Paper or Plastic? The Generation Gap in Americans' Payment Methods

Paper or Plastic? The Generation Gap in Americans' Payment Methods

When you hear the word "cash," do you think of it as a) the easiest way to purchase a pack of gum or b) that thing that keeps your debit card from being declined?

Chances are, your answer depends on your age. New research finds that the younger you are, the more likely you are to use plastic to make minor purchases.

To be sure, the survey, conducted by, found that 65% of Americans do use cash to pay for items that cost less than $5 (while 22% prefer debit cards and 11% prefer credit).


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But the results also suggest that cash may be losing its appeal among younger consumers: 77% of respondents 50 or older say they use cash for small purchases, but anyone younger than that is basically split in their preference for cash or plastic.

Millennials, meanwhile, were the only demo in which the majority preferred plastic: 51% said they’d pay for an item that cost less than $5 with a debit card. That’s compared with the whopping 82% of Boomers who said they were all about the Benjamins (or the Georges, as the case may be).

So what’s driving the shift away from dollars and cents? For one thing, new technology at points of purchase makes it just as easy to pay with plastic. And many people prefer paying with a debit card so they can check their account balances and bank statements online. Consumers who use credit cards might also be driven by the possibility of earning reward points.

As for whether it’s more sensible to use paper or plastic, it really depends on your personality. In some cases, going all cash helps people curb their spending habits; in other situations, using a debit or credit card allows consumers to do a better job of tracking their expenses. Do some experimenting and see which spending style works best for you.


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