Smart SpendingSmart Spending

A cache of cash

It's a good idea to keep a stash of greenbacks handy.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 30, 2009 3:30AM

Hidden in my apartment is a slowly growing collection of small bills. I’ve been setting aside ones and fives toward the goal of having cash on hand for emergencies. 

Some Smart Spending message board readers do this, too. Whether they call it pin money, bail money, "gittin' out of town" money or just a collection of presidential quarters, having a little ready cash makes them feel, well, ready.

The U.S. government wants us to be ready. One of the Department of Homeland Security's Web sites,, recommends keeping some folding green on hand, right alongside the food, water and bucket toilet. 

After all, some emergencies mean power failures -- bye-bye, ATMs.

The ‘redneck emergency fund’

The government site doesn’t say how much money. My magic number is $100. Readers have their own ideas.

  • "It’s all about peace of mind, so everybody will have their own total,” wrote a reader posting as “Been...There...Done...That.” Been There’s own fund is based on the cost of the most expensive potential cab ride,  a tank of gas and a couple days’ worth of food, plus a little bit extra.
  • "Mittenkitten” keeps $500 on hand “for just in case...of what, I am not certain.” Baby-sitter fees occasionally are siphoned off.
  • Hurricane-country resident “6432” keeps a few thousand dollars. During the last evacuation, the money allowed this poster to fill six gas cans and pay for food and hotel rooms.
  • "Ferretfan” recently quit smoking and has been squirreling away the $21 a week that used to go for coffin nails. However, this money is earmarked for a new mattress and box springs, "which I need desperately." (A new spin on the old phrase “mattress money.”)
  • A reader named "Go Postal" stashes $20 bills at home and in the vehicle. "I can give it to someone in need, call a tow truck or just stop and pick up a pizza on the way home," Go Postal wrote. “Just like having it available; it’s my redneck Emergency Fund.”

Make a burglar's day

There’s nothing a thief likes more than a big roll of bills: profitable and portable! 

Readers discussed various hiding places, from “under the spare sheets” to “in the tampon box.” Coming up with a foolproof hiding place is tough because practiced thieves know how to search. 

Another drawback is that the cigar box or coffee can doesn’t pay interest. One reader, “ManyaP,” recently realized how big her fund had gotten and took most of it off to the bank. 

But "Molly2311," another hurricane veteran, withdraws $500 every summer and puts it back in November after severe-weather danger has passed. “I figure I’m losing about $10 in interest,” she wrote, "but it’s worth it."

Better to have it and not need it....

I live in Seattle, which is expecting another decent-sized earthquake some day. King County has been promoting the “Three Days, Three Ways” emergency-preparedness campaign on the radio. Maybe that’s why I’ve been accumulating small bills.

It wouldn’t necessarily be an earthquake that forced me to use the cash. Severe weather (a 2006 windstorm knocked out power to some neighborhoods for more than a week), a flu epidemic or, yes, a terrorist attack -- these could make things a little uncertain for a while. 

What’s more likely is that some night during finals week I will realize that there's a complete lack of chocolate ice cream to help along the study process. If so, I can grab a fiver and fill that particular need. “Be prepared” is not just the Boy Scouts’ motto.

Published Oct. 12, 2007



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