How Much Cash Should I Carry?

In today’s society where nearly all forms of payment have been converted to plastic, it is hard to convince people to carry cash. Mostly citing security concerns or convenience issues, people just aren’t into carrying cash these days. However, there are still several good reasons to carry cash, and occasions when only cash will do. For these scenarios, just how much cash should we have on hand?

Walking Around Money ($20)

I try to keep at least twenty dollars on my person at all times. Twenty dollars is enough to cover tips, or small purchases from a vendor who does not accept credit cards. A small amount of cash may also be needed for gas or food purchases in a pinch should your debit or credit cards decide to not work. After my “soggy hotdog” experience, I’ve made it a point to try and leave an extra $20 bill tucked away in the back of my wallet.

Travel Money ($250)

For regional travel, a couple hundred dollars seems like a prudent amount of cash to keep handy. While traveling there will be more opportunities to engage in cash-only transactions, such as cab fares, tips for hotel staff, and picking up the latest copy of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance from a magaine stand. I like to separate my travel “walking around money” from my total travel cash by leaving $100 or so tucked away in my suitcase, or similar hiding place and replenish as needed.

In the event my wallet (along with debt/credit cards) is lost or stolen, I am not completely without money for meals, gas, etc.

Cash Kept at Home ($500)

Along with a fully-funded emergency fund, and a smaller local emergency fund, it also makes sense to keep some cash around the house. Home safes and lock boxes are fairly inexpensive and can provide security for your cash and other valuables that you don’t want to leave in a safe deposit box. In the event of a disaster (natural, or otherwise) it would be good to have a few hundred dollars in cash at your disposal.

You never know when access to your money at the bank could become inaccessible, or roads impassible, so keep a small amount handy in the event of a large scale emergency.


  1. I used to regularly carry around $500 to $700 as just in case money. I did a lot of traveling in rural areas and the thoughts of being locked up by Barney Fife for some ridiculous charge and not being able to post bail had me worried. Back then no one had cell phones either.

    Today, I carry around $100 or less and we probably have a couple of hundred in the house.

    One day in the not so distant future, I think cash will eventually go away. Plastic is way too easy. Of course with the escalating price of oil, manufacturing plastic could be a problem… 😀

  2. I usually don’t carry cash – but since we started this dave ramsey class we’re moving several spending categories to the envelope system – and cash.

    I’m a little wary of carrying cash -but I think it will be good for us as a way to curb our spending in some key areas (dining out being the biggest).

    great post!

  3. I’m bad about carrying cash. I usually have grocery and entertainment cash on hand. But the only cash kept as home is change in the change basket.

  4. Personally, I like to carry more than $20, but it’s not always feasible. I am not sure about $500 at home. That might be too much depending on where you are.

    • Isn’t it actually easier to spend money on a card than it is cash? Because when you use your card you actually have quick access to more money.

  5. I think the idea of keeping cash at home goes hand-in-hand with your Survivalist article from the 25th (as you noted in your third point above).

    My wife and I were traveling this weekend and realized that we didn’t have enough cash for the ttoll booth! We spent $2.50 at the ATM so that we could withdraw enough for the $2.15 toll. As we approached the booth, we noticed… THEY TAKE DEBIT/CREDIT CARDS! Talk about a paperless world!

    Despite the plastic-accepting toll booth, I still like the $20 walking-around money idea.


  6. I do carry cash with me, therefore I post anonymously today: 20 dollars tucked away, and up to 100 dollars in my wallet. Our cafeteria doesn’t take cards, and cash is often faster, also for the people behind me in line. I don’t have a 500 stash at home though, I am trusting to ATMs and cash-back merchants.

  7. Man, I don’t know where you live, but in Oklahoma I carry cash and it doesn’t bother me. I don’t advertise it, but I feel safe.

    I have a debit card and I use it occasionally, but I am a firm believer in carrying and using cash. We use the envelope system and I think it is great! It is a psychological thing. It just feels different when you have to whip out real money for a purchase. It makes you think a little harder about the expenditure compared to using plastic. Even with a debit card, the whole transaction is so abstract that the cost doesn’t really sink in.

  8. I cannot stand when my friends do not bring cash with them when we go out places..they always say “I have me credit card, i don’t need any”. HAH!

    So every time they want a soda or snack from the vending machine? Whenever they catch a cab? When/if they visit that hot dog stand?

    Oh yeah, I’m they’re best friend then 😉 I always start out with $100 in cash in my pockets, and then fill it back up when it gets down to a few bucks. makes me feel safe!

  9. For me, I can blow through $100.00 in cash like no ones business. I can think of where the money went, but it was stupid spending. Eating out more often. Renting movies. Garage sale shopping. Come Monday, the $100.00 I took out of the ATM on Saturday morning is gone. I can micro manage spending $20.00 and living frugal than pocketing $100.00 and acting large spending at will.

  10. I have always thought of 500to keep on me and 1000 at home, mostly due to the fact that
    I live in NYC and 500 will go like swoosh…lol. Thanks fro the post.

  11. i would’nt carry hundreds with me for possible catastrophe as some suggest. $200 is my absolute tops. and if i stay out of stores i can make it last.BTW what can you do for amusement or to pass the time without browsing in stores. need ideas.

  12. for me when i go out even to the local shopping mall im in the habit of carrying my money inside my bra cup. theres no safer way i know of and i never lost anything. sometimes the simple way is best.

  13. You always have the obligation of keeping yourself and your family fed and sheltered. This obligation is not released during times of crisis but often the electronic payment system does not work during these times. Add to this the possiblity of identity theft, financial surprises due to the tax man, lawsuits, etc. etc. and I cope by keeping about 3 months worth of cash stashed at home. I also carry a few orders of magnitude more cash with me at all times.

  14. I don’t carry cash with me “normally”, because I am very likely to blow it. I stead I keep (10) $2 bills on me (which I don’t like to spend) so that I really have to NEED it to spend it