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How much cash do you carry?

You should always have some, so you don't turn into 'that guy.' (Hint: Nobody likes him.)

By Donna_Freedman Feb 11, 2011 11:12AM
Over at Budgets are Sexy, personal-finance blogger J. Money lists four reasons you should always have at least some cash on you.
  • Not every venue accepts plastic. Examples: toll booths, some cab companies, vending machines.
  • You can't always find an ATM.
  • Cash makes it easier to split the check fairly.
And then there's what I think is the most important reason of all:

"You don't wanna be 'that guy' who is always bumming a few dollars for something," "J$" cautions. This is particularly true if you're also that guy who conveniently forgets to pay the money back.

Most of those who commented on his blog post tend to carry between $10 and $40. Some said they don't carry any cash, for several reasons.

"Andrew" won't shop at places that don't accept his American Express card: "Having all of my transactions in one place each month is easier than living on cash for me. Plus, I'm not willing to spend any $$ if it doesn't translate into SkyMiles." Post continues after video.

A couple of readers don't carry money unless they have specific plans -- and since they never take cabs or use vending machines, they don't worry about the lack of lucre.

On the other hand, several readers wrote that using cash keeps them from overspending. As their dollars dwindle, they know exactly how much they've gone through that day. A lighter wallet doesn't lie.

But "Leland" has trouble keeping track of cash. An itemized debit card statement works better. The only exception is when she hits the ATM for an evening out with friends: When she's out of folding green, it's time to say good night.

For me, some of each
I've been using cash more lately because I brought back a fair amount of it from my recent trips to Los Angeles and Phoenix. That could be because I overestimated how much I'd need. It could also be that spraining my ankle while I was away meant fewer excursions and therefore less money spent.

Generally I use cash only for small purchases, such as a book of stamps or a bunch of bananas. For everything else I use my rewards credit cards. Points from one of the cards helped pay for my Christmas gifts this year, and I plan to take another frugal trip to Alaska this summer with points from a second card.

But if I had a problem with impulse spending, I'd definitely go cash-only. Using plastic works for me only because I don't buy anything that I can't pay for when the credit card statement arrives.

Not everyone has that kind of self-control, which is why I'm concerned when people eschew cash entirely. Swiping a credit or debit card can give the delightful feeling of having obtained what we want without actually having to pay for it.

On a cash-only system you know that once your walking-around money is gone, it's time to go home. (Right, Leland?) Plastic makes it easy to announce, "Next round's on me, and let's get some appetizers, too!" You might not do that if you had to take actual money out of your wallet to pay.

In addition, cash can be a good reminder of how salary translates to spending. Suppose you're making $10 an hour. You want to buy a shirt on sale for $20. Hold a double sawbuck in your hand: It represents two hours of answering phones/throwing pizzas/pulling coffee. Is it worth two hours of work just to get another garment?

That goes for food, too. Using cash will remind you of a very depressing fact: With tax and tip, I just spent two hours' worth of salary on a burger, fries and beer. If you use plastic, it's so easy just to sign and forget.

On the other hand, paying with real money at least means you haven't turned into that guy.

Readers: How much cash do you carry? Why that amount? Does using cash help keep you on a budget? And if you're not sure, have you tracked your spending lately?

MSN Money columnist Donna Freedman blogs at Smart Spending and Surviving and Thriving.

More from MSN Money:

Sep 23, 2011 5:18PM
I'm old school, I use cash for almost all of the things I buy. I have never made a purchase with a debit card, I put as many recurring household type bills as possible on a "rewards" card and write one check a month to cover it all. I carry a couple of credit cards for emergencies, I use an AMEX card for business expenses so I have a good expense tracking system / paper trail

At any one time I will have a minimum of 100 on me and rarely do I carry more than 500 unless there is a specific reason.

Aug 29, 2011 8:51AM
Personally I carry about 2-300 in cash all the time. I also carry credit cards. I like to have the choice of how I pay for things, some like gas I always put on a card, if I go out for lunch to a sit down place, credit card. Fast food or just getting some coffee, cash. I know a lot of people do it but I consider people that put purchases for a couple of dollars on a card idiots ( just my opinion ) also some small retailers pay .25-.50 for a debit transaction so if you put a 2.00 purchase on your card that's their profit from the sale. I know a lot of people will say that's not my problem, but then that attitude is a lot of whats wrong in the world today.
Jul 20, 2011 4:16PM
I typically don't carry very much cash on me.  I do think by using cash and not the card that I may be able to better keep an eye on my discretionary spending.  I keep meaning to try it.  Smile
Feb 14, 2011 12:50PM
Feb 12, 2011 12:30AM

When I have cash it burns a hole in my pocket.  I can't help looking at it like an allowance, i.e. "this is how much money I'm allowed to spend, so why not spend it all?"  It's different for me when I know that each purchase is accruing on a bill that I know it going to hit me in the face every eighth of the month.


I can only think of two places I've been in the past year that didn't accept plastic of any kind.  Even the taxis are equipped with card readers.

Feb 11, 2011 4:28PM
I never carry ca**** harder for me to swipe the card than to spend cash. Plus, I like being able to go online and see exactly how much and where I spent my money. With ca**** easier to spend a few dollars here, a few there, and then when I get home wonder where it all went. I'm also more likely to spend cash on buying stuff like gum but if I have to swipe it then the gum doesn't see worth it.
Feb 11, 2011 4:28PM
I get 1 to 5 percent cash back on cards. I carry twenty to thirty dollars in cash. If they insists on cash either discount  or go to another vendor if no discount.
Feb 11, 2011 4:10PM

I'm very annoyed with any seller that insists on cash, and if another seller is handy, I go to them. It's pretty lame that some people need to see the cash to be mindful of their spending. 


If McD's and parking meters can take cards, so can every other seller...and card charges are a cost of doing business that needs to be spread across all buyers.  Cash is antiquated; users should not be rewarded with a lower price.


The true reason why some only use cash is that no bank will take them as a checking/debit customer.  Others are just technologically illiterate.

Feb 11, 2011 4:08PM
I agree with the points of using credit cards for impulse spending, but there are very real rewards for carrying at least one card. 

1. Extended warranty protection.
2. Fraud/Identity theft protection.
3. International travel/Exchange rate conversion. (AMEX is my first choice here.)

Everyone knows someone who has gotten themselves into trouble with credit at some point, but we're all getting smarter in a bad economy. Not all credit is evil.

FWIW, I carry about $300 in cash when I have to travel. Otherwise, about $75-100.
Feb 11, 2011 4:05PM
Forgot to mention, my wife and I usually carry no more than $20-30 in cash on any given day.
Feb 11, 2011 4:03PM
We use cash, with a envelope budgeting system, for practically all of our day to day spending, except gas for the car.  Most bills are paid online.  If we do put a meal or other purchase on the card because we forgot to get cash out for the day or whatever, then we put aside that much cash from our envelopes and take out that much less in cash for next month's envelopes.  This keeps us on budget.  It's worked well for us.
Feb 11, 2011 3:57PM
Since I have to travel to the Godforsaken cesspool known as Chicago every single day for work I never carry any more cash with me than I am willing to loose.  Between pick pockets and the potential for being mugged, the less cash I have the less I can potentially loose.  Credit/debit cards can be cancelled and your liability is limited, but once you cash is gone it is gone.  I do not intend to make that punk, thug, or ****er any richer.

Finally, since the cesspool known as Chicago is also a bastian of liberalism they intentionally violate my God-given and Constitutionally protected Second Amendment right to carry a concealed handgun to protect myself.  Without protection my life and my wallet are not safe in this evil city.  Therefore, I will not risk any more than is absolutely necessary.
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