Today, carrying cash in your wallet can feel a bit antiquated. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea to have some bills tucked away, just in case they become a necessity. If you’re wondering, “How much cash should I have in my wallet?” here’s what you need to know.
Why Should I Carry Cash in My Wallet?
One reason that carrying cash feels a bit old-school is that there is a slew of more modern payment options. Various technologies have made alternatives plentiful, allowing you to avoid hassles like going to the bank and speaking with a teller or using an ATM to get enough cash to pay for purchases.
Debit cards, credit cards, and mobile payment apps are generally more convenient, and many people rely entirely on them. At times, these other options also carry less risk. If you drop your cash by mistake, there’s little recourse if you can’t find it. With cards or phone-based options, you can shut the cards or accounts down temporarily, safeguarding your money until you get a new card or can replace your phone. Plus, you can dispute charges on a credit card if you didn’t make them.
In many ways, it may seem like the alternatives are naturally better choices. The issue is that they don’t always work. Here are some times when cash is a must.
Stores can have technical issues that prevent card readers from working. Similarly, a tech problem might prevent phones from connecting to registers using near-field communication (NFC) technologies, stopping payment methods like Apple Pay or Google Pay from going through. Here, without an alternative form of payment like cash, you can’t complete a purchase.
Not Accepting Cards
While it may seem odd, not all merchants take cards. Generally, it’s rare that a retailer wouldn’t take some form of electronic payment, but some businesses do operate as cash-only for payments. This is more common if you’re not heading to a traditional brick-and-mortar store.
For example, if you want to eat at a food truck or are heading to a craft fair, your odds of a payment issue are higher. That means that, without a bit of cash, you may miss out on what a cash-only business has to offer.
Not Accepting Your Card
Similar to the point above, some retailers take specific card types but not others. This issue is more common with Discover and American Express, but it can technically happen with Visa and Mastercard, too. Without some cash available, you may not be able to complete necessary purchases. As a result, having a little money in your wallet is a wise choice, safeguarding you from the expected and ensuring you can access any retailer you’d like to use.
How Much Cash Should I Have in My Wallet?
When it comes to the amount of cash a person should have in their wallet, there isn’t a specific magic number that works for everyone. Instead, you need to consider the broader situation, allowing you to find a figure that’s right for you.
On a day-to-day basis, having about a day’s worth of typical spending cash is enough. For example, that might involve enough cash to put gas in your car to get to work, cover tolls or parking fees, and pay for a meal or two. For many people, that works out to $100 to $200, though some may be able to get away with a bit less or might require a little more.
If you’re heading out to an event – such as a fair or swap meet – then you may want to carry your full spending budget in cash. While many retailers that travel with events do accept cards, your odds of running into a few that don’t are high.
When you’re carrying a more considerable sum, don’t keep all of it in your wallet. Instead, consider splitting it up, putting some in your wallet and the rest in a concealed money belt. That way, if you drop your wallet, you don’t lose everything. Plus, many money belts are designed to prevent you from becoming a victim of pickpocketing, and they’re usually quite comfortable to wear.
How to Carry the Cash in Your Wallet
If you’re open to having some cash in your wallet, you need to make sure the bills are in the right denominations. Usually, only larger retailers are willing to accept $100 bills, so it isn’t wise to carry your cash in hundreds. Smaller businesses may feel that taking a hundred is too risky, or they might not have enough change available if your purchase total is small.
At times, even $50 bills may be hard to use. Again, some retailers won’t accept bills that large, and others may run into issues with change.
Since that’s the case, it’s usually best to stick with nothing larger than $20 bills. In fact, you may want to mix it up a little to give yourself some versatility.
For example, if you decide to carry $100 in your wallet, go with three $20 bills, two $10 bills, three $5 bills, and five $1 bills. That way, if you need to leave a tip for a meal in cash or make a smaller purchase, you can use smaller bills.
As with the total amount you carry, the mix of bills in your wallet may vary depending on your exact needs. Just keep in mind that $100 or $50 bills might be harder to use, so make sure most of your cash is in smaller denominations.
Are you surprised at how much cash you should have in your wallet? Do you think that carrying cash is a smart move or completely unnecessary? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Tamila McDonald is a U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service, including five years as a military financial advisor. After retiring from the Army, she spent eight years as an AFCPE-certified personal financial advisor for wounded warriors and their families. Now she writes about personal finance and benefits programs for numerous financial websites.