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Money Orders and Certified Checks
Money orders and certified checks are what I call "near-cash equivalents". They are accepted the same as cash almost everywhere, because they are debt papers drawn on an organization large enough that almost every vendor will accept them.
Money orders are sold by a number of institutions. In the United States the easiest place to get them is your local post office. A money order with a value of up to $700 still costs less than a dollar, making it very economical.
Certified checks require a visit to your local bank branch. To get one, you write a check and the bank "reserves" the funds for the check to ensure that it will go through. For the person receiving the check, this removes the risk of the check bouncing or being cancelled. Banks charge several dollars for these checks, but they can be obtained for thousands of dollars.
Money orders and certified are a better idea than cash for certain: they are not anonymous, they are traceable if lost, and the company that issues the money order or certifies the check can ascertain if it has been cashed or not. I still don't recommend using them for most mail-order purchases however. In the event of a problem, while you can prove that the item was cashed, you are still out your money and the vendor is in the driver's seat. You also will delay your order for several days until you can get the note and mail it to the company.
Next: Personal Checks