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How to pay when you’re shopping for yourself or those who are shielding.

Cash is out, if you can avoid it, so how are you meant to spend money or shop for others? Well there are ways new and old to help you pay with minimal contact.

First I’ve got a few ways for you to spend your own cash, then some methods you can use if you’re shopping for others and they need to pay you.

Spending your own money

Contactless

The contactless limit for a transaction went up to £45 back in April and it’s still at that level, so you can spend more without having to enter your PIN.

However, rules which require you to enter your PIN after five contactless payments are still in force. At the weekend I had two of my cards declined for this reason.

If you don’t want to tap the keys, you could try to use the end of your jumper or shirt, or perhaps a tissue. Or just apply some hand sanitiser straight after. 

Your phone

For larger amounts you can use connected cards on your smartphone via Apple or Google Wallet. There’s usually no limit for spending this way as phones require a second level of authentication such as a thumb print or facial scan. However a few retailers might impose their own limits.

Obviously this becomes a bit trickier if you have facial recognition and are wearing a face mask! But you should be able to enter your phone’s PIN instead.

With this method and contactless cards it’s worth remembering that you can hover the device/card over the card reader – it doesn’t have to touch it to register.

Spending if you can’t leave home

Useful methods if you’re one of those required to stay home these are the ways you can give people your money so they don’t have to worry about paying you back.

Post Office Payout

The Post Office and a number of banks will let you send a unique barcode via post, email or text message that can be shown at a Post Office in exchange for a set amount of cash.

Obviously this does require your helper to go to a Post Office, which might not be great right now, but it’s worth knowing about.

More about the Payout Now scheme

A connected debit card

If you’re shopping for someone who has a Starling Bank current account (here’s my review), they can request a connected debit card. This is a separate card with a unique PIN which can be given to someone else for spending.

Though it’s not a perfect solution and people could still spend unauthorised money, the main account holder can track the spending on the app so they know exactly what comes out of their account.

There’s also a limit of £200 that can be spent on the card, and it can only be used in physical shops.

I think it’s an interesting idea. Here’s more on how it works.

Volunteer shopping cards

Asda, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer have all produced volunteer shopping cards, which are essentially emailed gift cards.

The shielding person can go on the respective websites and order a gift card that is emailed to whoever is doing the shopping. Whoever is spending should be able to just show the voucher on their phone if they don’t have access to a printer.

I think it’s a good idea but I can see a few potential problems.

One, it’s unlikely the amount on the card will be to the exact amount you spend. If it’s under, that’s fine. But if it’s over you need either another shopping card or an alternative method. 

Second, as with any gift card there’s the risk that money not spend on the card is forgotten. Plus, you could easily end up with a number of cards with smaller amounts, which make it easier for the money to be lost or forgotten.

Still it might be the easiest option for you, so here’s where to buy the cards.

> Get an Asda volunteer payment card

> Get a Marks & Spencer volunteer gift card

Send a Morrisons e-gift card

> Get a Sainsbury’s vounteer gift card

Send a Tesco e-gift card

> Get a Waitrose volunteer gift cards

Gift cards

As with the volunteer shopping cards you could just buy gift cards for the shops you want people to go to for you (that are allowed to be open). It could be these are physical cards rather than emailed ones, which means you’ll need to think ahead so there’s time for them to arrive.

But just be aware that if they’re lost, or you don’t get any back (which are still have a balance) when things go back to normal you will have lost the money. Read more about the rules with gift cards here.

Spending if you’re shopping for others

Obviously the methods above will all work if you’re going out for friends, family and neighbours who can’t leave home. But there are ways you can make it easier for them to give you the money.

PAYM

If you’ve got online banking and so have they you can just share your account details and sort code. But much easier is to register for PAYM.

This service from the Payments Council means anyone can transfer you cash from their banking app using your mobile phone number.

Cheque

I think one of the easiest ways for elderly people to pay you is via a cheque. They’ve all got one and it means you don’t have to worry about getting the exact change. 

This is the method I used for both of the two older ladies I shopped for during and after the first lockdown. I’d call them when I left the supermarket with the exact amount (they didn’t like it when I round down!) and they had a cheque waiting for me in an envelope outside the door when I dropped the bags off.

And you don’t need to go into a bank to pay in the cheque. As I wrote about last week, there are a number of banks that will let you use your banking app, while most others will let you post it.

Payment methods to avoid

Sharing your card and PIN

Please, please, please don’t give your card and PIN to someone else unless you can absolutely trust them. And if you do this you should change your PIN as soon as thing are back to normal.

Cash

Use of cash plummeted since the crisis began, and you can understand why.

Of course you can still use cash, but the downsides aren’t just because it will keep changing hands. It’s also going to be difficult to avoid giving exact change back. 

Branch banking

There are still reduced hours at most banks right now so it’s best to only use them for essential and urgent inquiries.

Phone banking

Despite things improving since the first lockdown, phone banking lines are back under huge pressure so expect long waits if you have to call.


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