest advantage of Square is that they're as portable as we are," said Shannon Aten, owner of the Tasterie Truck, a Boulder-based food truck that specializes in desserts and the sweetest of treats. Its menu includes cupcakes, hand-crafted Popsicles, whoopie pies and something called sticky boxes. "Whether someone is at the truck, or we are making a delivery, or my chef is back at the kitchen getting an order together, we can always run cards."
According to figures provided by Square, there are nearly 1,000 users in the Boulder area, including hairstylists, massage therapists and farmers' market merchants. While discussing this topic with some cohorts of mine, the business type that we thought could most benefit from on-the-fly card swiping is garage sales.
Yes, I have hit that age where I don't flinch at the idea of spending a few hours on a Saturday galloping around Boulder County, sniffing for garage sales. However, garage sales usually insist on cash. If one were to accept payment via Square, why, I might end up with an entire set of wicker furniture and a shawl.
Because I'm thorough, I asked Aten at Tasterie how Square has affected her business.
"It's had an enormous business impact," Aten said. "There was a point when I considered not accepting credit cards. I cannot imagine where we would be if we didn't take plastic. Probably bankrupt."
Square is compatible with iPhone, iPad and Android devices, so there's a good chance you can give it a shot. Paying for things will never be fun, since I'd rather live for free like an accursed hippie, but if technology can make it more convenient for me to buy things, I will singlehandedly save the economy.