Learning the Hard Way:
Why do I always carry cash? Way back when, in my first year of university, I was on my way home for Thanksgiving. It was my first trip after starting my undergrad. At the time, I was at school on Vancouver Island, and was taking a ferry back to Vancouver.
Getting to the ferry using my student bus pass was no problem, and then I bought myself a ferry ticket with debit. It was smooth sailing until I tried to buy a bus ticket to take me into Vancouver – and found I had a problem. The tickets were cash only! It was probably less than $10, but after turning out my pockets, I didn’t even have a dime.
I felt so stupid and unprepared. I left the bus line and started combing the ferry for someone I might know. Luckily, I saw a girl from one of my classes. I didn’t know her name, but fortunately she recognized me and spotted me $10.
The rest of my trip was uneventful, and I paid her back after the break – but it was lesson learned, and the experience stuck with me. Always carry cash! It is like carrying a mini emergency fund with you. Since then there have been many other times when having some cash on me has got me out of a bind. Sometimes my cards haven’t worked, or a vendor’s service has been down; other times “cash only” has struck again.
As a side note – carrying cash is even more important when travelling abroad. I have another stressful story there, but I’ll save that for another day… or for a post on the efficiencies of the Frankfurt transit system.
What Kind of Cash Do I Carry?
I like to carry a variety of bills – maybe a few $20s, a $10, a $5, and if I have a backpack on me, it will usually have some loose change floating around in a pocket or two. Having a variety of bills means I’m able to pay for things big and small.
How Much Do I Carry?
I try to carry at least enough cash to get me home in a pinch, feed myself in case I’m hungry, or pay for my groceries. These days, I find I usually have somewhere between $50 and $100 on hand. If I end up using it, or notice I dip too low, I’ll make a point of topping up when I get home. Even a $10 or $20 bill stashed away is better than nothing when you find yourself stuck – for example, in a thunderstorm, with the subway flooded, trying to make it home (another story for another day… or for a post on the inefficiencies of the Toronto transit system).
Where I Keep It?
I keep cash in various places because I never know what I’ll be taking with me when I leave the house. Certainly, the obvious place is in my wallet, but in addition to that I have some in my coat, my backpack, and my shoulder bag. Similarly, my partner keeps some in her purse or work bag, and from time to time will tuck some into her bra or shoe as well (which she tells me will be old news to the women reading). Last but not least, stashing some cash in the car is a good idea too, since you never know what surprises you might run into – figuratively speaking, I hope.
Carrying cash is helpful for those times when your credit or debit cards fail, or if vendors can only take cash. It’s even more important when you’re travelling or far from home. Therefore, I try to make sure I have $50 to $100 on me whenever I leave home, but even $20 is a good backup. Generally, I leave a few small bills in my coat, backpack, shoulder bag, etc. just in case, because that way I’m covered no matter what I grab on my way out of the house.
I was never a Boy Scout, but it feels good to be prepared! Once you’ve slipped some bills into your wallet, expand your financial preparation further and check out the Seven Financial Rules I Live By. Also consider subscribing to receive more free financial content in the future.
Please keep in mind I am not a financial advisor and the opinions expressed are my own. My Money Moves does not provide financial advice – it is an informational website that details my own approach to my own money and personal finances. If you need specific financial help or guidance, please do your own research and seek out a professional who can work with you to reach your goals.