A Richer Understanding: Cash on Hand

I rarely have cash on hand. In my disclosure, I have not tried to break down why. When I first created a spending plan, I believed not carrying cash would help track all of my expenses and prevent spontaneous purchases. Also, as others have suggested I’ve previously budgeted a specific amount of cash each month and once it is gone – it is gone. Perhaps I’ve held over a bit of both, or maybe the convenience of technology; mobile payments, PayPal, Apple Pay, and debit/ credit cards being accepted almost everywhere plays a bigger role.

I’m observant of customer service and giving, although not in relation to one another, I am conscious of both at all times.

Of Customer Service – I remain conscious of it. Rising prices for goods, food and  services however, in most cases there is a decrease in the corresponding customer service.

Of Giving – (Here I’m writing uniquely about folks ‘asking’ for money around the places that I work, shop and live.) Over the long Memorial Day weekend, opportunities abound;

The coffee shop. Great coffee, even better service. I did not have cash to leave a tip and reward great service.

The Church. There was a community church car wash to raise money for the cities homeless: clothing, toiletries, haircuts. I did not have cash on hand to make a donation. Also, I could have used a car wash.

The homeless person. I’ve written previously that I am a magnet for beggars. If the approach is that they need ‘spare change’ because they are hungry, without patting my pockets, I let them know that I do not have any cash on hand. I often offer to buy them food as was the case this weekend outside of a grocery store. This person declined.

Homeless - Kings Drive Fountain, Charlotte, NC

Real recognize real.

It is at these times that I feel having cash on hand for these serendipitous occurrences; rewarding great service, helping others whom are genuinely interested in helping others and those that are generally in need of help is a disservice.

Random observations:

I read somewhere that my city’s homeless population is dwindling. I’m not sure if that is true or if it is more of an effort to push the homeless outside and away from the center city.

I wonder what the cost effectiveness for churches (or non-profits) to incorporate technology and offer a mobile payment option for community fundraisers to maximize the amount of sells or monetary donations.

I wish my barber would consider accepting mobile payments, this is one more service I never have cash on hand for. I’m fortunate that he allows me to double up a payment as it is a bit of an inconvenience to drive to an ATM to grab the cash needed.

How much cash do you keep on hand? What do you use it for?


Brian Tramuel is a regular contributor and helms the 'A Richer Understanding' series. He lives with his wife Michelle, their children Geneva and Brian, and their Cocker Spaniel Maestro in Charlotte, NC. They, along with his two older children from a previous marriage, Davina and Aaron, provide a constant source of inspiration. Aaron lives, works and plays in Charlotte and Davina lives, works and plays in Roanoke, VA.


  1. They say that spending cash hurts more than using a card, but in my experience, it is just the opposite. I don’t track my cash spending, so it feels like free money that I can spend as I wish. It’s like cheating my budget. Like I am hiding my real spending. I have looked at my cash withdrawals over a several month period, and it looks to be about $80 to $100 per month. Most of it goes to eating out. It makes my food budget look like less than it really is. Cheating, I tell you.

    • Great point about eating out, a food budget, and incorrect perceptions about what is really being spent. At the end of the day I believe is to develop a system that works for you, one that accurately notes how much is being spent, what it is being spent on, and to understand where savings/reductions can be made if necessary.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, my friend.

  2. Like you, I’ve started avoiding cash as all other means of payment are so much easier to track. All credit card/bank and paypal expenses come nicely together in quicken on a daily basis. Cash is the big unknown in that feature. I’ve budgeted for $200 cash per month (for stuff we don’t care to track). As long as I can account for the $200 I’m fine. Now that my Makerspace donation bin has gone on paypal I really don’t need it anymore.

  3. Hey James, it’s time a lot of places got up to speed with society going cashless. We don’t ever carry cash any more, ever. There is no tipping culture down under, we hardly buy anything these days – the supermarket is the most common place. All the restaurants we visit take card.

    Charities here are starting to use card machines so there’s no reason to say no, lol.


  4. I reckon $50 cash would last me a month or more. We don’t have the tipping culture here in Australia (it’s completely voluntary and only for exceptional service) and most payments are made by credit card or EFTPOS so don’t need to use cash very often.

    As for beggers, I agree with you. If I’m feeling generouse I’ll offer to get them something to eat. Most of the time it’s refused. They want cash for booze and drugs.

    We also get a lot of professional beggars doing it to earn money instead of working. I’m very sceptical of beggars these days.

    • Ha! “Professional beggars” … Agreed, I’m always skeptical of those along the side of the highway. Often wonder if when the day is done if they walk to their car hidden on the side of the road and go home.

      Most of the tipped employees here make at or below minimum wage, which adds more fuel to the increase the minimum wage debate.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Pretend, or professional, beggers is something that crosses my mind every time I see someone asking for change. Years ago I read a short story by Stephen King, Blind Willie, which takes a look at the practice.

      The story was originally published in King’s 1997 limited-edition collection Six Stories, and later included in his 1999 collection Hearts in Atlantis.

      The main character in the story is Willie Shearman, and the story takes place over a single day in December 1983. At first we see him commuting from Connecticut to New York City like any normal businessman; we then discover that he elaborately disguises himself as a blind beggar who takes hundreds of dollars a day in donations from passersby, keeping the bills for himself and distributing the coins to various churches and charities.

      • Based on your recommendation I’ll get that out of the library for a read. Thanks James.

        • Definitely check it out. I used to read all of Stephen King’s stuff and that short story immediately came to mind.

          Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

  5. I never used to carry cash at all specifically so that spending would be easier to track. Cash transactions are easily overlooked and somehow it’s always easy for a $20 to become $0.76 over the course of a work week whereas I kept a firm rein on my spending when it all went on the credit card. Over the past few years this has evolved to having a nominal amount of cash so I wouldn’t have to fit in a dash to the ATM at the last second for an essential that was cash only but even that isn’t strictly necessary except for traveling and eating out at restaurants that only accept cash. It was an effective strategy almost 20 years ago and still is a great budget control.

    Sometimes I regret not having any cash for people who seem to need it on the street but I do make it a point to support local shelters as part of our larger giving strategy.

    • You’re right, I carried $20 around last week, today it is literally $0.37. Coffee, a sandwich at a street festival, gum, smoothie and the final three dollars to folks asking for money on the street… most of those things I wouldn’t consider if I had to pull out a card.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

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