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Two sugars, one spoonful of “too darn bad”

That artisanal coffee place just down the road from you is hard to skip.

The scent of hand-roasted beans wafting down the lane. The call of the black broth that starts your heart pumping every morning.

A medium-sized cup is only $2.95. 

That’s more than you’ve ever donated to Wikipedia. Even still, it’s darn affordable.

But—what’s your cashier saying now? Purchases under $5.00 have to be paid in cash?

You’ve probably been in this situation. Lots of small merchants, in the coffee trade or otherwise, follow the same script. 

Nominal purchase = Cash only.

Ever wonder why?

It’s bigger than you and your barista

Small purchases at small businesses

Swiping a card may be easier than making change, but it’s also more expensive.

While one could argue that it’s even more costly to a small business when employees spend too much time handling a lot of individual customers’ loose bills. One might also bring up the $100 billion dollar cost of lost business from cash-priority merchants. But credit card companies do their part to (if inadvertently) pretty well discourage credit card use for small transactions.

Credit companies, as well as payment gateways like ApplePay and PayPal, enforce what are called interchange fees to the business processing the transaction. 

These fees are percentage-based, with an additional per-transaction fee. There can be as many as 300 individual (though incredibly small) fees that come out of the purchase and go back to the payment medium.

So long as the business accepts a credit card or payment gateways’ processing fee, the business is allowed to accept that card, and whatever customer is attached to it. 

You might be huffing, “That doesn’t sound like it could add up to much money, and it saves a lot of time to use my card. Theoretically, it speeds up customer flow and contributes to the atmosphere of ease so many coffee shops envision.”

You’re not wrong. Yet, we still encounter these relics of the past that want your green, not your plastic. 

Hint: We were eating cherries before George Washington chopped his first tree down

Carefree, cash-free

This is a civilized world where 42 percent of people carry no more than $40 in cash. More to the point, it’s not far fetched to imagine that what cash people do carry is being saved for the event of bizarre cash emergency that would warrant it. For instance, losing your credit or debit card, or any other case that would render your cards unuseable. 

While coffee can feel life-saving, it’s probably not the thing you break the piggy bank for.

Never thought we would be the one to betray out pocket protector

Cash is king. To the small kingdoms.

Whatever the case, fumbling with thin pieces of tissue and clunky coins is no one’s idea of a smooth transaction. 

Still, for a business like your java peddlers’ down yonder, it’s easy to understand why the proprietor would prefer you pay in cash “nominal” purchases.

For one, the cost is only “nominal” in comparison to a lot of the other goods and services we purchase on a daily basis. For the coffee shop, nominal cost items are just about every item on the menu. 

Of course, with the exception of those to-die-for crepes topped with strawberry reduction. Worth every extra cent.

And, sure, your bottle of Fiji costs about the same as that $2.95 coffee (how?), but you bought it from one of thousands of CVS locations. CVS can afford the interchange fee to keep up its reach and, erm, convenience. Your coffee shop? One location? No plans to expand? 

Not as easily, and without nearly as good a justification.

Is that heads up, or tails up?

We’re willing to accept that we need to spend money to make money. And at $2.95 a cup, maybe we can understand the cost isn’t worth the reward for your little coffee place. 

If you want the Colombian dark roast, stoop to your wallet and buy it for the pennies it costs, with the pennies it costs.

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