Not in your bank. Not tied up in stocks. And not in the uncashed birthday check from Grandma Gertie.
In any major emergency, you'll need cash on hand to pay for the necessities -- food, water and anything else to to stay safe until the chaos subsides.
Our expert told DailyFinance that 30 days' worth of folding money is the minimum to have at home in case of the unthinkable. "In the end, it's cold hard cash that will get you through," said Robert Siciliano, a security consultant for McAfee (MFE). "You want to have enough cash reserves to get through at least a month. That's not paying bills. Your concern is sustainability."
One calendar page means at least a few thousand dollars that you can access immediately. Remember, Siciliano advised, in the event of a catastrophe in which the power goes out, ATMs will be down, banks will be closed, credit cards will be useless, and price-gouging at stores and at gas pumps will be rampant. You'll need a surplus to deal with it.
Nor would it necessarily take an apocalypse to stir panic, Siciliano said. Hurricane Irene blacked out more than 4 million homes and businesses, including communities on the fringes of the storm.
Siciliano offered these tips for keeping a reserve in case disaster strikes:
Get a safe. Walmart sells a fireproof, water-sealed First Alert safe for $338. Siciliano endorses the Sentry line of safes. One costs $209.99 at Sears.
Have the means to physically protect your money and, more importantly, you and your family. Disorder -- whether it stems from civil unrest, an earthquake or terrorists in our midst -- brings out the worst in many. "Desperate people do desperate things," said Siciliano, who has a German Shepherd and a "safe wing" of his house. If you wish to legally own a firearm, he urges you to learn how to use it; store it locked in the safe; and make sure the bullets are in there as well.
Cash in gold to build your reserve. If you don't have extra lucre to keep in your coffee pot (or new safe), Siciliano suggests selling old gold jewelry that might be lying around. With gold trading above $1850 per ounce on Friday, unloading it now will be bring you a far better return than trying to barter with it or pawn it during a crisis. "if there's ever a time to cash in, it's now," he said. Sicilano recently urged his wife to sell jewelry given to her by old boyfriends. She came home with $1,400.
Ask the bank what it does with your money. For those seeking additional peace of mind, Siciliano recommends knowing how your financial institutions will be protecting your assets in case of the unforeseen. Call your branch and ask. Banks, especially smaller ones where an actual person can address your needs, might volunteer some useful information about their backup systems. "They're not going to tell you everything, like where the servers are," he said. "That same intelligence can be used by the bad guy to do bad things." Mitch Slater, senior vice president of investments at UBS Financial Services (UBS), said many firms have a "How Secure Are Your Assets?" brochure that can address basic concerns. (Not all are so forthcoming: We reached a Chase (JPM) spokesman who said the bank wouldn't divulge anything about security procedures.)
Keep hard copy records. While the chances of data loss during even a cyber-virus attack is remote, the possibility of an extreme event might warrant extra caution. "It's not a bad idea to have backup paper files of your accounts," Siciliano said. "In the end, that's all that might be left."