Handling your money at market

I bring a cash box with me to market. I haven’t kept cash in it for over 20 years, but I still bring it to market. It serves as a handy place to keep my backup market supplies: extra pens and markers, band-aids, chalk, blank price tags, a tampon, small aspirin bottle, scotch tape, and other such items and maybe a roll or two of quarters. So where do I keep my market cash? In my pocket!

The actual act of receiving cash and making change is something most of us do a thousand times or more during a season, yet few of us seem to study and refine the actions we are performing so frequently. I see many market members handling cash in an fairly awkward manner, even some who have been doing it for years. Most folks at market like to use either a real cash box, or something that serves the function of a cash box. Some folks are quite happy with their cash box system, but to my mind a cash box brings with it too many inherent disadvantages.

Cash box disadvantages

For one thing, it’s separate from you. When you take a bathroom break or go chat with another market member, you may remember to put it out of sight, but it’s still a whole lot of value just sitting there for the taking by a sneaker-clad thief who’s been keeping an eye on you from afar.  When you open up your cash box to insert a bill and make change, you are showing your cash to all the world. And you are in luck if the wind isn’t blowing when you do! If you have two people working the stand, one may have to wait (along with the customer) when the other is using the cash box. You have to remember to bring it in your house for the count and return it to your market vehicle before the next market.

Of course it is of primary importance to handle your cash in some well-organized fashion when at market. My point here is that a cash box is not necessarily the best method, especially at an outdoor market.

What’s the alternative?

The wad. For several years I have used what I call the wad system. It’s a system I have developed over three decades of making dozens and sometimes hundreds of sales transactions a day at market. It is not only quick and efficient while at market, but also when getting ready for market and when counting afterwards. We have been able to quickly show our new market workers how to use the wad and they get the hang of it right away.

Before going to market I make sure I have in my front pants pocket a folded wad of bills with a rubber band around it. The wad consists of five tens, five fives and twenty-five ones, giving me exactly $100 which allows me the greatest of flexibility in making change.  The rubber band comes off when we begin selling. If there is more than one of us working the stand, we each get our own wad. Plus, we each have one backup wad ready to go should we need it. If I have to use my backup wad, my current wad goes in my back pocket and by new wad goes into my front pocket.

The wad is organized so that the bills used most often are the easiest to get to. The wad is folded so the ones are on the outside. Open it up and the fives are on the inside. Between the fives and ones is where the tens live. Incoming bills are handled in an organized manner: if the bill was a one, five or ten, it goes in with the rest of that denomination in the wad. If it’s a twenty, it goes deep in between the tens and the ones, since it is the least likely to be needed. If it’s a fifty, a hundred or a check, it goes into a whole other pocket and not with the wad.

When we receive bill and need to make change, we hold the incoming bill aside in our hand (between the ring finger the the pinky) until the transaction is complete. That way if there is any disagreement as to what denomination was tendered, you’ve still got it right there, it has never been out of sight. Only when the transaction is complete does the incoming bill get put away.

Keep your wad neat and keep it from getting too fat. Take the time during each sale to keep similar denominations together. Keep it squared off nicely—it should look more like a deck of cards than that pile of papers on your kitchen table. If you take the time to keep your wad neat and organized, then adding and extracting bills will go faster and more smoothly.

Keeping your wad from getting too fat is important for several reasons. A fat wad is more prone to being dropped or “popped” as well as generally being much harder to manipulate. It is also less than cool to be showing off your fat wad at each sale. Once the wad gets to be about twice its original size, it’s time to peel off some ones or twenties (those are the usual culprits) and stash them in another pocket. On a good day you may have to do this several times. Do not count them at this point, just get them out of your wad.

If you or your helper gets low on any denomination, just move any needed bills between your wads. No accounting gets done at this point either. Counting will be done after market.

Counting after market.

After the market it’s time to count your money. This is usually done at home, altho if I went to market with a helper it can be done on the ride home. But before you do any counting, you first re-create the wads you started with.

Let’s assume that you started with four wads (one wad and one backup wad each for you and your helper) then the first thing you do is to re-create the four wads. If you haven’t dipped into your two backup wads, then you still have those two and need to re-create two more, which will take $200 out of your total after-market cash. It’s important to maintain the same denominations (twenty-five ones, five fives, and five tens) in every wad, and to finish up with the same number of wads you started with.

If you don’t have the right denominations in your after-market cash to make up your wads, then you “buy” some bills of the needed denominations from the farm’s cash stash. For example, if you are short of re-creating your wads by three tens and three fives, then you spend three twenties (=$60) of your after-market cash to buy three tens and six fives (=$60) from your farm’s cash stash. Now you’ve got the bills needed to make up your wads and three fives left over to add back into your after market cash. Now the wads are all back together and ready for the next market, you are ready to count how much you made at market.

Using a simple form to keep everything straight.

We found that making a form for recording the bills, even if on a scrap of paper, is the most error-free way to proceed. It also allows for easy re-checking of your figures. The checks are each listed separately. The form looks like this:

Market Sales Tally Sheet
[name of your] Farmers’ Market  _______(today’s date)

market purchases
gas bought______________________
Total sales

The “Amount” column is the total value in each denomination, not the number of bills of that denomination. The “market purchases” is for purchases made with money you made at market, since that is money came in but is now represented by the food you bought instead of cash. The same for “gas purchased” with money made at market. If market purchases or gas were purchased with money other than that day’s income, it is not recorded here, altho you may want to save your gas receipts for tax purposes in any case.

At home we’ll add the days sales figure to our market sales spreadsheet and file the slip of paper in an envelope with all the other market sales slips from our markets.

What about coins?

First off, we price all our items so that the smallest denomination we need is a quarter. This alone saves a lot of coin counting. Of course we sometimes receive half dollars, dimes nickels and pennies in payment. Mostly we use quarters for giving change, all other coins get immediately diverted away from the sales area. We just set them aside for adding to the coin jars at home.

Some of my helpers find that leaving a dozen or so quarters lying on the surface under the hanging scale is easier than digging in a pocket to retrieve them. I prefer using a commercial change-maker, a set of metal tubes that clips onto my belt and where I can dispense a quarter with each push of my thumb. Kids love seeing this and older folks will chime in, “I haven’t seen one of those in years!” It has become a small part of our total market show. Coin changers are very quick and easy to use; after all, that’s what they were made for.

Coin counting during the busy summer months is a waste of time. When it comes to tallying market sales, we have found it easier not to even count the coins at all; we just ignore them. Several times during the season we have to visit the credit union and buy a few rolls of quarters; we just record that as a “market expense” just like gasoline or bags. Thus the flow of quarters—our most used coin—is completely separated from our market sales accounting, and we’ve traded a slight inaccuracy in our sales records for a summer free of coin counting.

Addendum: Miscellaneous tips

One disadvantage of the wad system can occur when operating in the rain. If you get wet, so does your wad, altho a longer than waste-length raincoat will help some. If you wad does get too wet, just switch to your backup wad. Dry your wet wad using our windshield defroster on the ride home.

No pockets? Some folks use a deep-pocketed nailing apron for both bills and coins. This works well enough, but keeping your wad neat can be trickier than when returning it to your pants pocket. Note that many nailing aprons have too shallow pockets to be used for holding cash. But nailing aprons are simple to make and stylish custom nailing aprons can be hand or machine sewn from a wide range of fabrics; a pair of old jeans is a favorite starting point.

About Tom Roberts

When I started attending the Brewer Farmers’ Market back in August of 1983, my sole concern was being able to sell the produce my farm was growing at a good price. After attending market for a year or two, I began to realize that how the market was organized had a great impact on my sales. And how the market was organized also influenced how it made decisions about dues, new members, what could be sold at market, and how it promoted itself—and this, too, had an impact on my sales. So I got involved in the market’s steering committee and began to understand how various market members thought the market should operate. Some wanted a market czar, some wanted everyone to be allowed to do their own thing. But everyone seemed to agree that if the market as a whole did well, then so did they.