A Digital Native's Digital Wallet

May 01, 2014

This summer, I'm the maid of honor in two separate weddings. The friends who are getting married are people I love very dearly, so when they asked me to be a part of their big day, my initial reaction was a wholehearted "Yes!" instead of a "let me check my bank account first."

I'm at that point in my life now where everyone I know is saying "I do" and my summer weekends are filling up fast with every new "Save the Date." While this means I'll be having fun pretty much all summer, it also means my checking account is going to take a serious hit with the purchase of every shower and wedding gift. Thankfully, my iPhone has become my new financial watchdog.

When I realized I was going to be planning at least one bachelorette party this year, I immediately panicked and called a good friend. I reminded said friend that between the bridal shower, bachelorette party, bridesmaid dress, hotel room, and wedding gift, just being in the bridal party can run you $1,000. As maid-of-honor, though, you have to expect to take on a few more expenses and responsibilities. How was I going to juggle multiple wedding and shower gifts, in addition to finding a way to split the cost of a bachelorette weekend and collect money from the15+ people attending? Her advice was simple: 1) Download the Mint app immediately and 2) Sign up for Paypal, Google Wallet, or Square Cash (brought to us by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey).

You may recall that  a few years back the tech industry pundits were saying that eventually our wallets would be replaced by our phones. In fact, a quick Google search reveals blog posts and articles from way back in 2010 like this Mashable article which explains, "Why Your Smartphone Will Replace Your Wallet." Now, I have always been pretty skeptical of statements like that. According to the Pew Internet Research Project, as of January 2014, only 58% of American's own a smartphone. If not everyone has a smartphone, how could they replace our wallets? From what I've learned over the past few weeks about mobile banking, it actually may not be that hard.

Again, I'm always skeptical about any mobile banking or money transfer system, but I was a bit desperate. So I downloaded Mint to my iPhone, and man, am I glad I did. I've known about this app for quite a while, but I've never really felt like I needed it. I watch my finances very carefully, so it seemed unnecessary to have an app notify me that I'm dangerously close to going over my allotted weekly budget. But with Mint, not only can I manage my entire bank account and find out where I'm spending all of my money (curse you coffee), I can keep track of how much I've spent on weddings gifts, as well as how much I need to spend on the next gift to keep within my budget.

It sounds so simple, but for some reason having this app has made me much more vigilant about my spending habits. Because I had some success with Mint, I decided to delve deeper into the financial services other apps provide. Linking my bank account to a program that actually transfers money to people--or allows people to transfer money to me--is a really scary prospect. With the endless hacking revelations, it seemed like a bad idea. But PayPal is basically the grandfather of digital money transfer services--and other apps like Google Wallet and Square Cash seem to be holding their own. So, I held my breath and signed up for Square Cash. Why Square Cash and not another service? Because Google Wallet, Paypal, and Venmo all charge a usage fee per transfer.

I for sure thought that no one I knew would even think about sending me money through an app, and sadly, so far my hunch has proven correct. Of the 17 people I need to collect money from for the bachelorette party, only one had even heard of Square Cash. Still, though, the prospect of being able to "wire" money via email or through and app is incredible to me. It makes me wonder just how far we are from our phones finally replacing our wallets.

Let's take look at Starbucks. It launched its payment app in 2009, and now, according to a Buffalo News article, 10 million people have installed the Starbucks' payment app, and use it to make around 5 million transactions each week. "That's 14 percent of the chain's in-store purchases," says the article.

I know mobile payments aren't new, but they also aren't quite ubiquitous yet. I've never once been standing in line at the grocery store and watched someone pull out their smartphone to pay, but it's becoming more clear that that reality isn't far away.