When the lights go out, so do the ATM/ABM, credit card point-of-sale, and debit systems. Cash becomes not just king, but the only ticket. How much cash do you keep on you day to day? Enough to get you out of trouble, but also to survive for the days (weeks, months?) that it will take for the infrastructure to return to normal?

How much is enough? For the purposes of this series of articles I am going to assert that if she can get to her home, grandparents, or lover’s home she will be able to draw upon preppers stores and survive even a multi-month quarantine. Those stores include additional cash that can be used for an extended stay or to evacuate the city. That leaves the immediacy of the moment with the aim of getting to one of these safe places.

Now is the time for guesses. I have given this some thought, but I haven’t come up with good references or studies of how much is enough during urban emergencies that disrupt the ATM/CC infrastructure. Talking to various government (FEMA and Military) and non-government (Red Cross) people-in-the-field I have gotten widely different suggestions ranging from $100 to $1,000. Here are my guesses:

Transportation –
A taxi across the city during rush hour from some far-flung entertainment centers back home (within walking distance of the kids) can cost up to $60, as a worst case. Assume during an emergency the cost would double to $120. If the public transit system is running that can help. It does not seem cost effective to have prepaid tokens for individual trips. Paying cash is good enough and the small difference of any savings that might be had by bulk buying tokens doesn’t overcome the burden of carrying additional, special coins. Especially since money can be used to buy water, food, shelter, or whatever is needed while the public transit tokens would probably not (at least during the leading edge of the emergency).

Having small denominations is important so you don’t throw in a $20 bill to pay for one bus fare.

Shelter –
Some emergencies (like a massive storm) might cause one to shelter in place, even when you are not in a place of shelter. In the ultra-urban environment, hotels are ubiquitous. And most have a special “stranded” discount during times of emergencies. A room that normally sells for over $400 a night might be had for $100.

And if a hotel is not convenient, bunking with a co-worker, friend, or family member is still a possibility. Personally, I don’t like to impose myself, even during an emergency, so I would prefer being able to provide cash (if not labor and/or staples) to compensate.

Water –
Here is were I expect the greed to first appear. Small bottles of water that normally sell for fifty cents or a dollar that will quickly become $5 and then $10. Assuming a gallon of water times three days while the worst storm blows over could be hyper-inflated to $200 (or more, if bought in small bottles).

Food –
Getting 2,000 or so calories a day when the power is out can be a problem. After the first half to one day, with no immediate restoration of power planned, some restaurants will want to sell what ever food they have before the refrigerators and freezers heat up and spoil the food. Those will be the best deals. I’m guessing anywhere from $30 to $90 a day ($10 to $30 a meal). Bigger, higher end restaurants that have a catering component (including hotel restaurants) will have the capability to cook on portable propane, butane, or even Sterno. Those restaurant prices will normally be higher. Call it at $100 to $200 a day.

But thought has to be given to the possibility of eating out of vending machines. Assuming a hotel’s generator is working, surviving on dozens of candy bars a day is possible. Here having rolls of coins will be of benefit.

All of this is just wild guessing. But it does give a starting point. For my friend’s use, I’d recommend at least $240 for the first 24 hours (for at least two inflated taxi trips). For 72 hours plus, I’m recommending an additional $500 (for shelter, food, and/or water). I’d have at least $500 in bills, and the rest in coins. This seems to give the greatest flexibility in a cash-only crises.

D. Period – All rights reserved – 2009 – Use permitted by all only with attribution.

Originally posted on July 7, 2009 @ 7:02 pm