Remember when physical cash was a thing? That green stuff that made the world go round? It’s quickly become a thing of the past, with most of us not bothering to carry any actual bills around with us anymore. Why would we? Between credit cards and phone apps, almost all the payments we make are processed without once touching real, hard currency. It’s like all those dead presidents really are dying off.
But here’s the thing: You should still carry cash every time you walk out your front door. Who knows when you might need some in an emergency? Maybe you’ll have no cell reception and be unable to transfer your friend the money you owe them. Maybe your card won’t go through. Or maybe you’ll just be in one of the following four situations in which you should always have a little cash at the ready…
A Night Out at a Bar
How Much Cash You Should Carry: $50–$100 (at least one $20 and ten $1s; possibly a $50)
Why You’ll Need It: Look, anything can happen when you go out. Be prepared for taxis; street food; and wherever else the night takes you. If you end up somewhere fancy, tipping the bouncer is never a bad idea either (never, ever anything less than a $20 bill, and preferably higher, depending on the male-female ratio of your group — remember to be discreet when doing so).
Also, even at crowded dive bars, consider a big initial tip for the bartender: I had a friend back in college who’d always tip the bartender a twenty on the first round of drinks. It paid off — for the rest of the evening, no matter how far back from the crush of the bar my friend was, the bartender would go out of his way to serve him.
A Long Weekend (or Week) Out of Town
How Much Cash You Should Carry: $200–$500, broken up evenly in large and small denominations
Why You’ll Need It: The old travel cliché about taking half the clothes and twice the money you think you’ll need is pretty timeless. Even though most corners of the world accept credit cards these days, be ready for price gouging; spontaneous splurges; people who only accept cash; card readers that stop working; out-of-order ATMs; an opportunity to cut the line; a necessary bribe to local officials; a lack of ride-sharing service; and worst-case scenario, your credit card (or your card number) to get stolen. If you’re traveling internationally, best to get foreign currency at your bank before you leave to avoid ridiculous currency conversion fees.
A Trip Off the Grid
How Much Cash You Should Carry: $100–$200, in small bills
Why You’ll Need It: If you’re heading out into the wilderness (or at least away from civilization), cash is essential. You never know where cell or internet service can be spotty, so credit cards may not work. You may simply be paying for a campsite, firewood, snacks, ice, booze. But BS almost always happens when you’re roughing it — from having your tire patched to getting your engine running again to being towed out of a ditch. In the last case especially, you should have small bills on hand. Otherwise, you’ll be asking those nice people in the middle of nowhere who just saved your ass to break a crisp hundred-dollar bill.
A First Date
How Much Cash You Should Carry: $100 (three $20s, two $10s, three $5s, five $1s)
Why You’ll Need It: While your date (hopefully) won’t be impressed by you flashing your cash around, they’ll definitely be flattered that you came prepared for whatever. A hundred bucks will likely be more than you’ll need, but it’s nice to have juuuust in case your card gets declined for any reason. And as we mentioned above, if you end up at a bar, now’s a great time for those bills, because desperately flailing to get the bartender’s attention isn’t a good look on a night of first impressions.