An oft-repeated mantra, but not any less true: cash is still king. Despite the many forms of alternate payments that companies and startups are scrambling to create and promote, others are starting to circle back to where it all started, cash.

401(K) 2012 / Flickr source

With holiday-induced spending woes stressing many, cash has never been a more welcome or simple option for making last minute purchases.

It’s timely too: PayPal announced yesterday its new PayPal My Cash Card, a cash-loading product where customers buy prepaid cards with varying dollar amounts in them and then use that amount to directly fund their PayPal accounts. There’s a $3.95 purchase fee attached to using the card, and of course you would need to have a functioning PayPal account, but otherwise the process is simple.

The My Cash Card is meant to give users an additional way to pay for their merchandise online. Created as an alternative to using credit and debit cards online (which were alternates to cash!), PayPal is now encouraging users to dip into their folded bills to fund their payment options online. It’s almost ironic.

But PayPal isn’t the first company to launch a product that gives customers the ease of using cash to fund e-commerce.

Facebook Credits, introduced in 2009, allowed users to use real money to purchase credits, which could then be used within the Facebook ecosystem to acquire both gaming and non-gaming items. Before it shuttered earlier this year, Facebook took a 30 percent cut of all transactions and allowed users to reload their currencies by purchasing prepaid cards with cash. Similar to PayPal’s My Cash Card, customers could buy cards for varying dollar amounts and then use those cards to add more value to their Facebook Credits stash. While Credits didn’t stick around for long before Facebook gave it the boot, it gave consumers cash alternatives to finance their online existences.

Know your history

Arguably one of the first products to give customers the option of using cash to pay for digital transactions is Apple’s iTunes gift card. Available since the inception of the iTunes Store — now a digital orgy of all the entertainment and apps you never thought you needed — the gift card was a way for users to purchase a card preloaded with value that could then be used to acquire electronic goods. Sure, you can’t use the preloaded card with any merchant other than iTunes, but the card is straightforward (no activation or purchase fees), and with Apple’s brand and products being so mainstream, the gift card is ubiquitous and a no-brainer purchase for many consumers.

Google Play — a younger platform similar to Apple’s iTunes, but catering to the Android market — has its own gift card very much like Apple’s. There’s no activation fee or purchase fee to use it, and the card and its value can only be used within Google Play. Refunded products purchased are credited back to your Play account, so all value stays within the Play ecosystem. While Play is second fiddle to iTunes, its market share is only getting bigger, and allowing users to use cash to fund their digital portals is as good a move as any.

In the day of e-everything, the world of commerce and product acquisition can seem like a blurry online vortex of nothingness. It’s reassuring, then, to know there are still ways to fuel our digital existences with something holdable and bendable. Those crisp Washingtons and Benjamins are gaining a stronger foothold again and retailers know it.

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