Shrinking Wallets - The Plight of Cash-Only Businesses

Just when battle-hardened SMB owners think they’ve got it all figured out, new data commissioned by payments company, Square, reveals that the amount of cash Canadians are carrying in their wallets is shrinking - a major problem for the tens-of-thousands of local businesses that accept only bills and coins.

Shrinking Wallets – Survey findings

For businesses that only accept cash, the “shrinking wallet” is threatening. According to Square, the average amount of cash Canadians carry continues to drop.

“We found the average amount of cash Canadians carry is $44.70,” said David Talach, Head of Payments, Square. “That’s almost one less toonie in every wallet from a year ago showing Canadians are slowly but increasingly living a cashless life.”

Some other findings from Square’s survey include:

Competing for the younger generation’s cash? Don’t hold your breath
Canadians aged 35-44 have the lightest wallets in the country with $17.00 less than the national average.

Is gender a factor?
Women carry almost $7.00 less than men ($41.90 versus $47.80) even with extra room in their purse.

Does region have anything to do with it?
Maritimers carry the least cash ($41.20) and Quebecers carry the most ($48.80). Suburban Canadians carry $43.10 compared to their urban-dwelling counterparts ($45.20). Torontonians carry $44.30, Vancouverites have $47.70 in their wallets and Montrealers have almost as much as the average Quebecer at $48.30.

Differing viewpoints between consumers and businesses
Past Square research found that nearly 80% of consumers prefer the convenience of debit or credit for purchases. This stands in stark contrast to the 85% of SMBs that don’t feel that they’re missing out on sales by being cash-only. A mere 11% of cash-only SMB owners believe their customers prefer using cards. Coincidentally, only 11% of Canadians don’t have a debit or credit card. According to the Bank of Canada, about 33% of small businesses only accept cash payments.

Shrinking Wallets – Findings by demographic

Overall, the average amount of cash a Canadian consumer carries in their wallet is $44.70 – that’s dropped by $1.80 from last year. Here’s Square’s findings broken down by demographic and ranked from least to most:


  • Toronto - $44.30
  • Vancouver - $47.70
  • Montreal - $48.30


  • New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island (aka Atlantic Canada) - $41.20 - Maritimers have the lightest wallets in the country
  • Alberta - $41.80
  • Rest of Canada - $43.40
  • Ontario - $43.70
  • British Columbia - $44.40
  • Manitoba and Saskatchewan - $44.60
  • Quebec - $48.80 - Quebecers have the heaviest wallets in the country


  • 35-44 - $27.70 - Canadians aged 35-44 carry the least cash
  • 18-34 - $34.00
  • 45-54 - $42.60
  • 55-64 - $51.50
  • 65+ - $67.30 - Canadians aged 65 and above carry the most cash


  • F - $41.90 Canadian females on average carry less cash than males
  • M - $47.80


  • Suburban - $43.10 Suburban Canadians carry less cash than urbanites
  • Urban - $45.20
  • Rural - $48.60

Shrinking Wallets – Key takeaways

Every single day, every sale counts – yet new data from Square points to challenges that could lead to business-threatening disappointment for small- and medium sized business owners who don’t understand – and act upon – their customers’ increasingly cashless lives. These are the most important messages gleaned from Square’s research:

  • Canadians carry an average of $44.70 in their wallet, which dropped by $1.80 from a year ago
  • That’s almost one less toonie in every wallet, showing that Canadians are increasingly living a largely cashless life.
  • Canadians aged 35-44 are the most cashless Canadians, carrying only $27.70
  • The survey also found women carry $41.90 almost $7.00 less than men and maritimers carry the least amount of cash at $41.20 and Quebecers carry the most with $48.80.

The tens-of-thousands of business owners accepting only cash run the risk of losing out on sales during the summer and year-round as Canadians become increasingly cashless. Square is helping more people to take payments and run their business. In fact, two-thirds (65%) of our Canadian sellers have taken their first ever card payments with Square.

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Which Canadians Carry the Least Cash?

We know that Canadians aged 35-44 have the lightest wallets in the country, carrying only $27.70. That’s $17.00 less than the national average, which is a solid indicator of where we are heading as a society.
We also saw that women and maritimers carry around $41, which also falls below the national average.

Why do certain demographics carry more or less cash than another?
There are a number of factors that influence how much cash Canadians carry, including:

  • Proximity to cash points like banks, ATMs, and retailers offering cashback
  • If someone prefers paying by card to earn reward points with their credit card or better able to manage their budget with a debit card, they will likely carry less cash

Since a payment method, like cash, can be used only if it is accepted, businesses play a large role in the evolution of cash. For example, a cash only business owner has to hope the customer has enough cash in their pocket or they miss out on the sale.

With Square, it’s now easier for businesses, to take card payments. In fact, two-thirds (65%) of our Canadian sellers are new to card payments which shows us there is still a lot of demand for accessible payments tools in Canada.

Why Should Canadian Businesses Pay Attention?

The majority of Canadians expect being able to pay with any method they choose. When that’s not the case, businesses risk losing out on sales. For instance, most people can relate to the experience of having to hunt for an ATM to get cash for a purchase – or worse – simply walking away empty-handed. That inconvenience results in a missed sale for a business. As a result, there’s a dynamic between how consumers wish to pay, and what methods small businesses accept. When more businesses understand this dynamic and are open to more payment methods, their sales figures will show improvement.

Is Canada Going Cashless?

Square knows Canadians are increasingly carrying less cash and cash is being less frequently used to pay for purchases.

However, cash isn’t entirely disappearing from wallets or the register anytime soon. In fact, 11 percent of Canadians don’t have a credit or debit card.

It’s important to realize that around 33% of small and medium-sized businesses in Canada are still cash only. We have a long way to go before Canada is completely cashless.

While some businesses are starting to go cashless, we’ll continue seeing an overwhelming majority of business owners accepting cash, despite the fact that fewer customers are using it.

Closing Thoughts

Our recent survey shows Canadians are increasingly living a largely cashless life. That’s important, because if businesses don’t adapt to how their customers want to pay, consumers become frustrated and leave empty-handed. The business owner ultimately misses out on a sale, and no businesses - big or small - can afford to have that happen.

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