Joe: You are planning a coast-to-coast trip in your RV. You have arranged to have your income electronically deposited to your checking account. Your monthly bills will be electronically paid from your bank account. But, what about spending money on the road? How much cash should you carry? Should you take traveler's checks? What can you purchase with credit cards?
Only experience will tell you how much cash you need to have available. It depends upon your cash comfort level and spending habits. How important is it for you to pay with cash as opposed to using credit cards? How much cash do you want available to feel comfortable while you are on the road? Each person's needs and spending habits differ. There are a number of ways to deal with spending money on the road. We can tell you what we do. It works for us.
We try to carry as little cash as possible; either on our persons or in our motorhome. Generally, we pay cash for purchases up to $20 and use our credit card for amounts higher than that.
We replenish our cash a couple of ways. One is by visiting an ATM and withdrawing enough cash to last us a week or two. Most RVers have found that ATMs are a convenient source of cash while traveling around the country. Check with the issuer of your ATM card to determine if your card can be used in the ATMs of other financial institutions. There is usually a fee associated with using these machines, so we try to minimize our visits by withdrawing a fairly large amount.
Our favorite way to get cash is to pay for groceries at a supermarket with our ATM/debit card and ask for an additional $100 or so in cash. We have not been refused nor have we experienced any additional fee for this service.
Vicki: We use our credit cards for the majority of our financial transactions. Most merchants accept credit cards. They can be used to pay for campgrounds, fuel, groceries, restaurant meals, and purchases of every description.
Using a credit card not only minimizes our need for cash, it provides a paper trail for our bookkeeping. At the end of the month we call the 800 number on the back of the card to determine the balance owed and minimum payment due. Obviously, paying the balance in full can eliminate any interest charges.
Here is a tip: We have two major credit cards. Joe carries one in his wallet and I carry the other in mine. Neither of us carries both credit cards. That way if one of us loses a wallet and we have to cancel the credit cards in that wallet, we can use the remaining, still-valid credit card in the other person's wallet.
We do carry our personal checkbook when we travel. But, except to pay one or two bills by mail, we rarely use it. Most merchants are unwilling to take an out-of-state personal check. Although we have discovered that some campground operators actually prefer being paid by check rather than a credit card.
We used to keep a modest amount of traveler's checks stashed in our motorhome just in case we ran into a situation where a personal check, credit card or our available cash would not cover a situation. We wondered how wise it was, though, after the checks sat unused for five years. That money could have been earning interest somewhere. We finally cashed them in and deposited them into our savings account. We can transfer money from our savings account to our checking account with just a phone call. Our ATM/debit card can draw cash from our checking account.
The amount of cash you carry while traveling is a personal decision. Just be sure to have some kind of system in place for you to replenish your cash while traveling. Initially, you'll have to "guesstimate" your needs. It won't take too long for you to develop your own comfort level.