Cashless Society

7 ways your everyday life is already cashless

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The cashless society isn't something set in some distant future. For many people, it's here today.

More and more frequently, items and activities that used to have us handing over a $5 or $20 bill are being paid for in different ways. In fact, as the holiday travel period approaches, it's entirely possible that you could take the family on vacation without ever once having to reach for your wallet.

Here are seven steps from a day in the life of the average, ordinary (and now cashless!) member of society.

—By Chris Morris
Posted 5 December 2014

Making a quick stop at church

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Before you take the family down to Florida for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World, you stop by your local church for a service (to pray for serenity on the long drive). As the collection plate comes around, though, you let it pass.

Instead, your church, like the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End, has a credit card kiosk installed in the lobby, letting you give an offering without a stop at the ATM. Augusta, Georgia-based SecureGive, meanwhile, has been providing technological ways for churches to collect since 2007. Today more than 1,500 houses of worship and organizations take cashless payments from parishioners.

Stocking up on family road-trip essentials

A child plays an app game on an iPod Touch.
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Music and movies are essential ingredients in modern road trips. And downloading an app, adding a song to our music library or buying a movie is as simple as finding what you want, clicking purchase and entering a password or, on some systems, just pressing your finger to the touchpad.

That "buy anywhere" convenience has prompted Apple users to spend heavily. Last year, customers spent $10 billion on apps alone for their iPhones and iPads. (Apple does not release financial figures for iTunes sales, but the store did top 25 billion songs sold last year.)

So far Google has been less successful financially in this app and media ecosystem push, but Citigroup analyst Mark May said the company is hardly hurting, with Google Play pulling in an estimated $1.3 billion in revenue last year.

Speeding up the drive

A Golden Gate Bridge toll-taker collects a toll from a customer in San Francisco, California.
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No one wants to stop for toll booths when you're making good time. Fortunately, the days of tossing a quarter into the till at a toll booth are moving to an end. Savvy commuters in 14 states utilize the E-ZPass NFC card. Fees and benefits vary by location, and the company has not released a nationwide customer count, but they're must-have items for drivers in the Northeast—an increasing number of toll locations require any driver lacking E-ZPass to pay by mail. And competing services in Georgia, Florida and other states further extend the reach of electronic toll collections.

Gaining the upper hand on hunger

Still image from Taco Bell mobile app video
YouTube: Taco Bell

Uh-oh, the kids are getting hungry, and that means the whining is about to begin. But thanks to Taco Bell's new mobile ordering app, you can skip the lines. The picture-heavy app lets you place your order and prepay, so it's ready when you arrive.

It's an idea that's catching on quickly. Panda Express has an app offering the same service at 1,700 locations around the country. And Starbucks is testing a mobile-based pay-ahead system in 150 stores right now, with hopes of rolling it out nationally by the end of 2015.

Fueling up in record time

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, patrons wait in line for gas in Seaford, N.Y.
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Topping off the tank has been a cashless exercise for some time, as credit cards are a much faster way to get back on your way. At more than 7,000 Exxon and Mobil locations, though, the Speedpass keyless fob makes things go even faster. Using Near Field Communications (NFC), commuters can tap the device (which attaches to your key chain) against a reader and instantly begin pumping. And on a long drive, especially in cold weather, those saved seconds can seem invaluable.

Stacking the vacation e-library

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You're in Florida, meaning the pools never close! But if you'd rather catch some rays than dive in, there's no better way to do so than with a good book. 's One Click payment system, which the company patented in 1997, took a lot of the pain out of conducting Web transactions, but it was the Kindle that really took things to the next level. Buying a book via the eReader (or on Barnes & Noble's less successful competitor, the Nook) is done automatically, without having to enter passwords or any additional information. You find the book, click "purchase," and within seconds it's being downloaded.

That simplicity, along with the convenience of being able to carry a library with you on a light device, helped eBook sales surpass physical books in 2011. The growth pace has slowed since then, but last year publishers took in roughly $3 billion from eBooks, according to a report from the Bookstats Project, jointly produced by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group.

Hitting the Magic Kingdom

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Congratulations! You made it. But there's no need to bring your wallet to Disney with you. Grabbing a set of mouse ears is a lot easier at the Magic Kingdom than it used to be. The company's Magic Band program lets a simple wristband act as your park admission, your on-resort hotel room key and your electronic wallet. By touching the wristband to a pad and entering a PIN number, you can purchase everything from food to souvenirs and not worry about the bill until it's time to check out.

The company just started the wide-scale rollout of Magic Bands this year and has not yet told investors when they can expect returns, but Disney considers this one of its most important initiatives, investing some $1 billion in the technology.