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A year on from the whole cashless craze in 2017, we decided to revisit the topic to see if our society has really progressed as it set out to. So, I went on a week-long cashless challenge to see if it is really possible to live a cash-free week easily in Singapore.
Starting the week not bringing my wallet out, with only a credit card slot into the back of my phone cover, I felt a tiny bit insecure. There’s something about having cold hard cash in your pocket that makes you feel unusually powerful. But I guess “cold hard cash” has been redefined in the age of technology.
2018: Is Singapore really succeeding in becoming a cashless city? Here’s a week-long review of my cashless challenge, sparing the mundane watercooler conversations, that I hope most of you, students and adults alike, can resonate with.
So, I started the week by having breakfast with my parents. We drove down to Maxwell Food Centre for some porridge and kopi. Keeping the whole cashless challenge thing in mind, I subconsciously noticed the light “beep” of the credit card when we passed through an ERP gantry and the electronic parking system. Cashless? Yes. Painful? That, too.
The Food Centre was indeed cashless, with stickers like these pasted on walls beside every stall. I paid for my kopi with PayLah!, scanning the store’s QR code with my phone. However, when I got to my favourite porridge stall, Zhen Zhen Porridge, the auntie told me that they didn’t accept cashless payment modes.
“太麻烦了啦!” Which means “It’s too troublesome!”, was what she remarked when I asked about it.
I guess not all stalls in the food centre adopted this system, especially the older ones like the porridge store I frequent. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to borrow money from someone in panic or go hungry as my parents paid for the meal first. Phew.
My lunchtime situation in school was, fortunately, more optimistic. The canteens in my university promote cashless payment methods so I could pay through phone apps conveniently. Ever since I forgot to bring my wallet out one day last month, I have been paying with PayLah! and NETS Flashpay in school. Today, I realised there was even a little sticker that had instructions on how to make QR Payments for those who were new to it. A thoughtful gesture indeed.
After a long day, my friend and I decided to go to our go-to ice cream shop at Bugis to grab a scoop.
Only after ordering our waffles did we realise that this shop actually didn’t accept card payment. I never really noticed the “CASH ONLY” sign plastered on the wall. Frantic, and cashless (the both of us) I asked the kind looking cashier if it was ok if I PayLah! or PayNow her the money so she could help us pay for the ice cream in cash instead. Troublesome, but at least that worked.
Still mildly successful on the cashless streak I guess?
On Wednesday night I finally had the time to meet my friends for a couple of drinks.The bill came up to about $200, and since no one brings so much money out anymore nowadays, one of my friends paid first with his credit card. To split the bill, we naturally transferred him the money on the spot using our phone apps, PayNow or PayLah!, that could transfer money directly through phone numbers.
That was when we realised one of our friends actually did not have any e-wallet or fund transfer apps on his phone. Our general reaction to this was shock followed by teasing laughter. But, this was also when I realised how much cashless payment apps have already taken a comfortable seat in most of our lives.
Timbre+ has its own E-wallet App where you are given a personalised QR code to scan for payment at every store. You can top up this App through your QR code by inserting your smartphone into this kiosk at the food centre.
Let’s just say this is hugely successful since almost everyone I see here uses it. Plus, there’s a 10% discount on every purchase if you pay using the app. 10% if pretty attractive for a working adult who visits the food centre almost every day.
As I was heading home via the MRT, I stopped by the “Tissue uncle” at the train station I usually buy a few packets from and occasionally have a chat with. But, today I realised that wouldn’t be possible because I really did not have a single cent on me.
This really reminded me of all the online news about how the elderly will not be able to adjust or benefit greatly from a cashless society.
I said hello to the tissue uncle, and promised I’ll come back again next week.
The Saturday night plan was to head to iLights and Gastrobeats at the Marina Bay.
The exhibition was great, and what my friend and I discovered at Gastrobeats was that if you used GrabPay at any store or ride, you could get $5 one Grab Ride! A super attractive deal for a lazy person like me. I even topped up my GrabPay on the spot in order to enjoy the discount.
What I Learnt From The Week-Long “Cash Fast”
Surprisingly, with my trusty credit card and smartphone armed with payment apps, surviving the week without cash wasn’t hard at all.
1. Transport Is A Breeze
Going consciously completely cashless for a week, I realized that my life has already been largely cashless so far. Transport was definitely not a problem with EZ Link cards, credit cards automatically tapping at ERPs, and card payment methods for Uber and Grab.
I usually top-up my EZ link card with cash at MRT stations, but I quickly adjusted to using my debit card itself as an EZ Link card, and topping it up with ‘itself’. This is honestly one of the most convenient things I have discovered in the past year and it really helps when you have one less card to worry about losing.
Cash kind of makes me feel like I have to keep drawing it
2. Evident Difference in Cashless Acceptance: Old VS New
As mentioned in my week’s review above, paying at older food centres or food stalls and buying tissue from the auntie at the hawker centre or MRT station was not possible with a phone app.
Going cashless is easy for us tech-savvy, young individuals, but there is still an evident gap and a lot for our elders to catch up with in terms of cashless payment.
3. Convenience In Managing Expenses
Other than the oddly powerful feeling I have when all I need to bring out is my phone and just one credit card, going cashless has made me a bit more aware of what I spend on, and how much I spend.
Withdrawing a bunch of cash at once makes me forget the $2.50 I spend on a drink or $4.90 spent buying Old Chang Kee. Digging for coins and change when there’s a queue waiting behind you also isn’t always the most convenient situation to be in.
Furthermore, if you use expense tracking apps like Seedly or any other finance-tracker, you will not have to manually enter your cash transactions and let the syncing do its magic.
To all my lost coins stuck somewhere in between couches, train tracks and the few that I’m sure are still lying at the bottom of my old bags — I am indebted.
But for now, I am rather convinced that our society is making steady progress into a cashless era.