How much cash should you carry?

open wallet

We live in an increasingly digital world. That digitization has made it easier and easier for individuals and businesses to forgo physical currency almost entirely. Where once you wouldn’t have been surprised by a business that didn’t accept credit cards, now even the kids at the end of the block with a lemonade stand can take payments in plastic.

But cash still exists and will for the foreseeable future. Which raises the question: what’s the ideal amount of cash to carry at any given time? Finding the right amount requires an understanding of your money personality and your goals.

What’s your relationship with credit?

Personally, I carry very little cash and use credit for most regular purchases. These purchases are budgeted out and repaid in full before any interest charges accrue. I do this to help build my credit history and because I trust myself to stick to my budget and make necessary payments on time.

Psychologically, however, credit can be a bit of a trap for a lot of people. For some, using credit can create a disconnect between what they’re spending and what they can actually afford. This can lead to repeated impulse buying, serious overspending, and debt problems down the line.

If credit gives you problems, you should probably consider leaving your credit cards at home when you shop and using cash instead. Paying with cash can be a very helpful way to keep your budget restraints in mind as you shop, because you only bring the amount of cash you plan to spend.

Weighing your values and priorities

Your time has value. So it could be argued that, depending on how much you value your time, carrying a large quantity of cash may be in your best interests. This is because it takes time to go to the ATM repeatedly (as cash is needed), and because cash transactions are often faster (though I would argue this is pretty marginal) and less likely to suffer delays due to technological breakdowns.

Your peace of mind has value, too. Therefore, your personal anxieties should be taken into account. Do you feel better having an adequate amount of emergency cash on hand at all times? Or does carrying a large amount of cash make you feel nervous or unsafe?

And then there are the X factors. There’s a very good chance the paper money in your wallet is covered in bacteria. So even though you’re unlikely to ever get sick handling cash, if you’re a germaphobe you may be better off sticking to credit. I’ve even see people who say they prefer credit, because the pants they wear are too tight for more than a few bills. Different strokes for different folks.

Ultimately, the right amount of cash to carry is up to you. We’re fortunate to live in a time when you can do just fine not carrying any cash at all, or do equally well carrying heaps of cash wherever you go. It just comes down to knowing yourself and listening to your heart.

And if that doesn’t work - $50. Carry $50. That should cover it.

Tagged in Smart shopping, Psychology and money

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • Better Business Bureau A+ rating Better Business Bureau
    MMI is proud to have achieved an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a nonprofit organization focused on promoting and improving marketplace trust. The BBB investigates charges of fraud against both consumers and businesses, sets standards for truthfulness in advertising, and evaluates the trustworthiness of businesses and charities, providing a score from A+ (highest) to F (lowest).
  • Financial Counseling Association of America Financial Counseling Association of America
    MMI is a proud member of the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA), a national association representing financial counseling companies that provide consumer credit counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling, bankruptcy counseling, debt management, and various financial education services.
  • Trustpilot Trustpilot
    MMI is rated as “Excellent” (4.9/5) by reviewers on Trustpilot, a global, online consumer review platform dedicated to openness and transparency. Since 2007, Trustpilot has received over 116 million customer reviews for nearly 500,000 different websites and businesses. See what others are saying about the work we do.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development - Equal Housing Opportunity Department of Housing and Urban Development
    MMI is certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide consumer housing counseling. The mission of HUD is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD provides support services directly and through approved, local agencies like MMI.
  • Council on Accreditation Council On Accreditation
    MMI is proudly accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. COA’s thorough, peer-reviewed accreditation process is designed to ensure that organizations like MMI are providing the highest standard of service and support for clients and employees alike.
  • National Foundation for Credit Counseling National Foundation for Credit Counseling
    MMI is a longstanding member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), the nation’s largest nonprofit financial counseling organization. Founded in 1951, the NFCC’s mission is to promote financially responsible behavior and help member organizations like MMI deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.