10 Habits That Made Me a Millionaire at 27

one-million-dollars[1][Happy Monday guys 🙂 Thought we’d start it off right this week with a pretty kick-ass article from my old friend Anton. Last time he shared with us his money lessons from growing up in the former USSR, and now – a year later – he’s officially a millionaire and shares how he achieved this. How many of these habits are you currently doing?]

Earlier this year, shortly before my 27th birthday, I became a millionaire. It wasn’t a sudden thing and I pretty much expected it, but it felt absolutely awesome nevertheless. Checking your Mint account and seeing a cool $1 million net worth is a great way to start a morning!

What still bugs me a little, however, is the way people perceive millionaires and especially what they think about how people like me became financially successful. They always seem to be looking for some secret formula or hot stock tip that will make them rich overnight. When I tell them that I made my money through a lot of hard work, self-discipline and sacrifices they usually seem disappointed.

I can’t really think of a single thing I did that was the magic key to my success. Instead, it was a combination of daily tasks, habits and principles that helped me grow my net worth year after year.

I wanted to share 10 of these habits that I think were especially important:

1. Setting Detailed and Actionable Goals

I realize that talking about goals is really cliché. Pretty much every single “how to be successful” book I’ve ever read talked about goals at one point or another.

Well you know what? I am a testament that goals really do work! I would consider myself a goalaholic because at any given time I have over 180 or so that I’m actively working on. I started setting them just for my finances, but now do it for all areas in life.

My goals give me motivation, keep me on track and help me track my progress. I look at them every day and they help me make decisions both big and small. And most importantly – they give me a vision for the future.

2. Religiously Tracking My Net Worth

I consider net worth to be the ultimate metric of financial success. I’m really not that impressed by how much people make, but I will listen to somebody who has a high net worth.

I’ve been tracking mine since I was a teenager. I did everything I could to increase it by double digit percentages every single year and for the most part, I’ve been successful in doing so.

If you’ve never calculated you net worth, it may be a huge reality check. I’ve met tons of people who have 6-figure salaries and a net worth of less than $100,000.

3. Having the Discipline to Save 60% of My Income

You don’t necessarily need a high paying job to grow your wealth (although it sure helps!). What you do need, however, is the discipline to not spend all of the money you make. The greater your savings rate, the faster you will grow your wealth and the sooner you will be able to retire.

My actual goal is to save at least 50% of my income each month. I tend to exceed this and come closer to 60% most of the time. It’s not easy if you are used to spending a lot of money, but if you work up to it over time, it’s doable for just about anyone.

Other than just pure discipline, there are two things that especially help me save this much:

4. Avoiding Expensive Things

There is nothing wrong with shopping for the best wireless service company or trying to save money on your grocery bill. But you know what I’ve noticed? It’s the big things that tend to kill most people.

I have a friend at work who is an expert at our local gas prices. I don’t know where he gets his info, but he always seems to know where the cheapest gas is. Sounds like he is a frugal type, right? Well, he then turns around and spends thousands of dollars on new gold clubs and memberships! What sense does that make?

I’ve always tried to avoid expensive things. I don’t play golf, I don’t go to fancy restaurants, I don’t buy expensive clothes and I don’t stay at 5-star resorts twice a year. I live a simple life and devote more time to people instead of things. Try it, you might just like it 🙂

5. Always Paying Myself First

Believe it or not, I’m not a fan of monthly budgets at all. I haven’t followed a strict budget for years.

It’s not that I don’t think they are sexy, but I’ve found them to be too inflexible. It’s all good when your expenses stay exactly the same month after month, but that rarely happens. So you end up reworking your budget from month to month, going over your limits and feeling like you failed.

Instead, I pay myself first. Paying yourself first basically sets the priority of what you do with your money each month:

  1. You get paid
  2. You transfer money to your savings or investment accounts
  3. You pay your bills
  4. You only spend what is left

This system has helped me follow through with my savings goals because I take care of them first. My spending, on the other had, comes last and by that time there isn’t much money left to spend anyway. Plus I have full flexibility as far as what to spend it on, which works for me.

6. Completely Avoiding Consumer Debt

I can honestly say that I’ve never got charged credit card interest, I’ve never had an auto loan, a furniture loan, an electronics loan, a payday loan or any other type of consumer debt. I just don’t buy anything on credit. I either have the money in my bank account to pay cash, or I don’t buy it.

It’s that simple.

I do in fact use my credit cards to take advantage of their reward programs and to build my credit, but I pay off my balance in full at the end of each week so I never get charged interest.

This takes a good amount of discipline (it’s always easier to spend money you don’t actually have!), but avoiding consumer debt has saved me a ton of money on interest and has helped me live below my means.

I should make a quick note here about mortgages. I do in fact have two of them on my two rental properties. I’m a firm believer that you can get a much higher return on your investments in real estateif you are diligent in doing your research. And that’s a big if, mind you. It’s very easy to get yourself in trouble with this much debt, so don’t take a mortgage lightly by any means.

7. Actually Having an Emergency Fund

This is another topic that you always hear about, but I wonder how many people actually have an emergency fund?!

Putting mine together was one of my first financial goals. And I’ve actually had to use it twice. I won’t go into the details of what happened, but let’s just say I was very happy that I had the money I needed right there and then and didn’t have to use my credit card.

I keep my emergency fund in a high yield savings account. I hear about people using CD ladders or even investing theirs, but I think that completely defeats its purpose. It should be there 24/7, just a click away and you definitely don’t want it declining in value.

8. Saving Ahead for Large Expenses

So you know how I said that I’ve never had any consumer debt? Well what helped me avoid it is saving ahead for large expenses and purchases.

I keep a list of everything I plan to buy in the next few years that will be more than what my monthly cash flow can handle. This includes plane tickets, presents, maintenance on my car, moving expenses and so forth.

Depending on how long I have until I need the money, I either save for these in a savings account, CD or short-term investments like low-risk bond ETFs.

9. Investing Money No Matter What Happens

I’ve found that when building your wealth, consistency is key. I’ve been contributing to my retirement and brokerage accounts and my real estate fund (which I use for future property purchases) without fail for nearly 10 years.

I’ve invested money no matter what was going on in my life. It didn’t matter if I was strapped for cash – I put my investment contributions above everything else. When I had some extra money, it all went toward my investments.

I’ve also invested no matter what happens with the economy, the stock or the real estate market. Whether it was up or down, I was investing. Which takes me to my last point:

10. Investing When Others Panic

One of my idols, Warren Buffett once said:

“Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

I’ll admit that I had to overcome some fears, but I’ve piled money into the stock market and real estate when everybody else was proclaiming it was the end of the world around 2008-2009.

I was fairly new to investing back then, but I’m super glad I made that choice. I’ve seen tremendous gains both in my stock and real estate portfolio in the years to come after that. I hope that the next time we have a major downturn I can do the same!

As you can see, there is nothing complicated or new about my habits. They are very simple to understand, but some do require a good amount of self-discipline to follow through with.

I think that if you set your mind to it, you can definitely accomplish the same, or even more, than me. It probably won’t be easy and it may take some time, but you too can become a millionaire.

How many of these habits are you currently doing?

– Anton

P.S. If you want to check out what my net worth looks like right now, here is my latest update.

 

This article is provided by Melissa

What can we learn from Gen Y’s view of money?

Gen_Y-skeptic-274x300[1]This article is by staff writer Kristin Wong.

Recently, Fidelity released another survey about millennials and money. They found that 47 percent of us are saving for retirement. To me, that stat was really telling about our generation’s view of personal finance, and it’s not unlike other findings. When TIME wrote about the survey, they reported:

“Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 71% of millennials eligible for a 401(k) plan participate and that 70% of millennials began saving at an average age of 22. By way of comparison, Boomers started saving at an average age of 35.”

It is self-reported data, sure. But it seems hard to deny that there is a heightened, post-recession interest in finance and our economy. We’re pushing for every manner of financial education — in schools and on the Internet. Personal finance has become an increasingly popular niche in the blogosphere. Even Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, is involved in the production of movies designed to explain how our economy works. To me, it’s harder to believe there wouldn’t be some sort of new-found interest in personal finance after the Great Recession.

Another finding from Fidelity’s poll people found interesting:

  • When asked whom they trust most for information on money matters, 33 percent of millennials say they trust their parents, but 1 in 4 (23 percent) say they trust no one.

Considering the economic climate, it’s no wonder that millennials are skeptical. At my own blog, Brokepedia.com, one reader brought up a point that I hadn’t really considered: Our parents’ money advice might not apply because they come from a different time. Obviously, there’s some financial advice that is standard. Spend less than you earn, for instance, will always be the formula for financial independence. My parents taught me that at a young age, the advice stuck, and it’s working.

However, there’s stuff my parents couldn’t predict. I wanted to save money by going to a community college, for example. But their idea was for me to go to a “real university” — the more prestigious, the better — so they didn’t think my choice was very smart. After witnessing my younger brother’s massive tuition, though, I think they changed their minds a bit about saving money on college.

Sure, all of these studies on millennials and how they handle money are generalizations. The huge focus on our behavior borders on obsession if you ask me. Until recently, that focus has been pretty negative. But more studies and surveys are showing that Gen. Y is actually better with money than they’re given credit for.

Even if you take the stats with a grain of salt, I think there are a couple of lessons we can learn from the data.

It’s okay to be skeptical

For their study, Fidelity asked me if I’d like to produce a man-on-the-street video for them. It involved talking to people my age about money issues. The conversations I had with people closely mirrored Fidelity’s findings.

Most of the people I talked to said their parents gave them basic advice and they appreciated it, but there’s some stuff they’ve simply had to learn on their own. Because of the aftermath of the housing crisis and now the student loan crisis, young people seem to be skeptical of what other people tell them to do with their money.

That’s not a bad thing.

Separate from the video, I talked to a recent college grad about money. She complained about her massive student debt. What really bugged her about it was that most of it wasn’t necessary. Her student loan company approved her for $100,000. She told them she didn’t need that much.

“But they told me, ‘No, it’s fine. You’re approved, it doesn’t matter. You can just spend it.’ I was 18,” she told me. “Someone gives you $100,000 at 18, all you can think about is all the stuff you can buy. I learned my lesson.”

To me, this is a microcosm of why our generation, as a whole, has learned to be more careful, and yes, maybe even more skeptical, about financial advice.

In the man-on-the-street interviews, I asked the subjects where they got their money advice. Again, the response was mostly, “I learned on my own.” And this is going to make me sound like the worst money snob, but when they told me they were learning “on their own,” I assumed that meant they didn’t actually know anything. I was wrong. (Sorry, interviewees.)

We talked about personal finance books I didn’t think anyone outside of my money nerd friends would recognize. We talked about investing and homeownership and how your money mind-set changes as you get older.

One 26-year-old, on his way to lunch with a friend, said something that sounded like it came straight from the pages of this blog:

Now Me wants to have fun, but Future Me wants to have fun, too.”

It seems like Gen. Y is learning through a filter of skepticism — but they are learning. Our economy is changing, we’re recovering from our mistakes, and we want to make sure our moves are steady and well-calculated.

Learning to adapt

Millennials have been criticized for postponing families, not buying property, moving back in with our parents and even commuting.

I’ve done three out of four of those things, and they contributed immensely to my financial security. Moving back in with my mom was the last damn thing I wanted to do at 22. We were going through a rough time. And, of course, I wanted my freedom. But I saw it as an opportunity to get my finances in order, and, thankfully, my mom welcomed me. I didn’t think it was selfish, and she didn’t think it was selfish. In fact, she suggested it as a smart money move.

The economy sucks. The system sucks. Stuff needs to change. But in the meantime, millennials seem to be adapting and taking control of what they can — and that’s a good thing. To me, the way people are challenging traditional measures of success is an indication that we’re adapting. Yes, that might mean moving back in with your parents for a while so you can build an emergency fund. It might mean that you decide that renting is okay, because you don’t want to be house-poor.

We should try to make the bigger picture better; but in the meantime, it’s productive to work toward improving our own personal financial situation.

What do you think about the (generalized) financial habits of Gen. Y? Obviously, there’s room for improvement. While we might be surprised at the finding that 47 percent of millennials are saving for retirement, it’s also a concern that 53 percent are not saving.

Still, sometimes it seems like the stuff we get criticized for is the stuff we’re doing right. The headlines point out our flaws — but, to me, skepticism is healthy. And so is adapting.

I stand by the fact that I think there’s a shift toward financial security. It might not be any more attainable than it was (probably even less so). But it seems like more people, young and old, are interested in what it takes to recover from an economic crapstorm. After coming of age in the middle of that crapstorm, is it so hard to believe that millennials might be interested in developing better financial habits than previous generations?

Don’t Let That 1,000-Page Mortgage Application Scare You

stack-paperwork-600x400-christian-schnettelker[1]By Peter Miller

The 1,000-page mortgage application is here, but don’t be alarmed: It’s a paper tiger, a low barrier to financing, and no more frightening than a marshmallow.

At first it may seem amazing that a loan application could be larger than a Tom Clancy novel, but it’s true. In fact, in today’s marketplace, 1,000 pages might well be regarded as a mid-sized file, a financial appetizer, and hardly noticeable in an era where 2,000-page applications are increasingly common. Indeed, a study by VirPack, a document management company, found that more than half of all loan applications now contain more than 500 pages while 20% included a forest-busting 1,000 to 2,000 pages.

So are heavyweight mortgage applications a big deal, enough to sink any effort to finance or refinance a home?

The answer is no. Paperwork demands by lenders are about as scary as butterflies. The problem is largely that no one explains why so much documentation is needed, how big page numbers are totaled, and why this is a lender problem and not a big deal for borrowers.

Lenders, Borrowers, and the FHA

Lenders and borrowers have been around for a long time. As an example, Deuteronomy says debts should be forgiven after seven years while Leviticus advises that debts should also be forgiven in jubilee periods, celebrations which occur every 50 years.

Mortgage lending in the U.S. as we know it today really began with the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration — the FHA — in the 1930s. The great innovation of the FHA was not lower rates but longer mortgage lengths. Instead of the typical “term” loan that was common at the time — a loan that lasted just five years — the FHA popularized the use of self-amortizing mortgages that lasted 20 years.

If you got an FHA-backed loan it meant you didn’t have to refinance every five years. That was important because in five years you might be unemployed, or the value of your property may have dropped so your term loan could not be refinanced. With a self-amortizing, long-term mortgage, once you got the loan you never had to go back and re-qualify with the lender as long as you made the monthly payments. Moreover, at the end of the loan there was no more debt because both the interest and the principal had been fully repaid.

While the FHA program was and is surely an attractive option for borrowers — today one in five loans is backed by the program — the FHA is not a lender. Instead, it’s an insurance program. You can buy with less money down if you finance with an FHA-insured loan. Of course, since the FHA is an insurance program, you also pay monthly premiums.

Back in 1929 there were more than 25,000 banks and probably more than 25,000 ways to process loans. Today there are fewer than 6,700 FDIC insured institutions, but loan applications are now pretty much all alike, because most loans are sold by lenders to such organizations as the FHA, Veteran’s Administration, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. What’s not standard is how the information is used — a loan declined by one lender might be entirely acceptable to another.

All of this gets us to the subject of paperwork and the sea of pulp upon which the mortgage industry now floats.

The No Doc Loan

The mortgage underwriting system worked very well until the early 2000s. The foreclosure rate in 2000 was just below 0.4 percent, according to statistics from RealtyTrac.

But then foreclosure levels shot up, in large measure because of the sudden and widespread marketing of “non-traditional” mortgage products such as option ARMs, interest-only mortgages, and loans with little paperwork — so-called “low doc” and “no doc” loan applications. Indeed there were even such things as NINJA mortgages (no-income-no-job-or-assets) and NINA financing (no-income-no-assets).

The result of the new financial products and standards was entirely predictable: The housing market collapsed and foreclosure levels soared to heights unseen since the 1920s. As I told the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials — the folks who regulate real estate brokers at the state level — in a 2006 speech and at the height of the real estate market boom, “looming in the background is the potential for financial disaster that will impact home values nationwide, spur foreclosure rates to new highs and devalue insurance funds, pension holdings and investor accounts. The value of your home, no matter how you financed, is at stake.”

Wall Street Reform

New Wall Street regulations were passed in the aftermath of the foreclosure meltdown. The Dodd-Frank legislation signed by President Obama in 2010 was largely devoted to the issue of risk. No longer would mortgage lenders be able to originate residential loans that could plunge entire states into depression.

Central to Dodd-Frank — and central to today’s paperwork demands — are two important ideas.

First, Dodd-Frank includes an “ability to repay” requirement. Under this standard, lenders must verify at the time of application that residential borrowers have the ability to repay the loan.

The result is that lenders want to make certain that loan files contain enough data and information to unquestionably meet the verification requirement. Hearsay doesn’t count; everything must be in writing, and maybe more than once. Lenders want every document they can find to protect themselves against possible future claims that they failed to adequately verify the borrower’s ability to repay a loan.

Why are lenders so fanatical about paperwork?

“If it can be shown that they did not adequately verify borrower information, lenders can be forced to buy back the loan from investors, a huge cost,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president for Auction.com. “Under the new Dodd-Frank rules, a borrower may also be able to sue the lender for making a loan that didn’t meet the ability-to-repay criteria at the time the loan was originated.”

Second, the Wall Street reforms included a “duty of care” standard. It requires that lenders must be licensed or registered and — here’s the big point — that the license or registration number must be on loan documents.

Why is the “duty of care” requirement important? By having license and registration numbers, mortgage investors can quickly determine who originated a given mortgage and then — in the same way that a lender can decline a loan application — an investor can say “no” to loans from a particular lender. In effect, a lender with a lousy foreclosure record, missing documents, or other problems may be unable to re-sell its loans to investors in the secondary market, and as a result will be forced out of business.

The result of Dodd-Frank is that foreclosure levels are now below historic norms. This means investors can make U.S. mortgage loans with little risk, and it’s the lack of risk that explains in large measure why mortgage interest rates are now so low.

Why Paperwork Claims Are Overstated

There’s no doubt that lenders collect a lot of paperwork, but so what? It’s not that they’re asking for 1,000 separate items. Instead, what’s happening is that they’re asking for complete documents, and those materials often have some heft.

As an example, in a recent mortgage application the lender got an appraisal for the property. The appraisal ran 27 pages. Then — to make sure the appraisal was right — the lender got an automated 22-page “value report.”

So here you have 49 pages of material and nothing was required of the borrower.

Here’s another example: The real estate sales agreement for the same transaction ran 18 pages. You sign here and initial there but it’s paperwork prepared by a broker or attorney.

Think about bank statements and retirement accounts. Lenders want the full statements, not just the first-page summary. And how about tax returns? Lenders want the entire return, not just the first two pages, for more complex returns.

All of this paperwork raises a question: Does anyone know what the stuff in a loan file actually says?

Not likely. Consider the testimony of two former secretaries of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, both lawyers.

Mel Martinez once explained to The Washington Post that “you know if I’m a lawyer and the secretary of HUD and I’m not reading this junk, you know there’s work to be done fixing the system.”

Alphonso Jackson, another former HUD secretary, told the Washington Times that “I’m an attorney and I’ve had eight houses and I didn’t read all that mess. If I didn’t read it — and I doubt anyone around this table read it — then we can’t hold people responsible for not reading every line when they were closing their loan.”

How to Handle Paperwork

Regardless of how nutty lender demands might be, the reality is that as a borrower you have an obligation to provide needed paperwork. No paperwork, no loan, so the lender has leverage. Moreover, if you drop one lender over paperwork the next one may be even more demanding.

There are, however, certain steps you can take to make the paper chase easier:

  • Collect obvious documents before applying for a loan. Think of tax returns from the past two or three years, recent pay stubs, bank and retirement accounts, etc.
  • Get stuff to the lender when asked. It makes sense to get a scanner, copy documents, and send them via email to the lender as PDFs. This way you have a record of what was sent and when. Moreover, if a document is lost, it’s easy to re-send.
  • Don’t be surprised if a lender keeps asking for paperwork. One lender was absolutely insistent on seeing a homeowner’s association insurance policy for common areas. Okay, no big problem. All it took was a call to the HOA secretary to produce the 63-page document, a good example of why mortgage application files are so thick.
  • Remarkably, don’t be surprised if a lender asks for paperwork AFTER closing. One of the many forms signed at settlement says you’ll help the lender if there are any missing signatures or documents.
  • If you look carefully at the closing documents, you may see multiple copies of the same form which you must sign. This happens because various players in the closing process all want a copy of the form with an original signature. It’s a good example of lots of paperwork but not a lot of borrower effort. Sign ‘em all and make lenders happy.
  • Make sure the loan application and closing materials include the disclosures and facts that are important to you. For instance, if you’re refinancing an investment property make certain the documents specifically show that you’re getting an investment loan and not residential financing. Why? Applying for a lower-cost residential loan to finance or refinance an investment property could land you in hot water.
  • Don’t let lenders, brokers, and closing providers talk you into signing documents or taking steps that make you uncomfortable. As an example, what if you’re a seller and the settlement provider says that payment might be delayed a few days? In my state, the government explains that “the practice of requiring a borrower to sign closing documents and actually delay funding the loan is not permitted.” Be in touch with the settlement provider well before closing to assure that there are no surprises. If you’re not comfortable with something, consult with an experienced real estate attorney.
  • Make every effort to be accurate and open, especially with negative items.The lender will find them anyway, so be able to explain what happened and why. With new standards, wait times for financing after a “significant derogatory event” such as a short sale or foreclosure have been shortened, especially for those with “extenuating circumstances” such as a temporary job loss, an illness, or a death in the family.

For all the moaning about mortgage paperwork, it’s not a big deal. While the pages do add up, for the most part it’s the lender’s problem and surely nothing that can’t be handled. After all, millions of mortgages are successfully originated every year, something that wouldn’t happen if the paperwork load was too overwhelming.

Peter G. Miller is a nationally-syndicated real estate columnist. His books, published originally by Harper & Row, sold more than 300,000 copies. He blogs at OurBroker.com and contributes to such leading sites as RealtyTrac.com, the Huffington Post and Auction.com. Peter has also spoken before such groups as the National Association of Realtors and the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials.

Should cash be part of your emergency fund?

This post is by staff writer Honey Smith.

When I was in college, one of my co-workers at my part-time, on-campus job gave me a funny little gift that I use to this day. What was it? It’s called a “wallet fairy.” According to the note that came with my little talisman, you put it in your wallet and “you’ll never be out of money when you need it.”

I can’t honestly say that the “magic” has been foolproof. I believe I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions the time I didn’t wash my hair for a month because I couldn’t afford shampoo. And I distinctly remember crying after going to the grocery store on a couple of occasions because I didn’t know how I was going to pay my bills after buying food. But I guess if the magic were foolproof, this fool wouldn’t have learned her lesson and started digging her way out of debt, right?

But you know what? National Preparedness Month (a.k.a. “September”) may be over, but it’s always a good idea to consider your plans if an emergency occurs. And after the flash flooding we saw this year in Phoenix, I am thinking a lot more seriously about what it would be like to be out of money when I need it. I’m starting to think that it’s important to keep cash readily available, but I wanted to really sort out why and how much and where. So here goes….

Should you keep an emergency “cash stash”?

To be clear, I’m not talking about keeping an extra $20 in your wallet (not that that’s a bad idea). I’m talking about keeping a significant amount of cash on hand in case of emergencies — in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Here are the pros and cons for doing so that I can think of:

  • Pro: Out of sight, out of mind. Even if you put your emergency fund in an online-only account such as Capital One 360 (formerly ING), at least it’s there. You receive bank statements reminding you of its presence. Maybe it factors into your Mint net worth. Stashing actual physical money somewhere out of the way means you are less likely to think about it (and thus, be tempted to spend it) unless there’s a true emergency.

  • Con: Not earning interest. If you invest your money, you are (hopefully) earning interest faster than inflation can erode the value of your cash. The “common wisdom” is that inflation is about 3 percent annually, so you should aim to beat that benchmark, taking into account things like diversification and your own risk tolerance. Even parking your cash in a savings account with their interest rates of 0.95 percent or less (based on this week’s savings account rates) is better than nothing, right?

  • Pro: Peace of mind. Cash can’t be garnished like a paycheck or bank account, and it isn’t easily traced. For some people, having access to money that flies under the radar, so to speak, may make them feel more secure.

  • Con: If it’s gone, it’s gone. See above: Cash isn’t easily traced. If you lose the money, it gets destroyed, you are robbed, etc., you may have very little recourse.

Are there other significant pros and cons to having cash on hand that I am missing?

How much should you keep?

Assuming that you’ve decided keeping some amount of cash on hand is best for your particular situation, the next question becomes: How much cash, exactly, should you keep? A solid emergency fund may be three to six months’ worth of expenses, but that is probably more than most people are comfortable keeping in cash. Not to mention, even at sub-one-percent interest rates, when you start getting into the thousands of dollars, you start missing out on a decent chunk of change.

The logical question to ask yourself at this point is, What emergency situations do you think would require physical cash? For example, if you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters, keeping enough cash on hand to buy food and supplies in the event that credit/debit isn’t an option (due to a power outage or what have you) may be smart. It’s important to be realistic, but there’s no need to be paranoid.

Where should you keep it?

I suppose theoretically, you could keep it anywhere. However, if you want to make sure that you’re the one who is actually keeping it, your main options are likely these:

  • In your home, in a diversion safe. A diversion safe is something that looks like an ordinary household item or product that actually is used to hide items of value. Diversion safes might look like books; cleaning chemicals (think a can of Ajax); cans of soda, water, or food; or even toiletries (think a can of hairspray). The pro is that diversion safes are relatively inexpensive, but most don’t actually require a lock to open. So if someone does happen upon it, the gig is up. Diversion safes also tend to be relatively small, which may be a pro or a con depending on your needs.

  • In your home, in an actual safe. A real safe is usually larger and can thus accommodate more items, if you have other valuables besides cash that you’d like to protect. It may require a key or combination to open (some are even biometric!) and, unlike most diversion safes, many are fireproof/waterproof or fire/water resistant. Accordingly, they also take up more space, are difficult to hide, and may be expensive.

  • In a safe deposit box. For a rental fee, your cash, other valuables, and important documents may be stored in a bank, post office, or other institution. The fee is usually fairly minimal for most needs, and you have the reassurance that most institutions offering this service are under some form of guard 24/7. However, that does mean if you want to access the contents of your box, you must leave your house. Depending on the circumstances under which you need to access your cash, this may or may not be feasible. After all, when was the last time you went to the bank?

There may also be indirect costs when storing items at home. If you have large amounts of cash or valuables, you may need or want a robust alarm system, for example, and that may entail an up-front cost and/or a monthly subscription.

Like most aspects of personal finance, I suspect that opinions on this topic vary widely. Do you keep physical cash? Why? How much cash is too much? And how do you balance issues of accessibility with the desire to keep your money safe?