U.S. Consumers Report They Lose Track of More Than $1,000 In Cash Each Year

December 22, 2009 at 8:46 AM EST
Shopping is Among the Highest Categories for Disappearing Cash; Majority of Consumers Agree Debit Cards Help Track Spending
SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 22, 2009 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- According to a new survey commissioned by Visa Inc. (NYSE:V), U.S. consumers cannot account for an average of $21 per week in cash spending, adding up to more than $1,000 per year. Younger adults between the ages of 18 to 24 claim to lose track of $2,500 annually, more than twice the average amount.

The international survey of more than 12,000 adults in 12 markets around the world (including 1,000 U.S. consumers) asked respondents to estimate their "mystery spending," or the cash they spend but cannot account for every week.

"Despite consumers' focus on controlling spending, they are still losing track of a considerable amount of money each year -- particularly when shopping or spending leisure time with friends and family - key activities during the holiday season," said Wayne Best, Visa's chief economist.

Where does the cash go?

U.S. consumers said they were most likely to mystery spend while:


  • Purchasing food and other groceries (34 percent)
  • Leisure shopping for non-essentials (32 percent)
  • Enjoying a night on the town (31 percent)
  • Dining out (26 percent)


Additionally, 22 percent of U.S. consumers believe that small cash purchases make it hard to track spending. "Even for the most organized spender, it can be tough to keep track of every cup of coffee, greeting card, teacher's gift or stocking stuffer picked up at the mall and paid for with cash," said Best. "While cash purchases can be difficult to track, the survey revealed that consumers believe debit cards can help them monitor spending more closely and stay within budget."

Debit can help solve the disappearing cash dilemma

Debit cards can provide an easy and effective way for consumers to access available funds for purchases. And, according to the Visa survey, consumers agree:


  • Overall, debit cards ranked as Americans' primary payment method for personal and household expenses (37 percent), which is considerably above cash (22 per cent).
  • Over two-thirds of debit card users (68 percent) prefer to use their debit card instead of cash whenever possible.
  • Three-quarters of U.S. consumers using debit cards (76 percent) agree the cards provide an easy way to track spending.
  • Three in five U.S. consumers who use a debit card (61 percent) say that using their debit card helps keep their mystery spending to a minimum.
  • Two-thirds of U.S. debit card users (63 percent) find that tracking their debit card spending helpful in sticking to a budget.
  • U.S. consumers whose primary payment method is their debit card would rather give up coffee, their MP3 player, their mobile phone, email, visiting social network sites - and even cash - for one week than they would their debit card.


The period ending December 2008 marked the first time that spending on Visa Debit cards surpassed spending on Visa Credit cards; debit now makes up approximately 70 percent of Visa's U.S. transactions.

"For more than a decade we've seen a shift in consumer behavior as debit cards have taken a greater role in everyday spending," said Stacey Pinkerd, head of global consumer products at Visa Inc. "More places that were traditionally cash only -- from taxis to charities to dry cleaners -- are now accepting payment cards, so consumers can enjoy convenient access to their funds by using their debit cards with a level of control and protection not offered by cash."

Mystery Spenders Abroad

The survey data also provides insight into international trends. Heightened spending vigilance stands out as a global phenomenon while various regions showed distinct patterns in tracking spending.


  • Consumers around the world report they are unable to account for 20 percent of their cash spending each week.
  • Australians reported the largest cash disappearance, both in terms of actual amount lost ($59) and also percentage of total spend (34 percent). While adults in India reported only $8 missing weekly, this is actually 31% of their total weekly cash spend.
  • Compared to 12 months ago, the cash-oriented countries of Russia (38 percent) and India (74 percent) believe they are losing track of more cash at a significantly higher rate than U.S. consumers do (13 percent).
  • Consumers in Korea (74 percent) and South Africa (71 percent) either "strongly agree" or "agree" that use of debit cards keeps mystery spending to a minimum.
  • Shopping for food or other groceries (43 percent), leisure shopping and/or shopping for nonessentials (33 percent) and out for the night or socializing (32 percent) were the top spending categories around the world where consumers feel they lose track of spending.


About Visa

Visa is a global payments technology company that connects consumers, businesses, financial institutions and governments in more than 200 countries and territories to fast, secure and reliable digital currency. Underpinning digital currency is one of the world's most advanced processing networks--VisaNet--that is capable of handling more than 10,000 transactions a second, with fraud protection for consumers and guaranteed payment for merchants. Visa is not a bank, and does not issue cards, extend credit or set rates and fees for consumers. Visa's innovations, however, enable its financial institution customers to offer consumers more choices: Pay now with debit, ahead of time with prepaid or later with credit products. For more information, visit www.corporate.visa.com

About the Survey

Ipsos MORI conducted an international study across 12 markets during September 2009. Interviews were conducted by telephone among nationally representative sample adults aged 18+ in each market. Data has been weighted accordingly to reflect the total adult population of each market (some markers to reflect the total urban population). The interviews for this survey were conducted in the following markets: USA, Canada, India, Russia, South Africa, Australia, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, and GCC. MARGIN OF ERROR: using a confidence interval of 95%, a difference of plus or minus four percentage points between markets is required for the finding to be significant.

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Visa Inc.
Kate Mulhearn, 650-432-1113