People now carry cash less than half of the time they go out, and often carry less than $20 when they do have cash. Offering a credit or debit payment option may be helpful.

by Courtney Llewellyn

If you sell things, you want to make money. You also want to offer your customers as many avenues as possible to spend their money. There are more options than just cash available today, and that’s a good thing, because fewer and fewer people carry it.

Healthy Lifestyles and Nutrition Educator Hannah Alday, with Cornell Cooperative Extension Jefferson County, recently presented on exploring alternative forms of payment. She said before branching out with what you’ll accept, think about who your customers are. Are they regulars or just occasional shoppers? Are they families or individuals? Are you charging for a CSA or at a farmers market or at your farm stand? Most importantly, have you had people ask to use forms of payment other than cash already?

Cash Money

Alday noted that while most customers’ first preference is still cash, younger people are less likely to carry it. Investment app Acorns reported that Millennials and Gen Z are up to 20% less likely to have cash in their wallets than Boomers. Alday added that people now carry cash less than half of the time they go out, and often carry less than $20 when they do have cash.

Pros: No processing fees; easy to accept; no application process; immediate understanding of profit

Cons: Fewer customers are carrying cash; may limit customers’ purchases; need to keep enough cash on hand to make change; may take longer to complete a transaction

“When accepting cash, make sure you keep it visible,” Alday advised. “It just takes one mistake to lose a hard-earned sale or your hard-earned money.” She also said to keep a receipt book or another method of recording sales, that way you can count and evaluate your produce inventory and cash at home.

Check It Out

Personal checks as a form of payment are being seen less and less. Alday said there are a few precautions you can take to prevent receiving bad checks if you still take them. First, establish a check acceptance policy – set a dollar limit and require customer ID. Make sure you compare the picture and signature with the customer. Do not accept altered checks. Be aware that checks with lower number are a more likely risk.

“Deposit checks promptly to ensure you get paid,” she said. “If you get a bad check, the check writer is liable for amount of check and any bank fees you incur.”

If you are handed a bad check, contact your bank and maintain multiple copies of documentation. You can also call your district attorney’s office to see how long you need to wait to take legal action against a bad check writer.

COD: Wholesale

For larger sales, there is wholesale cash on delivery, which is common for contracts, restaurants and schools. These buyers only pay once their needs are met. “Even though we call it cash on delivery, payment doesn’t have to come in the form of cash,” Alday explained. “The contracts will be very important, especially if it’s a new relationship or you’re providing a large quantity or high value product.”

Payment for wholesale is usually required within 30 days, but there could potentially be a shorter payment period. There is, however, also the risk of delivery refusal – because of a buyer’s lack of ability to pay or the refusal of product for any number of customer reasons. That’s why having a contract is critical.

A Gift For You

Another option is gift certificates and gift cards. Alday shared that 25% of customers using gift cards tend to buy something they normally wouldn’t buy, and shop where they might not normally shop. Offering gift cards could increase the amount of sales and your customer base.

She noted that gift certificates are easier to fill out and redeem, but more open to fraud. Gift cards tend to be more secure and more professional-looking, but there is the additional activation step, and there may be fees depending on the processor.

“If you’re interested in seeing how popular this option can be, start with certificates,” she suggested.

Swiper, Keep Swiping

Credit and debit cards are the fastest increasing options for payment, but like the other options, there are pros and cons.

Pros: Increased customer base (89% prefer using cards); greater possibility to upsell and allow for impulse buys; simple point-of-sale (POS) devices; funds are immediately available

Cons: Transaction fees (typically 2.6% + 10 cents); additional bookkeeping; additional software to learn and keep track of

Those processing fees may turn some sellers off from accepting cards, but Alday said there are mitigation strategies for them. First, decide on a business model. Will you have a card minimum? Ten dollars is fairly standard, according to Alday. And how will you fit the processing fees into your pricing structure? “You can pass the processing fee on to the customers – just like an ATM fee,” she said. “You just need to figure out what works for you, and remember that people tend to spend more with cards than with cash.”

You can also compare the benefits and fees of different software. Some options available today include Square, National Processing, Fattmerchant, Payment Depot, Stripe, Helcim and Dharma.

Alday said there are also more online marketplaces and e-commerce sites becoming available, with digital shopping carts and even delivery. Products in this realm include Farmigo, Harvie, CSAware, GrownBy, Cropolis, GrazeCart, Barn2Door, HarvestHand and more.

“Decide on a software platform that accepts the payment options most used by your customers,” Alday said. “Consider ease of use, cost, feature availability, support (because software can involve a learning curve), security and privacy compliance.”

Additionally, SNAP benefits are often carried on cards, and the USDA is invested in expanding acceptance of SNAP at farmers markets. They offer support and funding to producers to be able to accept it (via MarketLink). You can determine your eligibility at If you decide to accept SNAP, make sure you choose a device that can accept debit, credit and EBT options.