Pay all day: When to use cash, credit, and prepaid

Have you ever noticed that as the years go on, your wallet gets thicker? And not just with money (we wish!) These days you’ve got more options than ever to pay for things – from credit cards, prepaid cards, gift cards, and regular ol’ cash.

We’ve all got our own ways we like to pay, but there’s actually a smarter way to break down when to use each method.


Cash is a classic for a reason: It’s real, it’s tangible, and when it’s out of your wallet, it’s gone. Of course, cash has a few major drawbacks that have caused a drop in popularity over the years.


The cash you have is the cash you’ve got. But if someone gets their hands on it, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. Whether you’ve got a stack of bills in your wallet or purse, or you’re storing it in random spots throughout the house, cash is by far the most vulnerable way to transact. A debit or credit card offers a lot more protection to ensure your money is safe – including if your card is stolen!

Limited acceptance

Not too long ago, a lot of places were ‘Cash Only’ establishments. But now, more and more places are moving to a ‘Card Only’ model, in part due to COVID. There’s also the fact that more and more services are moving to online-only, because let’s face it, it’s way easier to throw that $9.95 Netflix charge onto a credit card than sending in a check. Likewise, your Uber driver can’t take cash from you. In-app purchases on your mobile phone are the future.


When you’ve got fresh bills in your wallet, it’s easy to skip over the guilt or debate you might go through when it comes to hitting up the ATM or using your debit or credit card at a store. Having money close by is a shortcut to spending, and before you know it, those dollars can burn a hole in your pocket.

When you should consider using cash

We’re not saying cash is all bad. But when you consider the risk, think about only using cash to pay for things you absolutely need to pay cash for, not all of the time.

  • Cash only businesses
  • Casual services for hire
  • Buying items second-hand
  • Small / on the go purchases

Credit Cards

Credit cards can be very tempting. They can promise lavish rewards and bonuses that make it seem like a no-brainer to use them. But credit cards are only a great choice if you’re able to cough up what your monthly statement says you owe.

Rack up the points (and potentially build your credit score!)

If you’ve got a fixed cost that’s part of your monthly budget, putting it on your credit card isn’t a bad idea. Things like a car payment, daycare fees, or your cell phone bill are all examples of line items that you should be planning for already (and shouldn’t sweat being able to pay them off), so you may as well earn points for them if your card offers those rewards.

If you’ve got a bigger expense coming up – that you’ve budgeted for – consider throwing it on your credit card for a quick hit of potential points or cash back. Using a credit card and paying it off on time can also help build up your credit score, which is important for things like buying a house or car.

Avoid monthly interest

Getting interest on your credit card can be a real killer. Yes, life gets in the way sometimes and you might need to carry over a balance month to month, but the interest rates on credit cards can be stupid high. If you’re not careful, you could be stuck in a cycle of paying off the interest while charging more to your card.

When you should consider using credit cards

Golden rule? Don’t use a credit card unless you can pay it off by the time your next paycheck rolls in. You may need to throw something on the credit card once in a while because your debit is tapped out for the next few days. But if every dollar on your next check is spoken for? Put the credit card down and find another way to pay (or better yet, save!)

  • Fixed recurring bills
  • Bigger purchases you can pay off right away


Be extra smart with your money: Consider using a prepaid card

A prepaid card is legit way to stay on top of your finances while still getting to shop anywhere. Because it’s prepaid, you’ll only ever spend what you’ve got on it. Yet you still get perks of a regular credit or debit card, like in-app1 or online payments2, cash back rewards3, and a mobile app1 to manage your money. Bonus: A Control™ Prepaid Mastercard®4 can make payday come up to two days earlier5 with direct deposit.

Prepaid cards are a great way to store your money than straight up cash and can keep you from just dropping your entire paycheck on that must-have (but not really must-have) splurge that can feel so easy to buy on credit. Plus, nowadays there are cashback programs and rewards options available that were once a credit card only perk.

When you should consider using prepaid cards

Be sure to track your spending and check your balance regularly using your card’s app or website and you’ll be golden.

  • Everyday expenses
  • Grocery shopping
  • Budgeting
  • In-store shopping

We know there are a ton of options out there and it can feel overwhelming. We recommend starting with the Control Prepaid Mastercard – you can set up direct deposit to get your paycheck sooner, take advantage of in-app and mobile purchases, and reap some rewards while you’re at it. Once you’re in the swing of things, consider applying for a credit card with your traditional bank. Remember, you should only use a credit card if you can pay it off each month, or for emergencies. Otherwise, your prepaid card should have you covered.