For the past six years, I’ve kept a stash of ones, fives, tens, and twenties hidden in my apartment. I believe in having legal tender on hand for emergencies – or for non-emergencies that require non-plastic payment.
For example, I once bought a Groupon voucher for a discounted massage and found that the practitioner didn’t take debit or credit cards. Time to raid the cash cache.
Call it pin money, bail money, or get-outta-town money. If you’re a numismatist, call it a collection of state quarters. Whatever you call it, having a little ready cash means you’re, well, ready.
You should be ready. Uncle Sam says so. Check the Build a Kit section of the “Ready America” Web page, which recommends keeping some folding green alongside the food, water, crank radio, and moist towelettes (a.k.a. “shower in a pouch”).
After all, some emergencies entail power outages – which means so long, debit cards.
The website doesn’t specify how much money. Originally I aimed for $100, but that was back when I was still paying off my divorce lawyer. These days I want at least $300.
Your mileage may vary. What makes me comfortable might be way too much – or not enough – for you.
Incidentally, if cash gets stolen or burns up in a fire it might be covered under your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Check your policy.
How to build a fund
If you’re flush, simply go to the bank and withdraw $300 (or whatever), specifying small bills. If times are tight, try one or more of these ideas…
- Take a dollar or two from your wallet every other night.
- Get an extra $5 or $10 every second or third time you pay with debit at the supermarket or drugstore.
- Throw change in a jar for a couple of weeks. Take it to the store and ask for ones and fives. Repeat until you’ve reached your comfort level. (Note: Do this during a quieter time of the day, not when lines are long and tempers short.)
- If your job includes tips, set aside at least 2 percent of each night’s take.
- Quit smoking! Or eating candy bars. Or buying a soda from the machine every afternoon. Stash the ones (or fives) you would have spent. (Try to stay away from the coffin nails, chocolate and cola afterwards, too.)
Where to hide it
There’s nothing a burglar likes more than a big ol’ roll of cash: profitable and portable!
Coming up with a foolproof hiding place is tough, since practiced thieves know how to search. The average burglar spends 10 minutes or less in your place but there are certain places they’re always going to look. Don’t leave cash in a dresser drawer, a desk, or a file cabinet – or under the mattress.
I’ve heard people suggest these hiding places..
- The freezer. If it were me, I’d fill an empty Green Giant bag with cash plus some foam peanuts for show.
- The linen closet. Way in the back, between the Christmas tablecloth and napkins, maybe?
- Under the catbox.
- In the cupboard or pantry. Open your next cake-mix or mac ’n’ cheese box from the bottom rather than the top, put in the money, tape it shut, and stick it way in the back on a high shelf.
- Inside the canner or stockpot, or in a seldom-used appliance stuck in an out-of-the-way place.
- Tucked into the sanitary-napkin bag or the tampon box.
- In an envelope taped under the garage workbench.
- If you own a lot of books, put some money in one or two – burglars probably won’t have time to check them all.
- Inside a throw pillow, if you have one with a zippered cover.
Note: None of these comes close to describing where my cash is hidden. Don’t bother breaking in and checking the bookcase or the broccoli bag.
Important safety tips…
- Don’t forget where you hid the money.
- Don’t tell your kids where it is. Seriously. The sound of the ice-cream truck turns angels into thieving little devils.
- If you have yard sales every so often, make sure you don’t sell that stockpot as-is.
Having the cash cache makes me feel more secure. I suggest you start your own. That coffee-can ATM may save your butt in an emergency, whether it be an earthquake, flu epidemic, or layoff. Or the sudden need for a discounted massage.
More stories on DonnaFreedman.com:
Sign up for our free newsletter
Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's '205 Ways to Save Money' as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash. It doesn't cost a dime, so why wait? Click here to sign up now.