“How much cash do you carry in your wallet?” my friend Michael asked at lunch last Sunday.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Somewhere between $40 and $100, I guess. That’s how much I take out of the ATM when I need it. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I read something the other day that said the average person keeps about $175 on hand. That seems like a lot.”

“That does seem like a lot,” Kris said. “I don’t keep much in my purse at all.”

“Some people do carry a lot of cash,” I said. “I know people who not only keep a lot in their wallet, but have stashes hidden around their house.”

Michael nodded. “When my mother died, we found $1500 tucked in various places around her place,” he said. “She didn’t have much money — she was on food stamps — yet she had all this cash hidden in her house.”

“Maybe it was her way of feeling wealthy,” suggested Michael’s wife, Laura.

“We’ve never kept cash around the house,” Kris said, “but now the economy makes me nervous. Maybe it’s irrational, but now I feel like I’d like to have some on hand. Just in case.”

“My father was a worrier,” I said. “Back in the 1980s, he was always worried about some looming economic disaster. He didn’t have much money, either, but somehow he found a way to hoard a few ounces of gold and silver. But he didn’t like having it in the house. He was afraid it might be stolen. Instead, he created a ‘safe’ out of a short length of pipe and two caps.”

“It looks like a pipe bomb!” Kris said.

“It kind of does,” I agreed. “When we were cleaning mom’s house recently, I found Dad’s old pipe safe. It was in the pantry, behind the canned food, which was the same place he always kept it. He hid it in plain sight.”

“At first I thought there might still be some gold or silver in it,” I said wistfully, “but there was only a handful of dead spiders.”

“I wonder what’s normal,” Laura said. “I wonder if most people keep money around the house.”

“I don’t know,” I said, “but now I’m curious. I’ll see what I can find out.”

Later that evening, I spent Too Much Time searching the internet and digging through personal finance books, looking for some facts on this subject. Finally, in a book called Are You Normal About Money?, I found the following stats:

  • 96% of women carry a purse or a wallet.
  • 61% of men carry a wallet, while 6% use a money clip, and about 20% carry cash loose in pockets.
  • The average purse or wallet contains about $104.
  • 13% of American adults use a piggy bank, while 28% collect change in a jar.
  • Just over 15% of Americans keep a serious stash of cash around the house — about half of these hide it, while the other half keeps it someplace obvious.
  • Another third of the population keeps a small amount of cash on hand for emergencies.
  • More than half of us don’t keep any extra cash in the house at all.

I know this is kind of an awkward thing to ask, but I’m curious if you folks keep money stashed around your house in case of emergency. How do you decide how much to carry in your purse or wallet? Have recent bank woes affected your habits? How much cash do you keep on hand?

This article is about Ask the Readers, Odds and Ends