Survival Cash – How Much Do You Need

How Much Survival Cash Should You have for an Emergency?

When preparing for the worst, having an adequate supply of emergency cash can make all the difference. While most Preppers choose to focus on having a stockpile of food, water, and emergency supplies, the fact of the matter is that even a moderate amount of survival cash can help you in a time of emergency.

Navigating the world of emergency cash can be a difficult chore. There's lots of advice out there that can be confusing, misleading, or simply unhelpful when you're trying to figure out what's best for your needs. To help you out, we'll run through the basics of what you need to know about survival cash. We'll talk about why you need emergency cash, how much you should have on hand, where you should store it safely in your home, and any other tidbits of information you should consider.

Why have emergency cash

These days, most people rarely carry cash because we can use our fancy plastic credit and debit cards to make nearly all of our purchases. Let’s be honest with ourselves - credit cards (despite all the bad rap they get for encouraging us to acquire debt) are incredibly convenient ways of making purchases.

But, what would happen in the event of a true emergency like a wide-spread power outage after a hurricane, tornado, winter storm, pandemic, nuclear disaster (and many more)?

If all you have to sustain yourself financially are your travel credit cards, you, ironically, won’t get terribly far. When the power goes out, stores (if they’re open) can’t take credit cards and you won’t be able to get cash out of an ATM. You’ll be stuck in a pretty exposed position without the ability to get food, water or other emergency supplies.

If you had cash on hand, however, you’d be set. You could buy the what you need to survive or pay for enough fuel for your car so you can evacuate in an emergency. But how much survival cash should one have?

How much cash should I have on Hand?

At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself - “Okay, I need to stockpile some money, but how much cash should I have?” The fact of the matter is that the answer to this question will vary drastically for everyone. However, this is what most experts recommend:

Have enough cash available to pay for one month of your most critical living expenses (food, water, gas, and others). NOT mortgage or other bank type loans.

For most, having that much in savings is a real challenge, so try to work up to your ideal amount a little bit at a time.  Also, this amount is going to be very different depending on your life circumstances.

Do you live by yourself in an affordable neighborhood? Or do you have a family of five in a more expensive location? Take some time to review your monthly finances to determine how much you actually need in an average month and go with that sum as the bare minimum that you should have in emergency cash.  

Also, anything above one month of savings should be kept in the bank.  No need to hoard money under your mattress! Although I would make the case to consider keeping some silver and gold at home as a solid backup option.

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Where to store emergency cash at home

Okay, now you know how much cash you should have on hand, you might be questioning where you should keep it. Whenever you’re dealing with large amounts of cash or other valuables, theft is always a concern. If your survival cash gets stolen in a robbery, it’s not going to be terribly helpful in an emergency

If you have a high quality fire-resistant safe, then by all means use that (more on that later).  However for most of us - creativity is key when it comes to safely storing your cash. There are two key principles to keep in mind when determining the right location for your money:

  1. Don’t keep all of your cash in the same place. If, somehow, your home were robbed, having your cash in more than one location will decrease the chance that it all gets stolen. Split your money up into various in your home that you deem safe.
  2. Never hide it anywhere in your master bedroom. The master bedroom is, hands down, the first place a criminal would go to when they break into a home. Your sock drawer is certainly no place for your emergency cash.

With those two principles in mind, let’s talk effective ways to hide your cash. Depending on how out-of-the-box you like to think, you can come up with some ingenious ways to stash your cash.

You could consider a classic option like a carved-out book or you could even hide your cash inside a reusable coffee cup stored in your kitchen cupboards.  Here are a few great diversion safe options to hide cash in plain site without anyone finding it (Barbasol Can Safe, Hair Brush Safe, Potted Plant Safe, or Fake Surge Protector Safe)!

If you want something a bit more secure, you might consider a hidden safe. We recommend a fireproof and waterproof safe for storing your emergency cash and other valuables, but it's important not to keep it just sitting on your kitchen counter. Even though it's a safe with a sophisticated lock system, unless it's bolted to the ground, it could still get stolen.

If you want to get a safe, you have a number of different options for hiding it in your home. You could keep things simple and hide your fireproof safe in a box in your attic or basement labeled with something inconspicuous like ‘clothes to donate’.

Or, you could get a little more creative and get a wall safe which can be disguised behind a painting or as an electrical box in the basement.

Regardless of which method you choose, the important thing is that you keep the two key principles in mind: never keep all your cash in the same place and don’t hide it in the master bedroom.

what denominations for emergency cash

At this point, you have a pretty good idea of how much emergency cash you should have and where you might store it in your home. Before you go off and start prepping your survival cash supply, there’s just one more thing we need to cover - what kinds of bill denominations you should have.

This might seem like a mundane or trivial issue, but if you go to a bank to take out a large sum of cash (think $1,000 or more) you’ll likely receive $100s, $50s, or $20s. While these large bills keep your cash pile physically small, they’re not terribly useful when it comes to actually spending money.

If the power does go out in your town or county and everyone needs to rely on cash to make all their purchases, chances are that many stores and retailers will soon run out of small change.

Consider this: your town is in the middle of one of the worst blizzards in a century and you’ve ventured out to the supermarket to get more food supplies because your family is running dangerously low. You’re waiting in a long line to pick up some food but when you get to the cashier, the total is $23.72. All you have are $100s and the store is all out of change. Now you’re stuck deciding between acquiring more food and spending a lot of your emergency cash, which you might need later.

If you had small bills and change, this wouldn’t be a problem. So, next time you go to the bank to take out cash, ask your bank teller to give you smaller bills (think $10s, and $20s) instead of those $50s and $100s. That way, you can be prepared for anything.

To Recap - Cash Is King, so Be Prepared!

To recap - you should have emergency cash on hand for when credit cards just won’t work.

Be sure to have enough to cover at least one month’s expenses and be sure to have a variety of low denomination bills and coins. 

Store your cash in a safe place that’s difficult for a thief to find.

At the end of the day, it’s about being prepared for whatever happens and having an adequate supply of survival cash can make all the difference.

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