The “cashless society” is all very well – until the power goes out

In my articles on emergency preparation, I’ve frequently mentioned the need to have an emergency reserve supply of cash on hand, in relatively small bills, so that if the power goes out, you can still buy what you need.  I’ve referenced a number of real-world examples where this has been a problem.

Now Sweden’s government makes it official.

Everyone in Sweden has been urged to stockpile coins and banknotes in case the country’s move towards a cashless society leaves them without money in a cyber-crisis. In a move that will sound alarm bells in the UK, Sweden — one of the most advanced nations for digital payments — has warned that its people could be unable to buy anything if its computer networks were put out of action.

The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, an arm of the government, has sent guidance to every home telling residents to squirrel away “cash in small denominations” in case of emergencies ranging from power cuts or technology glitches to terrorism, cyber-attacks by a rogue government or war.

There’s more at the link, although it’s unfortunately behind a paywall.

This is significant, because Sweden’s about the most cashless society on earth!  Its companies and stores have for years tried to encourage all transactions to be paid via credit or debit card, or other electronic means, so much so that Sweden’s central bank has had to intervene to ensure that those few citizens left out of the electronic loop can still find (much less use) cash to meet their needs.

There’s also the aspect of privacy, of course.  Paying in cash for something, particularly between private seller and private buyer, means that sales tax and other costs are usually not paid.  What’s more, there’s no official record of the transaction.  I find that particularly handy when buying something that someone might try to confiscate, regulate or register one day.  If they don’t know I’ve got it, they won’t bother me about it.

I also recommend keeping a store of value in non-cash items, such as silver and gold, readily tradable commodities, etc.  If things go badly wrong, you can’t eat cash, but you can eat a can of food, or drink a bottle of something, or smoke a packet of cigarettes.  Swapping any of the latter for fuel or other essential supplies may be the only practicable transaction under some circumstances.  Barring that, however, cash is still king, even though its demesne is diminished these days.



  1. I was in Sweden about 4 years ago and, yes, you don't have to pay cash for anything. I never bothered to change my dollars into Krona while I was there.

  2. A wise man once told me that gold and silver may be worth less at some point (due to market fluctuations), but they'll never be worthless unlike (potentially) fiat paper currency.

  3. I'm sure it isn't only Korea that treats the electron with some disdain when it comes to sales and transfers. I can't count the number of times I would go there and rent a car, buy train tickets, pay for anything and the clerk would take my credit card and a piece of paper and a pencil and just rub it.
    No, there was no way to verify the funds were available but they were still willing to trade and sell based on that little piece of plastic.

  4. From what I've heard it's actually Venezuela that's the most cashless society right now, since their currency is so devalued that it's physically impossible to carry enough cash for a given transaction.

    There's a Venezuelan blogger named Kaleb who was talking about how during the power outages in Caracas recently that nobody could buy or sell anything becuz no one had enough cash and all the credit card machines were down without power. *looks* Found the link!

    Money quote: "Hyperinflation certainly complicates things during a blackout. Since there’s not enough paper cash and what few exists in circulation can’t keep up hyperinflation’s march; everyone relies on plastic cards and wire-transfers, that’s how we’ve kept running whatever is left of this country’s economy.

    When the entire nation is going through a nation-wide blackout then you realize how flimsy it all is, without power no one has access to their accounts. The entire banking network was down; debit and credit cards were rendered useless as a result, and even if by some dumb luck you were able to find a working ATM with cash amidst the blackout (a unicorn indeed) it wouldn’t dispense you enough cash to make a meaningful purchase of anything.

    For all intents and purposes, the Bolivar was a dead currency during the blackouts."

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