How Much Cash Do You Carry ?

My wife and I used to make a small withdrawal of cash each pay day to fill a few envelopes for our envelope budget system.  Over time, we’ve become less disciplined (or worried) about the day-to-day spending categories, deciding instead to take more of a “big picture” approach to managing our finances.  The downside to this was that we rarely had any cash to carry on us, and we relied heavily on debit cards.

Why Carry Cash?

There are times when you just need to have a little cash on your person.  Here’s a few recent examples when I was glad to have some cash in my wallet:

  • Tips
  • Kids’ lunch money
  • Office contributions for flowers, meals, etc. for coworkers
  • Vending machines (I know I shouldn’t get anything from them, but sometimes you’re working late and you must as a last resort)
  • Some gas stations give you a discount for paying in cash

How Much Cash to Carry?

Naturally, there is a fearful side to everyone that keeps them from opting to carry cash. But seriously, the chances of getting mugged are pretty slim. And if it does happen to you and you lose a hundred bucks, but get away without injury, consider yourself lucky.  Besides, I’d almost give $100 not to have to contact five credit card companies to report my card lost, dispute credit card charges, and spend countless hours dealing with their customer no-service people.

I think it is prudent to keep between $100-$200 on your person. This would be enough to handle an emergency cab fare out in the middle of nowhere, or similar small-to-medium sized emergency.  If you do have to use your cash for an emergency, replenish your wallet from your emergency fund and build it back up again.

I just looked in my wallet and I have exactly $67, so I guess it’s time to beef up the back pocket a bit.  Actually, any other time I’d be feeling pretty rich to have over $50 in there.  Most of the time the only thing occupying the lining of my wallet is a business card or two, and some receipts (explaining where my cash went).

How much cash do you carry, as a general rule?  Or do you prefer to only use debit or credit cards?


  1. Cash flows through my fingers like water. I NEVER carry cash. If I have cash I’ll stop at Sonic and get a drink but if I have to use my debit card I won’t. It is so much easier for me to spend cash then to use my debit card. In my mind the cash I’ve taken from the ATM has already been deducted from my checking account so game on!! Everytime I swipe my debit card I’m seeing it flow out of my account cent by cent. I know it’s wierd but it’s how my mind works. I try to never have cash on me.

  2. Cash is also important to have on hand for

    (1) buying cards/for public transit;
    (2) photocopying fees (for students, largely)
    (3) laundry/laundry cards
    (4) using lockers at bus/train terminals

    I try to take out a good amount so I’m spending less on ATM fees; also I try to take out more when I’m in the US and convert from Canadian – depends on what rate I’m getting. So I’ll take out anywhere between $80-$500 at a time, depending. I like the idea about having emergency cab fare on you at all times.

  3. The wife always pokes fun because I HAVE to have at least $60 cash in my wallet. That is…she pokes fun until we get to an establishment that doesn’t take cash! 😉

    I use cash only when I have to, otherwise I use debit.

    If someone tries to mug me I’ll just bust out my nun-chuck skills on them! #NapoleonDynamite

  4. I tend to have about $100 in my house most of the time, for reasons similar to those you mentioned. But as for the cash I actually carry with me, $5 is probably the most I typically have.

  5. I never used to carry cash when I was younger (wait, does that make me old now?). It was ATM card for everything. Now I will typically carry around $200 or so in my wallet at all times. I just had to pay cash for a few things and I only have $45 in my wallet right now, and it feels weird. Stopping by the ATM after work.

  6. I carry about $40-$60 in my wallet at any time. I ALWAYS have another spare $20 “just in case”. I figure the 40-60 will cover most of one grocery trip if I’m out and discover I don’t have my credit card, and the $20 can get me a ride home from anywhere I’d be (I live in downtown Chicago, so cabs are plenty if I need to get to a train station). I also just spent $25 at the farmer’s market, which has to be in cash. YAY fresh cheese!

  7. I carry $200 – $300 usually, in addition to a $100 bill and a $20 bill folded up behind my driver’s license. I also insist that my wife (who travels quite a bit) also carry this “behind-the-license” cash at all times. You never want to without some cash in the event that credit/debit cards don’t work, etc. and this emergency stash is enough money and the right denominations to handle most situations.

  8. Little or none. Max $10 unless I’m planning on eating out. I don’t live in a great area and I work in downtown DC so I’d rather not lose anything if my purse is snatched (esp. since we had a rash of thefts in my 4-block area).

  9. I have cash budgeted and I take out around 60 week but food and everything is already paid for so its just if I want something or something comes up. I love when it rolls over to the next week. Once its gone its gone, I rarely spend all of it but it is nice to know I have cash, and I hate when people dont have cash and you have to either let them borrow or wait for them to go to the ATM and such.

  10. I carried little to no cash until recently. I know get $40.00 in cash every payday, to use for my self indulgences (coffee, pedicure, and lunches out).

    Cash flows through my fingers like water, so I feel more comfortable paying for everything else with my debit card.

  11. I rarely carry any cash, when I do it’s no more than $20. If I have more than that, it’s to purchase something specific – such as the wagon I bought on Craigslist last week for $60.

    I feel that I spend cash more freely than I would using my credit card. And with credit being accepted nearly everywhere I don’t see the need to risk carrying around cash. There’s no 800 number on the back of a $20 to call and “cancel” it before it is spent.

  12. 20 bucks. And it generally last 2 weeks.

    I always carry snacks and beverages in my car, in my purse, and on my bike, so I never buy food out unless it is planned.

    If I have a work gift to contribute to, well, it has to wait until the day after I hear about it, that’s all.

  13. As I sit here I have 12 Bens in my pocket, I do everything I can in cash, morgage, electric, and netflix come out of the checking account, just becuse I can’t pay them in cash.
    Never had cash bounce, and if it’s gone I can’t spend it.

  14. I almost always use a debit card but will have some cash (usually $20-40) in my wallet. I don’t like the effort it takes to track my spending of cash ergo the debit card use.

    I do however, keep a very larger reserve of cash on hand in our home. Always in small denominations & usually in excess of $1000. I know that sounds rediculous, but we went thru Hurricane Isabel & found out what it is like to have ATM’s, gas pumps & stores unable to process debit cards or credit cards. If you bought $10 of gas & only had a $20, guess what, you paid $20. Same if it was a loaf of bread. So…I’m a huge advocate of keeping cash in the house in a safe place.

    BTW, yesterday was the 1st day of hurricane season…get prepared!!

  15. We carry very little cash to avoid the temptation of spending it. We keep a good amount at home for small emergencies. But most of our money sits in the bank earning interest right up to the second we need to spend it. It takes extra effort to be moving it back and forth to the checking acct to gain access but we feel that interest, compounding, really adds up over time. Use cc for almost all purchases, get the cash back, pay at the end of every month and get a free 30 day loan. And only have one bill to pay each month.

  16. About 10-20€, which is used for paying small amounts (espressos, icecreams, beers). Plus a debit card used for the supermarket and bookshops. By the way, I also carry a 10€ in my car and my bike, just in case I run out of fuel…

  17. I agree with Dave, cash for as much as I can. No credit, if I can’t pay for it now I don’t buy it.

  18. I’ll take out $60 per week, unless there’s still some leftover into the second week. I use the debit card for my Tuesday grocery shopping and to get gas (at the stations that charge the same price for cash or credit, of course). I’ll only take out more if I know I’ll be spending it for a haircut or dinner out.

  19. I usually carry a couple hundred in cash. Useful for splitting bills at restaurants and for a couple services (like my massage lady) who do not take credit cards.

    One thing I wanted to point out is that it’s not useful for me to pay cash at gas stations, even if they give a discount. My credit card pays 2%-3% back (depending on which one I use) and the cash discount is only 2%, so it’s a wash. Also, cash is a royal pain to track, and I can import my CC receipts into Excel with a few clicks. So for me, it’s worth it to pay the extra few cents for a credit card charge.


  20. Right now I have ~$50 in my wallet. Unless I’m taking money to buy something that needs to be in cash, that’s about all I carry at any one time. I use my CC for any purchase over ten bucks and pay it off when the bill comes. I track every dollar and how much I spend wouldn’t change if I was totally cash based.

  21. I don’t carry cash for day to day life in the United States. My “wallet” is a card case which doesn’t even have a slot for cash. The only reasons to carry cash in the United States are for lap dances, heroin deals, appointments with escorts, or under table weapons deals – none of which I am involved in.

    When I’m foreign countries I used cash, since most countries I visit don’t have as highly developed credit card acceptance facilities, if they do there are surcharges, you rely more on informal businesses which can’t deal with them at all. In the past 6 months alone I have actually arrived variously in Australia, Germany, Philippines, and Thailand and a few other countries not carrying any cash at all. Fortunately my ATM card worked in all of them the first without a hitch.

    Re: “Never had cash bounce” – obviously you never received a counterfeit 20,000 peso note from an unscrupulous bartender in a dark night club in South America.

  22. I almost never carry cash unless I am going somewhere out of town or not commuting to work. i.e. away from my normal routine. My visa gets 5% for gas, 2% for groceries and 1.25% for all else. And since I pay the total balance each month I end up making money. I aslo carry a gun. Without carrying and flashing cash, the chances of getting held up/rolled are diminished. There are places even in the USA where life is cheap and cash can get you killed. Most people pretend it isn’t but the statistics show up in the news daily.

  23. My husband gets mad at me because I can drive around for weeks with $2 in my purse. I have my debit card and a credit card for emergencies…why do I need more cash? Oh the other hand, if hubby has less than $30, he feels broke , but if he has more than $30, it flies out of his hand and he doesnt know where it went!

  24. I always keep a hundred dollar bill in my billfold. As soon as I have to cash that, I stick in another one…always keep the hundred dollar bill in a secret compartment. Then, if I need it…it is there. I have a really hard time breaking the hundred dollar bill. Only if it is a necessity do I buy anything. I ALWAYS ask myself before a purchase, “Do I need this, OR do I want this?” If the answer is the latter, I don’t buy it. I try not to ‘glorify’ myself with ‘stuff’! These are hard times for people, and I am not certain we are on our way out of it. Thanks so much for your most sensible posts.

  25. Cash may not bounce, but it doesn’t come back. I was reminded of this thread when the person in front of me knocked a $50 out of her pocket while pulling out her keys. I gave it back, of course, but it reminded me that cash isn’t refundable. Lose it or have it stolen, it’s gone.

    Someone did steal my wallet and I immediately had stops put on the cards. There was no cash in it so nothing was taken, and the money they spent on gas was returned. Had it been cash, I would have been out everything. But as I said, I don’t live in a great area. :-/

  26. I never have cash, ever. I even keep a checkbook at work b/c people will occasionally ask me to pitch in for a group gift and I don’t have a $5 to give them.

    I use debit for everything but gas, which I put on a credit card b/c why not get 5%?

    Not carrying cash for fear of being mugged seems silly to me… how would the mugger know if I had cash or not? I just don’t carry it b/c I feel like I’m less accountable to myself with cash. If I use a debit card, I HAVE to enter the transaction into Quicken later.

  27. Matt…and I feel accountable to myself because seeing that ‘green’ depart from my fingertips just tears me up! Plastic doesn’t bother me as much as the real thing. I still do write checks..but maily for tax deductible reasons or things I might need to trace back to. And I do have one credit card…I tried to register in a motel once when my dad was in critical condition in another city…and they wouldn’t let me stay because I couldn’t pay them with a credit card…wouldn’t accept cash! So, I got a credit card. But…I don’t like plastic money.

  28. Obviously the amount of cash any one person should carry depends greatly upon who they are, their line of work, their city of residence. But, my wife and I each get $30 cash, each month and that is the only cash we keep in our wallets. We also have an envelope system with cash for different categories and will pull cash temporarily out of those envelopes to go out to dinner, etc. I recommend perfecting the envelope system as much as possible, thereby eliminating the need for a large amount of wallet cash which is essentially a miscellaneous category.

  29. I usually have about $30-$40 in cash for misc. expenses. When I give the kids a $20, I don’t ask for change unless I’m strapped. Giving the kids some walk around money has helped them become aware of the “family” needs. They will often pick up a small treat for the family. Nothing says “I Love You” better then a surprise Diet Coke for Mom!
    In the past year, the roles have reversed and the kids are rarely accepting money for these purchases. I like that they’ve learned to be generous with their family and friends (within their means).

  30. It depends on where I’m going. If I’m going to be traveling for an extended period of time I like to have at least $1k in my pocket. Credit cards are convenient for vehicle rentals or hotels but I don’t always care to leave a paper trail.

    If I’m just knocking around town $20 to $40 is enough. I get two free withdrawals from an ATM every month, and $40 apiece makes for an average of $10 per week to do whatever I want. There’s always some cash in my studio, generally about $20 worth, to make change for students who pay in cash. Also there’s a jar of coins in my bedroom. But mostly I use my credit card and pay it off at the end of the month. Such services as can be routed to the card without a fee (the phone bill comes to mind) generally are. This makes it so much easier to track my spending especially by category.

    Since I’m the kind of person who has a selective memory sometimes, it helps to have my spending laid out for me in black and white. When I see the statement, the facts are right in my face: yes, I *did* follow my grocery budget, or no, gas is *not* more expensive than it was last month. Or… yes, I *did* go out of control at the bookstore.

  31. We live in a major city. We don’t carry much cash around in an average day except for what we need that day, which isn’t much (we have our metrocard, we bring lunch, we’re not shopping,etc.) When we run errands, we take the cash we’ve budgeted for items (whether it is food, wine, cleaning products, ) or whatever.

    The rationale? If we need it in an emergency, we’ll go back to the apartment or get it from a friend. (And the biggest reason we would need it? You get robbed, you lose it, you misplace it…all the more reason to keep your on-person cash low.)

    I wouldn’t normally carry around $100 to $200 in cash in the city. Too many opportunities to lose it, spend it or have it stolen. And no real need.

    We do try to keep at least one month’s worth of cash for expenses such as food, papergoods, etc. just in case, for some reason, we could not access our bank, use credit cards, etc.

    If electricity goes out, so goes the ability to use debit cards, credit cards, etc. in stores, etc.

    So we do keep enough cash to go for quite awhile, if needed, due to emergencies.

    We budget our expenses and use debit (or credit card, which we pay off immediately) to avoid having cash on us. Having it on you makes you consider it “available” and it isn’t. And if we don’t have the cash to pay for it, we don’t. When we use the credit card, we make a payment in that amount as soon as we’re home.

    Now, when we travel, we travel with considerably more cash. Especially in the U.S. (you’d be surprised at how many times you need actual cash; debit cards are not used everywhere, plus we’ve found we’ve had issues with a lot of use with debit and credit cards on the road, even when we alert our banks. They still issue fraud alerts and since we can’t call from home, we’ve had two occasions when they didn’t believe it was us and had to get new cards issued, which meant we could not use our cards during our road trips! Nightmare.)

    The more cash you travel around with, the more most of us are tempted to spend. (So cash on hand should be the equivalent of cash available to spend. and just that amount.)

    FYI: We keep extra money and metro cards at work and at one or two friends houses throughout the city, just in case they are closer than our apartment. It’s the emergency backup.

    (And yes, we have, on occasion, found ourselves forced to take a cab where we have to run out and get money from a friend or neighbor due to leaving a wallet behind, etc.)

    Our suburban neighbors tell us that they stash cash in their cars for emergencies.

  32. Interesting. We found that we spend far less (saving more than if we used and got the rebate from a credit card) if we use cash. We are much more vigilant about what we put into a shopping cart and where we stop (Sonics happy hour doesn’t look so good) when we have to pull cash from the wallet.

    It took me a while to switch to cash, but I kept going over budget with the debit card simply b/c I could. It wasn’t by huge amounts, but it was adding up and simply unnecessary. Forcing myself to use the cash and stop when I was out has really been helpful. I still only use cash for certain categories (groceries/household, gas, eating out/entertainment). Everything else we pay online. However, we do keep better hold on our dollars when we use actual dollars.

  33. Over the years the amount I’ve budgetted (for the two of us) for miscellaneous pocket cash has dropped from $200/week, to $140, to $100, and now $80. We aren’t using anywhere near that so it’s throwing of my budgetting off a little. I now work from home mostly which has greatly reduced my spending. You don’t spend much in the woods 15 minutes from the nearest store. We now have cards for our favourite coffeeshop which we load online with our VISA – no more guessing how much we waste I coffee, I can see it clearly on the VISA. Frankly we now pay for EVERYTHING by automatic withdrawl or put it on the VISA that gets us flight miles. In the past we never kept track of what the cash got spent on. Now we do everything on VISA and have a proper trail. Now there is virtually nothing I buy with cash. As an experiment a few months ago I put a post-it note with the date on the $20 in my wallet. It stayed there for nearly 6 weeks before I finally found an situation where I needed cash. We seem to be hovering around $30 a month now (for both of us). I am so keen to earn the free flights my credit card gets me I really resent having to pay with cash. I am annoyed I cannot pay my electicity bill or property taxes with a credit card. That’s $10k per year I’m not getting credit for. Another couple of months and we’ll have our 4 free flights to Europe for next summer covered.
    We do keep $200 cash at home to cover emergencies with extended power failures when the ATMs would be offline (eg. major ice storms, that week-long power failure the east coast had several summers ago). We keep the freezer and pantry well stocked, and we have a generator (and gas) to keep the freezer and well pump functioning in a lengthy emergency. We also have a wood stove in the basement and a good supply of firewood. We might not be warm but at least we can keep the pipes from freezing if the power is off for a couple of days in the dead of winter. If you live in the country you have to be somewhat self sufficient.

  34. I am torn between the fact to have money on you or not. I have been faced with the fact that most of the gas stations around my area are now charging more to use a visa no mader if it is a debit card. So do I carry cash or pay 10 cents more? My problem is that I don’t like to have to stop at the bank if I don’t have too and I don’t feel that I should just to pay for something that I should be able to pay with a debit card and not pay more because it is consider a credit card.
    I also have two kids and now I have to pull them out when I go into the bank or pay for my gas. I like just being able to pay with my debit card. Cash goes fast when it’s in your wallet and a debit card is just more convenient.