My wife, Judith, and I have just returned from a wonderful trip to Italy, where, among other things, we saw five operas.

I also had fun gathering up facts and stories for this article, as well as one that I will write for our Italian American Community Newspaper. Next time I go to Europe, I am seriously considering making up some of my own press passes, because people were very cooperative and enthusiastic when I told them that I was writing articles when I got back to New York (OK, so I didn’t always tell them it was Rochester).

Let’s start with a few financially related reflections.

If you are a regular reader, you know that in my CARE presentations, I talk a lot about “cash is king,” but that it will be harder and harder to use cash in the future, as we get pushed more and more into digital payments — phones, credit cards and computers.

So much of the push into digital payments is not just for our convenience or benefit, but it is so the financial, merchants and other “worlds” can track us. It includes knowing where we go, what we buy and other data so that they can sell us more financial products, services and merchandise. I did some research for this article, and advertisements popped up for luggage, since I recently purchased some online.

That being said, at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, we experienced some “tracking” that made a lot of sense.

When we exited the gallery, for reasons that were not obvious to any of us, we had to rescan our ticket in order to leave. As you might expect, you heard all kinds of comments like, “So if I lost my ticket or threw it out, do I have to stay here forever?” It turns out that the gallery only lets a limited number of visitors in each half hour. The exit tracking shows how long visitors are taking to get through, so that it can determine whether the entrance numbers should be adjusted up or down so the gallery isn’t overcrowded. Sometimes technology really works for us. The only other place I have seen exit scanning is the Washington, D.C., subway, but I think that is to make sure you paid, because the system is complicated – you pay a fare for a destination, not a ride on line, like the R Train in New York City.

Since we are back on the topic of “cash is king,” in Burano, an island in the Venetian Lagoon, at the Trattoria where we had a wonderful lunch, the waiter offered us a significant cash discount – 45 Euro on a 52 Euro bill, so more that 10 percent. There are still many small retailers and restaurants throughout Italy that will give you a cash discount rather than pay the interchange fees on debit and credit cards — even though that is discouraged in their credit card service agreements and they most likely mark up their prices to compensate for the fees. We usually asked for one, and often received a cash discount. Back in the U.S., I still think that asking small business retailers for a cash discount on a significant purchase makes sense – not to avoid sales taxes, but to save those interchange fees. I don’t know all of the details and incentives contained in credit card service agreements, but why not ask? The worst that happens is they say no.

One last reflection on cash. Sitting in the lobby of our hotel in Naples, I read a piece in “USA Today” about tipping. It turns out that people who pay with cards tip higher than those who pay with cash – 20 percent vs. 16 percent. Admittedly, the poll isn’t clear on all of the reasons for the difference, but a 15 percent tip is considered acceptable, and a 20 percent tip generous, so it is not about that cheap vs. frugal thing. I just wonder if all of the factors such as wealth, gender, age, etc., are consistent, whether it would be another example of how people who use cash and are more connected to their hard-earned money make different spending decisions and spend less.

Here is one non-financial reflection, with more to come in the next column. This is an oversimplification of what we learned at the underground tour of the Coliseum, but Roman gladiators were not “buff” athletes with six-packs abs, like the “Spartacus” movies. They may have been only about 5 feet tall with a good amount of fat, because of their high-calorie diets and because they were trained for strength and endurance. Our guide likened them to Olympic weightlifters or sumo wrestlers.

More reflections next time.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at or at