Keeping Cash on Hand

My wife and I have always talked about keeping a lump sum of cash on hand, hidden away somewhere in the house, in case of emergency. That being said, we’ve never really settled on an amount much less withdrawn the money and stashed it. But this week we found ourselves with a sizable wad of cash in a kitchen drawer, which got me to thinking about this all over again.

As an aside, the cash is from a failed attempt to buy a new dinette table from craigslist. We saw one that we thought we might like (based on the teeny, tiny pictures in the listing) so we headed out to take a look. Since they were located about 25 miles from our house, and since we wanted to have cash on hand for bargaining, we stopped by the bank on the way. When the table turned out to be underwhelming, we returned home with the money.

Returning to the issue at hand, we’re struggling with how much to keep around. $500 seems like a nice round number, but I really don’t have a good feel for this. Honestly, I don’t even have a sense for what sort of emergency might arise where we’d need the money. But it still seems like a good idea, especially with four little kids relying on us for food, shelter, and safety. So…

Do you keep an emergency cash on hand? If so, how much? And what would you envision using it for?

Oh, and before you get any bright ideas about figuring out where we live and raiding our kitchen drawers, we’re moving the money and you’ll never find it… 😉

89 Responses to “Keeping Cash on Hand”

  1. Anonymous

    My opinion the number of how much, anybody should have is this just have a cash reserve regardless of anything because you never know, when something may or may not happen, the number speaks for itself have some money and food and water as any emergency situation because at the end of the day we need to take care of ourselves no matter, what whether it’s just you, and kids, our you and hubby and kids and grandkids we need to have some sort of a plan regardless of anything whether it’s $100 or $1200 dollars it doesn’t matter at all.

  2. Anonymous

    My husband purchased a large gun safe which is bolted to the floor. He also has pictures taken of the guns and serial numbers and we have copy and phone numbers of important papers and credit cards. My daughter also has a copy of our info in her bolted down gun safe. I try to keep five cases of water stocked and food that can be eaten without electricity. In my trunk of my car I Have a emergency kit with food and water and extra zip lock bag of dog food for our dog. We each have a sleeping bag in the trunk and those small heat warmers for your hands that hunters use. Hand sanitizer. I also have a couple subway and McDonald gift cards in the trunk and a fifty dollar hid just in case something happens when we are traveling.

  3. Anonymous

    I keep $1000.00 cash on hand, 30 gallons drinking water, 1 week worth of canned food for 2, 20 gallons unleaded gas with stabilzer, basic camping supplies, chainsaw, portable generator & firearm.

    Whoever wrote $100.00 must in college and thought that an “emergency” means not having pizza and beer for a party.

    Real emergencies mean that people in your community are going to suffer major hardship, such as homelessness & starvation. This will result in death for many, and create an environment of anarchy in which police, fire, and rescue will not be available.

    Prices of any important commodity are going to skyrocket into rediculous proportions, as the supply of anything essential for survival will be siezed on by enormous demand.

    Consider clean drinking water selling for $100 per gallon, or gasoline costing $50/gallon.

    You’ll have to have alot of money if you don’t have anything else.

  4. Anonymous

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. The earthquakes in Japan have really reignited my desire to be better prepared for my family in the event of a major disaster. And I’ve never been very good at keeping cash on hand. I use credit cards for everything and rarely carry any cash whatsoever.

    That said, we’re putting together 72 hour kits this month, and I’m thinking a stash of $1,000 in small bills should be a reasonable amount to keep on hand.

  5. Anonymous

    I keep $2500 USD and $25,000 MXN in the house. Seems like a lot compared to others here, but I do feel secure knowing its there. I live in Mexico, and we are ready to bug out if it gets bad. So far so good.

  6. Anonymous

    Just a thought: 60 banks closed last year. One hundred and sixty have closed this year so far. Even if your money is “safe” because it’s FDIC insured, there will still be a run on the bank and you won’t be able to access your account for some weeks, etc. (Which happened to some of my relatives last year in Oregon.)

    You should have enough cash on hand to get through a couple of weeks for sure. I would even have enough to make at least one month’s payments, if possible.

    I would also keep an emergency backpack w/ $300 cash that you can grab & run w/ if there’s a natural disaster of some sort in your area.

    Best of luck with all of your endeavors!

  7. Anonymous

    i called my credit union to change my cd . i asked for 9,500 dollars in cash. the remainder in a new longer cd.i was told i would have to wait about a week for the cash. they did not plan for this much of a withdrawal from one person.this is a 5 star credit union. i am now wondering what would really happen if there was a real run on cash in case of the unexpected? how much money in cash is there in an atm machine. i am not a rich person. but some of the answers as to the amount of money people think they may need is very unrealistic.

  8. Anonymous

    WOW! I thought about this and the the best answer may be several, because the question leaves so much room for interpretation of disaster/emergency. Minor things like power out for up to a week to full blown terrorist attacks.

    For the “minor emergencys” I think a thousand for the family would do up to a week. If you can still get cash soon and have supplies already planned for this. A generator can easily go for up to a thousand in an “emergency”.

    Terrorist attacks or other HUGE disasters…well I don’t think most people could have enough cash. So as many bills as you can save but smaller the better but its hard to put $500 in ones in a wallet.

    If I had a money wand I’d have one years living expenses saved in a savings account and 3 months living expenses on hand cash plus supplies.

  9. Anonymous

    I keep $1000.00 in varying demonimations. Make sure you have nothing larger than $20 dollar bills. I keep $500.00 in 20s, $200.00 in 10’s, $200.00 in 5’s and $100.00 in 1’s. In an emergency, people selling whatever it is you need will not be making change.

  10. Anonymous

    I think all this is really interesting. I do want to say to all those relying on an ATM during an Emergency, it might be good to think about the fact that lots of people might be thinking the way you do and are also relying on the ATM. IF the power is on, what do you think might happen to the cashflow in the ATM if the banks cannot refill it on a timely basis and everyone is hitting it at once? Hmmmmmm! Better have some cash on hand!

    Also, I think limiting yourself to your insurance policy is limiting yourself in an emergency. So what if the insurance policy only covers $200.00? Is the insurance company going to be there instantly when my family needs food and shelter? No, I don’t think so. Better to risk losing a small amount of money than the ability to care for my family in an emergency.

    I think $1,000 – $2,000 stashed in a fire safe in a very clever spot is the safest approach. I also think that you never know what emergency might hit. Someone used Hurricane Katrina as an example of a circumstance where there was nothing to purchase. What if that is NOT your situation? What if you do have items to purchase and used Katrina as an excuse NOT to have cash on hand. Be prepared either way!!! Think, think, think, think.

  11. Anonymous

    Having some cash around the house is a great insurance policy. You never ever know when you will really need it. Be it a natural disaster, man made calamity or otherwise, cash opens doors that plastic and paper never will. And the way banks are heading, do you really want to be in line trying to get some money out when they close their doors?

  12. Anonymous

    Wow, I was Googling “how much cash on hand should I have”, and this was the only relevant result. I’m surprised the discussion has gone on for a year.

    There’s only my wife and I, and we keep around $500. I don’t use cash that often, but I know even if just the power went out (like in the Northeast Blackout of 2003), it’s hard to do anything with only $20 in my wallet.

    I think the opportunity cost of holding $1000 or less in your house is negligible compared to the benefits of having it during an emergency. And it’s only like 3 dollars a month anyway. Big deal. But you do get peace of mind.

  13. Anonymous

    For those of you who DO NOT couch the possibility of ATM machines being down is short-sighted. Can’t get your money. Can’t use your credit/debit card at the stores or gas station. What then? Cash is the answer.

    You have a moral obligation to prepare your family. Do not be too poly-annish about bad things happening. Be prepared!!

    But as Americans, we do not believe our systems will ever go down, for a prolonged (7 days or more) period.

    Keep at least $250 per person in your household for the unfortunate events that may strike your family one day.

  14. Anonymous

    n/x, where x approximates wealth and n ~ f (x) represents a utility function. $1,000 may be a lot of cash to keep around the [location] for some folks, and $100,000 may be way less than enough for others. I’ve found it useful to keep some green around for various wholly legitimate & tax-compliant purposes, but it’s never been anywhere near enough to provoke reckless behavior.

  15. Anonymous

    Oh, and, OMG, I just read some more of the comments.

    Personally I make it a practice not to think of emergency supplies as “investments.” Different financial tools have different purposes. I know a bank teller is not a financial adviser but I’d think they’d still know the difference.

    The inflation rate is keyed to the GDP (gross domestic product). It is not grounded in individual economic reality. We don’t buy everything in our households over and over again year after year. Even if we did, some prices go up, some go down, and some stay the same–and with the latter, that effectively means their prices have decreased too, in real dollars. A $35 whatchamacallit in 1960 that’s still a $35 whatchamacallit in 2008 is way cheaper than it was back then. Anyway, so it would seem that most of the time, inflation primarily affects us with those products we must buy over and over again. With some product categories, though, you can get around that. You can buy used, you can obtain for free, you can borrow. The GDP, after all, focuses only on new goods.

    So if you’re holding off on putting together an emergency fund in savings, or being too risky in your investments because someone said “inflation” to you, that’s pretty unfortunate and unnecessary. And a cash stash is NOT an investment vehicle any more than an emergency savings account is. It may be a useful exercise to periodically go over what the cash stash or emergency fund is supposed to cover and make sure that prices haven’t changed so much that you need to sock more money away–but that goes back to what Joe Dominguez said about consciousness moving faster than inflation.

  16. Anonymous

    I live in central Ohio. About as far from hurricane country as anyone would need to be. Didn’t think twice about it.

    Then came Hurricane Ike.

    Do not leave it up to your debit card to help you bug out of town if disaster strikes. If the power goes out all over your town, none of the ATMs will work. Banks don’t use emergency generators to keep them going; even if they did, it’s likely the ATMs still wouldn’t work because something along the network would probably be out of service as well.

    And never assume that you won’t face a certain kind of natural disaster just because you never have. Not to be melodramatic about it, but we’re exhibit A in that regard. With climate change storms are going to happen in increasingly odd places. Faultlines can open where there were none previously. Even volcanoes have the habit of occasionally appearing out of nowhere. Again, kind of melodramatic to contemplate, but the point is you *don’t* know what will happen–better safe than sorry. (Given the favored hiding place of a cash stash–no pun intended!)

  17. Anonymous

    “In addition, one must remember that bank employees are only human. What makes anyone think that in a emergency situation banks would be open for “business as usual” and that bank tellers and employees would actually show up to work. Remember the people you regularly depend on for services, probably live locally and will be experiecing the similiar conditions. I don’t know about you, but chances are, in a real emergency, the last place I’m going to be is sitting at my desk. More than likely I will be checking on my family, securing my home and possibly getting out of town, as will the bank tellers and other non-emergency personnel.”

    A very astute comment.

  18. Anonymous

    I keep cash. I won’t say how much, but it’s a fair amount, and it’s in $20s and smaller. Also enough fuel for the primary car to get us up to 800 miles without buying more, enough food and water to ride out a two-week stay-at-home emergency (in position for most of it to be loaded into said car and hauled away in case of something so serious it forced us to abandon our house and retreat to our bug-out site), and enough trade goods that if the shit truly hits the fan I’ll probably be the richest guy in the county.

    Do I expect to use any of it? Well, the food and water came in handy during the recent flooding (no, the house didn’t flood…our neighborhood has drily rode out four floods in the recent past that left most of the rest of the county underwater…including all the grocery stores and most of the roads). The rest is still just being held in reserve.

    I’ll reevaluate the cash situation when I see what happens with the election this year. The only situation I can see where it’d be truly necessary would be a local terrorist attack. If the Democrats win, I’m doubling my reserve. If the Republicans win, I’ll probably put most of it back in the bank…although I’m still keeping all the other supplies.

  19. Anonymous

    I keep cash in the car, since I assume it will be going with me when I bug out. Having read the comments here, I realize that I should favor smaller bills. I also have a spare key for the car — in the car.

    Recently I went tent camping with the family and the car could barely hold all the stuff we wanted to take. I think I should work through this and imagine what an emergency load would include. OTOH, I think that getting outside the disaster area is the main thing. After that credit cards should work.

  20. Anonymous

    Having lived thru a hurricane on the East Coast where most gas stations & stores were without electricity for several days i.e. no debit or credit cards, I would suggest erring on the high side of having cash on hand. Also make sure you have it in small denominations. Many stores could no provide change so smaller bills & some coins help save you $$$ in the long run. We were able to buy $17 worth of gas but had to pay $20 as we only had a $20 bill with us.

  21. Anonymous

    I began saving dollars a year or so ago and although I mostly use a debit card that stash is up to $350.00. It’s nice to have those dollars for any need that comes up. I keep it in the kitchen.

    Even in South Carolina, my mother went through an ice storm and couldn’t go anywhere and had to use a kerosene lantern to stay warm for days.

  22. Anonymous

    We were on the road 9/11. Like many others we decided to get more cash. Off the interstate, we were told at the only gas station around that they were limiting withdrawals to $300.00. No law or anything, but everybody obliged because none of us knew what the outcome would be. Everyone was orderly and patient- it made me extra proud to be an American that day.
    The bottom line, disasters can be planned around-(we are in Hurricane Alley) or come out of the blue. Be prepared to your family’s comfort level. I keep a disaster box in my car, also.
    Good luck to everyone this hurricane season.

  23. Anonymous

    Kathy you are a loser, i would shoot myself if you were my mom. You dont trust teenagers, you pay for your little babies stuff everywhere he wants to go, and on top of it all, you have the kid so screwed up he goes to matinees and gets his hair cut for BAND.

    …what a sad world this is coming to.

  24. Anonymous

    I keep between $750 to $1000 in cash, in a mix of 20s, 10s, 5s, and 1s, in a fireproof box along with my important papers. I keep $100 per envelope with mixed notes. I go no lower than $750 in this emergency stash. When I save up to $1000, I take $250 and buy silver bullion coins with it to preserve the value of that money as a hedge against inflation. I keep the bullion in a safe deposit box. It’s a constant dynamic process of saving, and I always have a fairly significant amount of emergency cash at home.

  25. Rhonda: I’m not sure what led you to believe that I might consider things like a car repair or relative in jail to be an emergency. I’m talking about major natural disasters, and things of that nature.

    I think that your point about a potential run on the bank, with tons of unprepared people trying to get cash, is a good one. I’d much rather be on the road or buying what I need rather than trying to get my hands on some money.

  26. Anonymous

    We may have a different understanding of what constitutes an emergency. In my opinion, an emergency is not something that can “wait until the morning”, like bailing your step-brother out of jail or making a repair to your vehicle. Those are just situations. That being said, the last words you mentioned were food, shelter and safety, so my comments relate to a need for money in an emergency disaster situation when regular and rational norms may not apply.

    As a single person I keep 100-one dollar bills at home for an emergency (working on increasing). I remember two occasions in the last three years that my national bank’s entire ATM network went out of service out of service due to technical reasons. So I will assume for my purposes, that there is a probably a greater chance of ATM and equipment failures during a disaster. In addition, many types of disasters are not forecasted ahead of time, which means the unprepared are counting on a disaster or emergency occuring during traditional banking hours, Monday thru Friday, 9am to 5pm. Anything happening outside of that time frame and the unprepared are S-out of luck!

    Also, it appears that people have forgotten that banks make money by charging transaction fees AND HOLDING large sums of YOUR money, and your funds are not always immediately available for withdrawal. Murphy’s Law could imply that an emergency would be a great time for a bank to hold YOUR money, especially when all the other unprepared people will be trying to make withdrawals at the same time.

    In addition, one must remember that bank employees are only human. What makes anyone think that in a emergency situation banks would be open for “business as usual” and that bank tellers and employees would actually show up to work. Remember the people you regularly depend on for services, probably live locally and will be experiecing the similiar conditions. I don’t know about you, but chances are, in a real emergency, the last place I’m going to be is sitting at my desk. More than likely I will be checking on my family, securing my home and possibly getting out of town, as will the bank tellers and other non-emergency personnel.

    Lastly, I agree with many of the planning steps in the attachment posted at comment #51. Also, don’t assume that you will be at home or close to home in an emergency or disaster, which is why I also have some basic neccesties of food, water and clothing in my car. Part of you “cash on hand” should be money at home and money on your person.

  27. Anonymous

    If there is a disaster that interrupts power, having supplies already in your house is far more valuable than even having cash (no markets may be open for awhile)

    Food, batteries, lights, radio, maybe a small generator.

    Water: check out (no affiliation) to store up to 100 gallons in your bathtub (more than any water heater)

  28. Anonymous

    Very interesting comments. There seems to be a wide range of opinions. A couple things I have thought of…….

    Anyone without power or water already has a reserve of water of fifty gallons or more in their water tank.

    If I were involved in a disaster that I thought was going to last a week or more I think it would be time to change places for a while. That’s what an emergency fund is for and if I can’t get to my money within 100 miles of the disaster area (my home) things are probably so bad that a few hundred dollars saved back in cash really isn’t going to help much.

    If it is the type of disaster that destroys your home a lot of the plans people have stated here won’t help much anyway. Again, you will have to change locations and access your money from another place.

  29. Anonymous

    There’s an opportunity cost to keeping cash at home. You get the security and piece of mind of having an emergency supply of cash. However, you lose foregone interest and the buying power of your cash erodes year over year due to inflation. Assuming inflation of 3%, it effectively costs you $30 per year to keep $1000 of cash on hand. It costs more when considering compounding effects. You also risk theft and loss which your insurance is not likely to cover.

    Keeping this in mind, I try to limit cash on hand to a minimum. I keep a reserve of $200 (in $5 bills) and a weeks worth of food/water in a backpack. This seems to be more than enough to keep a single person afloat for a week in case of disaster. I consider the food/water supply to be far more valuable in a disaster than cash. Really, I look at the cash supply as a way to get the heck out of dodge if there is a disaster (gas, lodging). It’s pretty hard for cash to do you any good when people are looting anyway …

    Before I became a finance professional, I had a job as a teller. It is amazing how many people keep their life savings underneath their matress and take their paychecks in cash. I hope that the people in this fourm are smarter than this and do not keep obsene amounts of cash on hand. It’s certainly not the way to wealth or financial security.

  30. Anonymous

    I don’t think there was any post that mentioned the key reason I keep cash around — teenagers! Any of you working parents who get a call at work from the kid on summer vacation who wants to go to the matinee with his friends…? Or who just remembered he needs a haircut for his band concert that is this evening right after work? That cash envelope has saved my stress level many a time!

    I keep $200-$300 in cash in the house. I keep track of how the cash is spent in an account in Quicken so I know when it needs replenishment and where the money’s gone — and also to pre-empt “unauthorized withdrawals.” Besides the teenager’s activities, it is also handy for service people who prefer payment in cash. Or when my wallet’s empty and I don’t have time to get to an ATM.

    But many of the posts raise excellent points about keeping cash on hand for emergencies. While hurricanes and earthquakes may be limited geographically, power outages can happen anywhere. I think it wise to increase my home cash for true (i.e., non-teenager-related) emergencies.

  31. Anonymous

    I have five hundred bucks in fives in my house, and about two hundred in fives in my office and have used both a few times. Like some others above we went through the big blackout in NYC, and there were a lot of people who had long walks in the heat or had to camp outside, but had no cash to buy water, radios or food. We did. It’s also come in handy once for an emergency locksmith to break us in and install a new lock in the middle of the night, and as an emergency loan for a neighbour. I’m a big proponent of having cash on hand.

  32. Anonymous

    I also went through Katrina. I’m paid once a month & Katrina hit at the end of the month. In my area, ATM’s were down for a couple of weeks. I even drove for 2 hours to a city that had restored power to some areas & had ATM’s working. THEN, I discovered that my bank (a local coastal bank) was down, too. So, the ATM system couldn’t access my account.

    When payday came a few days later, my employer (which had the same bank) could not issue paychecks. I will NEVER let myself get in that situation again. So, I do keep a stash of cash in the house. It could be another hurricane, which you do have warnings for, but it could also be an unexpected emergency (tornados, terrorism, etc.). I know from experience that you just can’t always count on ATM’s or even banks.

  33. Anonymous

    Living in a flood prone and cyclone (hurricane) prone area I have a fair bit of emergency stashes. Fortunately most are predictable so we can prepare

    1. I have food and water for 3 days (our typical flood length) on hand.

    2. I have our emergency folder complete with a small unused credit card ($500 limit), passports, $500 cash, insurance documents, spare phone chargers etc etc ready to go.

    3. In the event of a cyclone (hurricane) we make the decision to stay or go based on the category. 1 or 2 we stay, 3 or above we go. Grab bag, emergency folder, dog, kids, hubby, gone.

    Thanks to the wonders of underground power, water and phones, even when flooded in we have the necessities and our town doesn’t stop running. It’s more the town gets cut off than the town itself flooding – although this week was a little hairy….

  34. Anonymous

    when my grandfather died, I came home to the ceiling tiles (dropped) all on the floor. Why? Because the president of his company had been embezzling and by default, he was under investigation, too. (He was VP). The lawyer told hime to take out large amounts of cash each month and hide it, just in case of seizure. That was in 1970. When he died 30 years later, my grandmother was still finding cash in the ceiling. He had hidden it in fake pipes.

    My father does the same thing at their new house, except he didn’t put it in a pipe. I finally got him to compromise and put some in the bank. Now, he’s ‘only’ got about $5K in the house. He’s all cash, anyway, but I’m still leary of a fire in the house. I’m a big proponent of 1000 per person. Probably over kill, but watch Jerico and then you’ll decide what you’re comfortable with 🙂

    As for places not having electricity during a power outage, you’re right. So no CC/debit. However, they COULD be open during daylight and cash would be the way to go.

  35. Anonymous

    I usually keep about $200-$300 around the house. I like to carry cash, but no more than $60 in my purse. This way I have a steady supply without going to the ATM 3 times a week. Dumb me, I keep it in the kitchen, but I should put it in my fireproof box, just in case of fire.

    I’ve learned the hard way that freak things can happen to knock out the power for a couple of days – I’ve been in a few major hurricanes and a really freak wind storm that was devastating. And there are two things you need when the power goes out – cash and gas. So I keep my gas tank half full, too – learned that the hard way – gas pumps don’t work when the electricity is out. But $200 would do my husband and I well for a few days until the power came back on. Usually 3 days is about the most you’ll have to go in a large city without some areas getting power that you can access for necessities.

    As for worrying about theft, I really don’t. If someone breaks in my house and demands money I’m giving them the $200 – it might just be enough to make them leave and to keep me alive in the process – after all I live in the city with the highest rate of larceny in the country.

    I guess its a personal choice. I suppose if you wanted emergency money stored in your house, but not cash, you could always do travelers checques. If someone steals them they can’t cash them. But if something happens and you need money you can use them.

  36. Anonymous

    Read this URL about some things that happened during the Katrina disaster.

    If you think your plastic or electronic machines will be worth something when the banks go down or when the electric goes off, you’re not being very safe.

    Keep enough cash and supplies to get you and your family to a safe area and enough to wait out whatever has driven you from your home. And if you’re worried about it getting stolen, you need a safe that’s fire proof and bolted to the floor.

  37. Anonymous

    I keep $200 in the house, to be used only in a natural-disaster quality emergency. I hope that would be enough to buy food and gas while we drive to somewhere that the ATMs, credit cards etc are still working (in-laws in neighboring state, for example). I have two toddlers.

  38. Anonymous

    We have about $200 in small bills stashed for an emergency. It isn’t nearly enough though for our family of 6. I need to take more out, but haven’t gotten around to it. With the cash in our wallets, change jar and what the kids have, we might be able to come up with another $100. Still not enough. I need to rethink, you have gotten some great responses.

  39. Anonymous

    I only keep an emergency twenty in my wallet. I don’t keep cash in the house. I know people who do and I think why keep in inside when it can at least earn a little in a savings account. I also knew a family who was targeted because people knew they kept a lot of cash in the house–sure enough while everyone was at a funeral, thieves broken into the empty house and took all their cash.

    So I admit, I am not a fan of leaving cash around the house–however there have been a couple times, especially during 3 day holiday weekends where I have gone to an ATM only to have it empty–it had run out of cash. And I never really thought about an emergency like Katrina but I don’t live in a disaster area.

    If I had a family, for peace of mind, keeping a few hundred in a safe place isn’t a big deal–but I think as one poster mentioned, keeping water, canned food (with can opener) and a flashlight is probably more important.

  40. Anonymous

    wow some of you guys have a ton of cash-on-hand out there.

    Granted my situation could be a little different being a young single twentysomething, but the only cash I have on hand is in loose change and a couple of twenties in my wallet. I feel safer having it in in a megacorporation’s books in all of these disaster scenarios you guys are talking about. I guess if I need a tank of gas that badly I’ll hock my watch.

  41. Anonymous

    My husband and I keep a $100 bill in a drawer near the door for use in emergencies.

    One day I woke up to go to work to realize that my purse was missing — I had left it in a taxi cab the previous night. Without a bus pass, ATM cards, a cell phone, or any small cash, I wouldn’t have been able get to work on time (no car) or call my boss, but the $100 enabled me to catch a cab and not miss my very important morning meeting.

    When we lived in a hurricane area, we tried to keep closer to $300 on hand during stormy seasons since ATM machines and any sort of electronic transaction machine could go down for days at a time following a storm.

    We are young and without kids, though, so I might imagine that others may need/want more on hand.

  42. Anonymous

    I keep $300-400 available at all times. I live in earthquake country and have had family members go through the joy of no power/water for several days. I also don’t let the gas tank go below half empty, keep an emergency kit in the car with change of clothes, blanket, water, and power bars, plus keep about 15 gallons of water at the house along with a stash of canned food. (which reminds me that it’s time to replenish the canned food supply)

  43. Anonymous

    @Billy.. Holy smokes I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. I had the adrenaline shakes when I walked into my house and realized not only that my door had been kicked in but also that the guy was still in the house.
    Do you live in a state that allows a CCW?

  44. Anonymous

    We usually keep around $3800 in cash in the house. I’ll explain why the large amount in a moment. I keep about $300 in a kitchen junk drawer and then $1500 under the TV shelf in our den, and $2000 hidden in my closet under some out of season clothes.

    Why I keep such a large amount has to do with the fact I was robed at gun point at an ATM two and half years ago.

    I won’t go into the details, but I approached an ATM in my car. The light which should have illuminated the area had been shot out with a pellet or bb gun. When I pulled up, I was ambushed by two men who held a gun to my head. I was forced to make multiple withdraws before I shifted the car into gear and sped off. Needless to say, I want to avoid the ATM as much as possible!

  45. Anonymous

    This is an interesting conversation and one I, like many others, hadn’t really given much thought to.
    However I would be a little gun shy about having a huge wad of cash in my house, as our house was broken into this past Christmas. I was scratching my head wondering why they broke into our house and now I have the answer. 1000+ would have been a good pay day for them. Fortunately we didn’t have any cash and came home ~5min after they had entered the house.

  46. Anonymous

    I have a goal of having $250 in cash (2 adults 3 kids), but we keep raiding it. I use it for babysitters & the occasional purchase requiring cash. We have about a 9 month supply of food and personal hygiene items, and a 2 week supply of water, (which I actually find easier to maintain than the $250 cash), with the goal to have a year’s supply by 2008 end. If the big one (earthquake, flood, insert catastrophe here) hits, I figure our food will be a pretty good bartering tool.

  47. Anonymous

    depends on the purpose of having cash on hand. I think most people understand cash on hand for emergency use. In this case, cash on hand should mean your bug out fund. It should be sufficient to cover the expense of getting you and your family to safety. In a real emergency, the cost will undoubtedly be higher so you should factor that into your planning.

    after you reach safety, your normal emergency fund should cover living expenses in your safe area until the crisis is over.

  48. Anonymous

    My wife & I (no kids yet) keep about $200 in small bills and change in the house. We keep it in one of those boxes that looks like a book that stays at the bottom of our bookshelf.

    We also keep about $100 in the car at all times. The money stays hidden from sight in a small compartment in the car. This is enough to be able to pay for a tow truck or buy gas if the credit/debit cards are unavailable for any reason. To us the money in the car is much more important than the money in the house. We figured we’d be far more likely to find ourselves in a situation where we’d need cash for food, gas, emergencies, etc. while on the road than at home.

  49. Anonymous

    Reading this has made me consider what would happen if there were a really bad disaster that caused your cash to be effectively worthless for the goods you wished to purchase. I suppose advocating packing away items for barter would be a little extreme because in such a case the economy has probably completely collapsed, and you would be uncertain what anyone would want or need.

  50. Todd, I’m not talking about an emergency fund, I’m talking about how much money to keep in the house at all times in case of emergency. You’re not really advocating three months of salary on hand (literally) as opposed to in the bank, are you?

  51. Anonymous

    That sucks you made a big trek only to be disappointed by what you ended up finding.

    I recently posted some stuff for sale on Craigslist. I made sure to take nice big pictures so that anyone who came to get the item was not disappointed. I had no issues with people who did not want to get it after they saw the actual item.

  52. Anonymous

    Ten bucks. I have ten bucks and some change.

    But… My area isn’t prone to natural disasters: no earthquakes, no floods, no tsunamis, no hurricanes, no tornadoes. I suppose we could have a terrorist attack, but I could be hit by lightning this afternoon, too.

    My neighbors had something over $500 in a safe when their house was burgled. The perps took the safe. The insurance did not cover cash, period. So the vics lost all that money and had no recourse.

    That said, all the comments here make me suspect it would be good to have at least a couple hundred bucks stashed in the bottom of a Tampax box. Like Rick, I do keep enough food, water, clothing, and meds to tide me over for a week or ten days, and I never let the car’s gas tank drop below half-full. I don’t use ATMs…where I live, you’d just as soon not have anyone watch you withdrawing money from a hole in the wall.

  53. Anonymous

    All great comments, I favor having cash on hand but just haven’t had enough to do so. One thing I’ve not seen mentioned relates to the area where you live.

    Perhaps because we’ve moved to a much more rural area, cash is king again. That was a big change from my plastic only days. I know that if we have emergency repairs come up that our handyman will be expecting cash when he shows up at the door — so we should put some aside cause the ATM isn’t all that convenient.

  54. Anonymous

    I think $500 is a good minimum number. That should cover two or three nights at a hotel plus “walking around money” for food, etc. I envision this being used if your home lost power for days, or was damaged and unlivable because of some natural distaster.

    Misyt presented some really good ideas. I have some camping gear here from when I used to camp, including a camp stove, some propane bottled, etc. We could always fire up the stove to heat soups, ramen noodles, boil contanimated water, etc.

  55. Anonymous

    Great topic. I’ve never given this much thought. We do have a fire-proof safe that would be an excellent place for a couple hunny. That’s what I’d feel comfortable stashing away. Thanks for the idea.

    @Sandy – Good point on checking with homeoweners insurance to see what they cover.

  56. Anonymous

    $100 is way too little emergency cash on hand. I usually have close to that in my wallet.

    A stolen wallet or blackout means all those cards wont help you at all.

    And despite what monopoly brainwashes you, the bank error is never in your favor, so thats a concern with the ATM as well. 😉

    $500 sounds about right for a single person, $1000+ for a family. In a safe, that you never touch except for actual emergencies. The atm not being close by is not an emergency.

    If you wanted to be really paranoid, 1 months rent/mortgage would be a better minimum if theres some kind of payment emergency.

  57. Anonymous

    Water is far more important. I’ve lived through two disasters where there was no water in town for weeks. As a result, I’m never happy with less than ten gallons of drinking water on reserve. I also try to keep a few recycled two-liter bottles full of tap water handy for washing.

    I had a roommate once who scoffed at me for keeping water in reserve. Then the water main broke and we had no water for three days on our street. He didn’t mind using my reserve then.

    Keep some cash handy, but water is far more important. And don’t forget to include your pets in the calculation of how much you need.

  58. Anonymous

    Interesting, I wouldn’t have thought this could be a controversial topic. To me it seems like a no-brainer to keep a good amount of cash on hand, but we live in earthquake country and in a high cost of living area, so we figure we might need a lot of cash if the power goes out for days, especially if we can’t stay in our house.

    As someone else mentioned, I recommend keeping a lot of it in small bills since people are unlikely to want to or be able to make change in an emergency, if you’re buying relatively inexpensive things like water, food, and batteries.

  59. Anonymous

    I like having around $50, in small bills and quarters, in a cup at home. I use this for things that require quarters (water, laundry), for eating out in a group where I want exact change, for grabbing something at the local roasted chicken stand when I’m low on cash, and just basically dealing with one of us not having gone to an ATM when we should have. So, it just gives us a little flexibility.

    There are some interesting points here about real emergencies. I still don’t know what I think about that and am looking forward to more comments. (I did have a couple of hundred out, in small bills so I could give exact change, in case something weird happened during Y2K, but all those programmers did a good job and we didn’t need it.)

    Note that with kids (and roommates) there may come a time when one or more of them absconds with money. (Sorry, but even good kids go through phases.) And kids are very good at finding hiding places. So you may want a regular hiding place and a back-up hiding place, or you may want to check regularly to be sure that it’s still there, because that’s not something you want to discover right when you need the money.

  60. Anonymous

    A few years ago, we had a major black out. I had $10 in cash and all the ATMs and obivously credit card machines weren’t working.

    When people were lining up at grocery stores with duffel bags, I was a little scared and wished I had more cash. My fridge full of food pulled through that incident but after that I kept cash for a bit. Now I’m back down to $20 cash again. Your post reminded me of why I should keep some cash.

  61. Anonymous

    Having cash on hand is one of my goals this year. I would like to have at least $50 in a kitchen drawer. Not much compared to others but what I am comfortable with keeping.

  62. Anonymous

    During a crisis like Katrina, would having cash have helped at all? Were there consumables to be purchased and places capable of accepting payment for them?

    Even during major ice storm of late last year, either stores were closed, out of necessities (like water, etc.) or open and functioning with electricity?

    It seems like any emergency which would render plastic unusable would also limit one’s available options for using cash as well.

    I could be wrong, I’ve never been through anything on the scale of either of those events and hope I never have to go through one.

  63. Anonymous

    I don’t keep anything in my house. Mainly because I’m hard-pressed to think of a disaster where I couldn’t use any of my diverse credit cards or debit cards or ATM cards, and where I couldn’t use checks.

    In cases like an extended blackout or a terrorist attack, I wonder how many stores would even be open. And if things get really desperate, I could always revert to the old-fashioned method of bartering and trading hard goods, rather than cash.

    Personally, I can see reason to keep an emergency supply of food, clothing, and medical supplies, but I don’t see much reason to keep cash.

  64. Anonymous

    Twice I’ve seen blackouts in NYC prove that cash is a handy thing to have on hand, as ATMs (and credit/debit processing equipment) were not functional.

  65. Anonymous

    after Katrina hit a few years back and many people who thought “oh, that could never happen” found themselves in a new world without most of the modern conveniences – I decided we needed some cash on hand. I think we are at about $150, which I agree with you nickel won’t get us too far, but it is a start.

  66. Anonymous

    Do you live near a fault-line? Do you live near a volcano? Do you live near a port? If you do then you have to worry about being displaced for a long period of time and potentially having to leave in a moment’s notice due to earthquake, eruption, or nuclear terrorism.

    Any of those have the potential to a) displace millions of people and b) knock out power for a prolonged period of time.

    No ATMs, no way to get cash from our online hi-yield accounts, runs on banks and grocery stores, and chaos on a grand scale. I know I’m a bit paranoid, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

    So, we try to keep at least $2,000 in cash in a safe at home. And we keep a jump bag with emergency supplies right next to the safe.

  67. Anonymous

    Didn’t see anyone mention it, but if you’re keeping it for catastrophes, keep it in small bills. A $100 bill or even a $20 bill is no good if you are buying something for $1 and nobody has any change.

  68. Anonymous

    Funny timing on this! My wife and I just went through the same thing.

    To the folks who talked about ATMs: yes, that is true. But, you are typically limited to $400. Also, in the event of a moderate to major disaster or emergency (eg. extended power outage, an e-terrorist attack, etc) ATMs may not be working. One other thing to keep in mind is that getting a substantial amount of cash from a bank can take several days. As more and more exchange of money becomes electronic, there is less and less cash on hand at a bank. This dependence on computers makes some kind of terrorist or rogue nation attack on the infrastructure just a matter of when, not if. If financial institutions detect something like this I would not be surprised to see a temporary freeze on ATM/debit/credit cards to help contain potential damage.

  69. Anonymous

    I would find a better place than a kitchen drawer. Aside from that, what is wrong with a private stash? What would you do if the ATM machines suddenly stopped working or the electronic cards were to stop functioning for any reason? You would be able to use your cash instead of running out of gas or going hungry. Whatever the case, keeping all your money in the bank accessible through the use of an electronic card for safety is only seductive reasoning, not reality. What is safety when you give that safety into someone else’s keeping that doesn’t have your interests at heart?

  70. Anonymous

    I don’t currently because I have several ATMs within walking distance, but if I did I probably wouldn’t go any higher than $200, which is what my homeowners insurance covers.

  71. Anonymous

    I don’t like the idea of having cash lying around the house. Keep it in a savings account that you can easily access with your debit card.

    2nd God forbid your home is broken into or burns, most insurance companies won’t cover more then $200 cash that is laying around a covered persons home. So with that, if you do have this stash I would agree with SingleGuyMoney who suggested no more then $100. That would leave room for spending money that you might have at the time of such a tragic event.

  72. Anonymous

    I usually keep between $500 and $1,000 on hand, but lately, I’ve found that cash gets spent. Maybe it was just because of Christmas.

    With the ease and availability of ATMs and the general acceptance just about everywhere, I question whether I need to keep anywhere near that amount. If there was a major disaster and my home was hit, could I find this money? I don’t think so! Try telling your insurance company, “Oh yeah, guys, I had another coupla large hidden in the kitchen drawers.”

    That being said, having some cash on hand probably IS a good idea, along with water, first aid supplies, non-perishable food, copies of your deed, driver’s license, SS card, pictures of your family, copy of your car title, some checks, wow, this list is getting long.

  73. Anonymous

    I think how much cash you should keep on-hand also depends on the likelihood that a ‘disaster’ will strike in your area; I.E., hurricane, flood, ice, tornado, earthquake, etc. If you are in a disaster-prone area, I think $1,000 is a bare minimum … $2,500 is better. If you are in a less disaster-prone area, then $500 to $1,000 should do fine.

    Of course, the number of adults and children in your household comes into play as well.

  74. Anonymous

    I used to keep $100-$400 in our safe depending upon how much I’d made playing poker, but I haven’t played for most of the last year and since we hate hitting the ATM that money is basically depleted.

    I should find myself another game and build my stash back up…

  75. Anonymous

    We are keeping $1000 in the house for an emergency. That might or might not go away once we get completely out of debt but we’ll look at it then.

    Our reason for that amount is it allows us to easily deal with anything that might come up. Car repair, house repair, kids emergency, etc. Perhaps it’s to much but as the previous commenter said I would rather have to much than not enough.

  76. SingleGuyMoney: Keep in mind that this is for two adults and four kids. The “right” answer will probably vary somewhat based on your family situation, but I can’t see $100 going very far in our circumstances.

    Misyt: Thanks for the thought provoking response.

  77. Anonymous

    I used to volunteer as an Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, and I would recommend for you to keep enough money for three days of living. Most of your emergencies last about this long before other help can come in.

    The first thing I would recommend is getting a fire-proof box. Keep important papers in there, along with your money. Copy your credit cards (front and back), insurance policies, copy of driver’s licenses, list of doctors names, addresses, and telephone numbers to keep in your fire box. List all medications and strengths, too. This will help you if you need important medication.

    The amount of cash to have on hand will vary from person to person. I would have people keep a list of these expenses for one month. Then you’ll get a better idea of how much you’ll need for three days.

    All of these are for three days:

    * Gross income, just in case you can’t get paid time off of work.
    * Gas for at least one full take. You don’t know how far you might have to drive.
    * Hotel room(s) for three days. Again, this depends on your comfort level. Do you want to stay in a place with a kitchen, or would you rather have the “convenience” of eating fast food?
    * Enough to purchase basic clothing for each member of your family. This expense can be eliminated if you keep a Jump Bag ready and put old clothing in it. Per person, I recommend two shirts, 1 pair of tennis shoes, 1-2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs underwear, 1 pair of pants, sweater/sweat shirt, jacket.
    * Food for each person for three days. Fast food is easier in an emergency, but this is really up to each person. If you want to cook, remember you’ll need money for utensils, unless you keep camping gear in your jump bag.
    * Toiletries. Some people can live without brushing their teeth for three days, some cannot. Items to consider: shampoo, conditioner, hair brush, hair ties, hair dryer, mouse/gel/hairspray, toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, dental floss, lotion, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, prescription medications.

    For myself, I have the majority of this stuff in a Jump Bag ready to go with the cash in there. I believe I have around $1,000 in there for just myself. In an emergency situation, I’d rather have too much money than not enough. Keeping camping gear will be even cheaper, because then you can camp out somewhere, reducing the amount of money you’ll spend.

    Just some ideas.

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