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Shopping Without Money? Alternative payment schemes are on the rise
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Shopping Without Money? Alternative payment schemes are on the rise

Alternatives to physical money have been in use for centuries. In fact, bank notes were originally nothing more tha...

Shopping Without Money? Alternative payment schemes are on the rise

Alternatives to physical money have been in use for centuries. In fact, bank notes were originally nothing more than promissory notes representing coin, which was the “real” money of the time. Now we only use coins to buy chewing gum and get a shopping cart at the supermarket. Over the years, the use of cash notes has also been partially replaced — first by cheques and then by credit and debit cards.

 

The online commerce revolution has enabled us to buy goods and services with transfer systems like PayPal and Moneybookers. The UK has recently adopted a system where consumers can buy via their mobile phone, something that has been possible in other European countries like Sweden for some time now. The practice is incredibly common in Kenya, where ordinary citizens have been paying with their cell phones since 2007.

 

Whether you pay with your Visa, PayPal account or iPhone, you’re still essentially dealing with cash, even if you never see it. In recent years, however, we’ve seen a shift towards money alternatives, whether it’s in the form of crypto currencies like bitcoin or full-on efforts at barter economies for the digital age.

 

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One of the first widespread ways to make major “purchases” without money was the use of frequent flyer or bonus miles to buy airline tickets. Like most moneyless shopping, this was only possible if you spent a significant amount of real money first. Many fast food restaurants offer similar deals, such as Starbucks Stars or Subway’s Subcard stamps. While, at best, these examples could be considered small forays into moneyless economics, they are in reality nothing more than ways of encouraging customer loyalty. The UK’s Nectar Card system at least enables customers to earn and redeem points at a number of different outlets, including major supermarkets, Hertz, easyJet, Apple and eBay.

 

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Similarly, artificial currencies like Amazon Coins, with which consumers can purchase Amazon apps and levels on Candy Crush through Amazon’s proprietary Kindle and — more recently — Android devices, are nothing more than closed system currencies. They’re the modern digital equivalent of theme park money like Disney Dollars. Until recently, Microsoft also had its own currency for Xbox and Zune users called Microsoft Points, but it has recently abandoned the scheme. Yet again, what more are these currencies than tools for brand (or marketplace) exclusivity?

 

Bartering and the Freeconomy

On the opposite side of the spectrum are those who wish to forsake money altogether. Freeconomists like “No Money Man” Mark Boyle live in incredibly simple ways, off the land, and depend in part on the kindness of strangers and other participants in the Freecycle network.

And then you have people like Russian artist Sergey Balovin, who uses his services as currency, and seems to do pretty well at it. Balovin has managed to travel in 33 countries over the past year and has avoided using money for nearly two years. This modern-day return to an ancient practice isn’t necessarily meant to spell an end to money, but it does show that there are alternative ways to do things.

 







Freecycle Meet in Iowa

 

Bartering has also made a return to some communities in Greece, where for many, money is in short supply, but services like babysitting or art lessons are still in demand. Strapped for cash? Just exchange favours, goods or services — it’s moneyless shopping in its most simple form.

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