Cost of Cash Revealed: How Modernizing Meal Payments Benefits Your Bottom Line

school food worker

Is cash still king? Digital meal payments offer advantages cash can’t touch, and that’s why many districts go cashless. From cash-on-hand rules to proper security measures, districts must spend valuable resources to facilitate cash transactions. Daily bank deposit runs and purchasing bank bags, safes, and locking cash drawers add up.  

The majority of point-of-sale (POS) transactions now happen digitally. Card, digital wallet, and electronic check purchases dominate payment choices at registers across the U.S., making consumers’ preferences clear. For school districts, it’s worth considering the time and cost savings of removing cash’s crown and simplifying school meal and fee payments by going digital. 

Let’s dive into what’s typically required for schools to process cash payments:  

1. Equipment and hardware:

Your POS software has the capabilities for cash transactions, but you still need a locking cash drawer to store funds. That’s an extra piece of equipment for each POS station, and it’s not always easy to remove and store if necessary. Additionally, you need a centralized safe or vault to store all the drawers or bank bags and extra cash during the weekends and extended breaks.  

Cashless advantage:

Drawerless POS systems are easy to set up and require less space than a locking drawer. Going cashless means eliminating cash storage and letting your technology handle the accounting. That translates to less equipment to purchase and maintain. 

2. Collection, distribution, and deposits:

Time spent managing cash movement varies depending on the number of lunchrooms you have. Counting and collecting cash at the end of each service requires additional effort, and distributing cash for POS banks adds to set-up time. Regular trips to the bank to deposit funds squeeze nutrition staff members’ already-busy schedules. 

Cashless advantage:

No bank runs, no cash banks, and distributing funds to and from drawers. Give that extra deposit, set up, and downtime back to your busy nutrition staff.

3. Counting and recording:

As cash is collected and distributed, a team member must audit the drawers and ensure everything is accounted for. Then they bring all the funds together and count them against transaction records at the end of the day. This leaves room for human error and inevitably requires time-consuming error corrections. Staff members eager to leave at the end of their shift can find themselves recounting cash to “find” an accounting error. 

Cashless advantage:

Going digital automates transaction records. There’s no cash to reconcile at the end of the day. Nutrition staff members can simply close out their POS systems and complete their end-of-shift duties without the added stress of counting and reconciling money. 

4. Internal controls:

Typically, districts want more than one person present when counting cash to ensure proper protocol. That adds another person to the end-of-shift procedure. Additionally, funds may be audited at the school or district level to ensure consistency.  There must also be a process in place if the accounts do not reconcile or what type of procedures to follow if problems are detected. Cash necessitates all of these internal controls because it must be carefully counted and reconciled at every step in its journey. 

Cashless advantage:

Digital systems track each penny as it moves throughout the system, ensuring exacting accuracy. That means controls involving staff members’ time and simpler audit procedures. 

5. Regulation management:

Depending on state and local government rules, cash handling requirements can vary, and districts are responsible for knowing and enforcing the rules throughout each school. Regulations can include the amount of funds that can be kept on site, how often they need to be deposited, and how they are managed by staff members. It is crucial to be aware of the regulations and know they can change each school year. In each school, you may need to designate those approved to manage cash and require additional training to ensure regulations are followed closely.  

Cashless advantage:

Going digital means no more cash regulations. Even when rules change, as they often do from year to year, you’re free from changing your cash handling practices because your team’s not responsible for that anymore.

6. Auditing and reporting:

Knowing how much cash is flowing in and out of lunchrooms, offices, classrooms, stores, and more is a big job. When reviews occur, it is essential to ensure that procedures are followed and all reporting is in order. All the funds must be accounted for throughout the school year, and the right processes in place take some diligence. This includes reporting all registers, cash drawers, cash bags, and vaults. Dual controls are highly recommended as audits are performed. If discrepancies are found, identify who is responsible for reporting them. Then identify steps that need to be taken to remedy issues.  

Cashless advantage:

No cash means less to audit. There are no bills and coins to count, no safe protocols to check, no drawers and bank bags to account for, and no deposit logs to review. Less to audit means less stress for everyone.

7. Risk mitigation:

Someone must own risk-mitigation practices around cash. They must ensure they’re followed and updated accordingly. The risk officer would then appoint an owner at each site and work directly with that individual each time a change is needed. This could include a new organization, event, procedure, or operating system, among others. It’s an entire set of duties revolving around one increasingly expensive asset in your school or district: cash. 

Cashless advantage:

Forget creating extra work just to facilitate handling cash. Cashless operations free your staff from extra busy work. Direct the time and resources toward more impactful tasks than cash risk mitigation. 

8. Family concerns:

It’s heartbreaking when a child loses a meaningful amount of cash during the school day. There’s no practical way to track and retrieve it, which can leave the child feeling frantic and worried. They may also fear going without lunch that day. Sometimes kids carry substantial amounts of cash into school for bigger purchases like sports uniforms, yearbooks, and class trip fees. Losing it can impact family finances and negatively affect the student’s school experience.  

Cashless advantage:

From the bank to the school recipient, secure digital transactions leave nothing to chance. Even if a student’s meal account is mistakenly credited with money meant for a yearbook purchase due to human error, for example, the transaction is still recorded. Families make payments and see where the money went, and steps can be taken to correct any errors.

Cash creates a significant administrative burden in K-12 schools. It consumes valuable time and resources that could be better utilized for educational purposes. That’s why many districts choose to implement alternative payment methods to streamline processes, reduce risk, and improve efficiency.  

LINQ offers a safe and secure payment platform that meets the needs of your district and the families you serve. Our online portal, LINQ Connect, gives parents an easy way to make meal payments and handle all school fees without the hassle of managing cash. They can make one-time or recurring payments each time a balance gets low. Additionally, they have insight into how funds are spent and can transfer money between their students’ meal accounts.   

Learn more about simplifying meal and school fee payments with LINQ Connect. 

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