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How much cash to take?

Hi - our family of 6 will be visiting London in early April. We won't be leaving zones 1 and 2 and will be there for 7 days. What's a reasonable amount of pounds to get from cash machines? I want to limit the number of times I hit the cash machines. I'm planning to use a credit cards for 99% of the purchases, but I figure we do need some cash. Any ideas?

Posted by
21205 posts

That is almost an impossible question to answer because of so many variables. I would get two hundred, maybe three hundred pounds and see how it goes. Balance the use of credit card against cash. We use cash about 90% of the time. Easier and more convenient but towards the end of our stay will balance the usage so left over cash is min.

Posted by
5654 posts

Depends on your personal spending pattern and threshold for cash vs credit card charges. With a family of six, small individual purchases become big enough to justify credit card charges. That said, start cash management during your last 2 or 3 days in country, spending down your cash balance to a target of what you need on your last day heading to the airport. Keep a supply of coins for paid public facilities.

Posted by
917 posts

In many ways, I am still a Luddite regarding the concept of cash cards/debit cards. I understand how credit cards work and use them all the time, but am loathe to run up my debit card and thereby lose track of just how much money I have in my checking account.

Because of this, I eat the overseas transaction fee and when I want to pay with a card, I use my credit card(s). It's not a perfect system, but I figure that I am on vacation, and after spending several thousand on transportation for the two of us, a few bucks here and there won't break the bank.

I tried to use an ATM in London a few years ago. Used to the bank-limiting amounts here in the U.S., I asked a bank employee how much cash I could withdraw, and he looked at me, smiled and replied, "I don't know, Sir; how much credit do you have?"

When I travel, I usually start off with $2,000 to $3,500 in Euros or pounds, which is mostly stashed between two money belts--one for me, one for my significant other. As I need additional cash, I hit the ATM in whatever city I am visiting and get 400 to 600 euros at a time, minimizing the number of transactions I might make.

In many cases, cash talks, especially in the "back doors" that I travel to. An aperitif at a sidewalk café tastes better when I pay cash for it, believe it or not.

Posted by
6721 posts

I'm planning to use a credit cards for 99% of the purchases

If that's the case, then take out very little (only for the smallest incidentals) because you don't need much. See how much cash you actually need once you're on the ground and how many days the initial withdrawal lasts (who knows, you may not even need that amount over the entire trip). That's really the only way to estimate your needs somewhat accurately. I take out as little as I can (as I go), and only when I need it because I don't want to bring extra currency home. If your bank penalizes you per each withdrawal, then maybe consider a friendlier bank? My credit union charges 1% of each transaction amount so I don't feel any need to minimize withdrawals.

Posted by
917 posts

One consideration for carrying more cash is that many small hotels across Europe (not so much in the UK) give discounts for paying your bill in cash versus using a credit card.

Posted by
3551 posts

What do u usually need at home in cash? Think similiar amount.

Posted by
21205 posts

One thing about planning to use a credit card 99% of the time and carrying min cash is that you have no back up. For example - if run up a good restaurant bill, give the card, and the card is rejected -- then what do you do? We have hit situations where the card system is down so cash is the only alternative. If I was going to try to be totally dependent on a credit card, I would carry at least hundred pounds in cash. Even when traveling in the US and using a credit card almost exclusively, I have a hundred or more in cash -- just in case.

Posted by
2496 posts

In London cards are accepted most places (unlike in some other countries where cash is strongly preferred). So I wouldn’t hesitate to use a card with no fees wherever you are able.

I use a card 99.9% of the time at home, and 90% in most of Europe. Germany is the main exception that I’m familiar with - they have a more cash-based system in my experience.

So one week, most meals and accommodations paid by card. I assume you will have some sort of transit pass paid for, not using cash for tube or bus tickets. Rough guess, maybe 30 pounds a day for cash purchases, so I’d feel fine with 200. If part of your family is your spouse then I’d say you carry half of that and have them carry the other half. If some of the party is adults who will be traveling around separate from you then they should have their own cash, of course.
If you run into a situation where cards are down or not accepted you won’t have trouble finding an ATM.

Oh - do London cabs take credit cards? I don’t think so but am too cheap to use them much so don’t remember. If not and you plan on using them - get more cash than I suggested above!

Posted by
1188 posts

If you plan to visit any of the Street Markets; bring cash. Although many do take charge cards now with their smart phones; it is easier to get a batched price or "bargains" with cash. Also, depending on the age groups of the family, some of you may want to go to somewhere separately...so cash in hand may work better for some things. Maybe a daily allotment for everyone. If you are staying in your own apartment you can save money by buying groceries. If you are staying at a hotel or B & B: Breakfast is usually provided.
Buy picnic food for lunch. Pick a buffet for dinner. I found that fast food places will charge a pound per each dollar we would pay back home; so be aware of the exchange rate that day. Check to see if you can get 7 day passes for entry to sites in London. There have been a variety available. A lot of the Museums are free. Check the best transit tickets that would work for you. London is easy to get around in on the tube, train, bus and boat. Sounds like you've may have checked that out. I don't recall what zone Hampton Court is in...but it is well worth the trip. They have daytrip return tickets on the train. You can take the Thames boat if you time it right. Buses outside Central London take too long.

Posted by
16860 posts

Your bank limits how much cash you can withdraw in one day. Ask them what that limit is and consider whether to get it raised for the duration of the trip. Even with a plan to use credit cards, a family your size might easily need to withdraw $500 in a day (about £350).

Each cash machine also has a per-transaction limit of how much it will give, but multiple transactions are allowed, at the same machine or others. Some banks give more than others, with Deutsche Bank being the tour guides' favorite for large withdrawals.

At least at the start of the trip, I'd take out the maximum. If you don't use it, then you don't make later withdrawals and can focus on spending it in the last days of your stay.

Posted by
5654 posts

Is the UK becoming a cashless society? Will we need to use credit or debit cards in the UK?

http://www.information-age.com/uk-verge-becoming-cashless-payment-society-123466029/

Physical money is fast becoming redundant in today’s increasingly
connected society with a third (33%) of the UK stating that they never
use cash anymore. Unsurprisingly this figure rises to 51% among
millennials, while the older generation are stoically sticking to the
coins in their purses as only 27% prefer to shop online.

Given the option 26% of respondents would never choose to pay cash
when buying an item in a shop. In fact, more than a quarter of us
(26.35%) find it irritating when we have to pay by cash rather than by
card.

It’s not just consumers who are moving away from cash – more
businesses than ever are becoming cashless. Airlines for example,
often don’t accept cash for on-board purchases now.

Posted by
5980 posts

Don't overthink it. As others have said, the first chance you get, take out the max that you can (to minimize the number of times you go to the ATM). By the time you are running out, you'll know how fast you're spending it, and how many days you have left. Then take out more accordingly.

Posted by
646 posts

We like having a little cash on arrival. The problem for the first trip is that you pay a premium to get cash here. And it's a per transaction premium. So you might as well get more since the expense is the same whether you need 200 or 1 pounds. I'd get pounds locally only if you can get lower denominations that way. If you need change, pm me and we can work out a trade for 5 and 10 pound notes and some coins. We'll use the current exchange rate plus postage. But your bank may do this for you at a cheaper rate,

Posted by
18911 posts

Most of the time the penalty for converting dollars to foreign currency in the US is not just a flat amount that doesn't vary with the number of dollars converted. The exchange rate used is always (based on my experience and reports on this forum) very far off from the interbank rate, which you can get close to in Europe by having good US ATM cards and credit cards. The penalty on the conversion rate often seems to be around 7%. It probably varies, but perhaps $7 for every $100 converted.

In the US you will often also be charged a flat fee (sometimes waived by your bank), and that part of the cost will not increase if you ask for more money. That might be $10, $15 or more.

Obviously for a traveler just wanting about $100 worth of foreign currency, the cost is not great. I put it in the same category as hopping into a taxi rather than taking a bus; sometimes the convenience is worth it. It's when people proposed to convert huge sums in the US that I wonder why they are willing to pay nearly 7% more than I do every time they spend money in Europe.

Posted by
253 posts

The problem with using only an American credit card is that almost every card will add heavy foreign transaction fees to your purchases. This can add up fast! For instance, in many cases, Bank of America will charge you 3% with a minimum fee of $10.
Hopefully, you will have time to search out a no fee card. Capital One has one. I typically also use a Capital One debit card linked to a dedicated checking account. That refunds all my fees-ATM fees as well as foreign exchange fees. I have yet to have anyone refuse cash. Additionally, when you pay in cash, the risk of having your credit card compromised is greatly reduced. Small chance, sure, but if it happens to you-well...

Posted by
25771 posts

I realise that British money for tourists visiting from North America is different to that of locals. We're lucky to have no fees to use debit or credit cards (assuming full pay off each month) nor using (most) ATMs. But then we don't get any interest on most bank accounts either (don't know if that is true across the pond).

For interest, having seen Edgar's post, you may be interested that I, as a small town dweller who is frequently in London and Birmingham, almost never pay any cash for anything in the UK. I usually carry a couple of pounds in coins incase I need a vending machine, although many of those also take my phone, and usually have about £15 in my wallet but that almost always just stays there unused. Every few months when I get a haircut I pay for that in cash so the notes get rotated.

Almost everything else I pay for with my phone, using Apple Pay. Yes, Emma and other commuters, I'm afraid to say that I use my iPhone on the Underground. But not at peak time - then I dig out the corresponding contactless credit card and use that. I buy papers with my phone, snacks and take-away foods with my phone, cups of coffee and just about everything else. Sometimes I'm a little slow because I need to have my phone scanned for the loyalty card, and then for the purchase, but most of my loyalty cards not only live in the store app but also in my phone's wallet along with the Apple Pay.

Contactless transactions in the UK are currently limited to £30, but that isn't the case with Apple Pay or Android Pay.

That's not to say that a tourist should live that way - it would depend if you have a fee-free card - just to elaborate on the article quoted by Edgar. I'm no Millennial though, definitely a peak time Baby Boomer.

Posted by
4528 posts

If a London taxi cannot take card payments it is considered by TfL to be 'unfit' . You may find if you indicate that you will report them that the card machine suddenly mends itself.

Brings to mind a story my uncle told me. He once was in a cab late in the evening and at the end the driver claimed his meter was broken and made up a fare. My uncle simply replied 'as a cab driver myself I know you can only charge what is on the meter for this journey'. He struck a match to light it up and said 'Nothing is on the meter and nothing is what you will get.' Mind you he was of a size that no one would mess with ...

Posted by
253 posts

I'll concede that Apple Pay is, on the surface, convenient. You can call me paranoid, but I will be damned if I will let Big Brother Apple know my every move down to what kind of coffee I drink when and when I go to the bathroom. Perhaps you are comfortable with that kind of information available about you to anyone willing to pay for the "list". I guess I am not. I much prefer the anonymity that cash offers. It is also far too easy to lose track of just what you are spending when it's plastic money.

Back the the original topic, if you figure out what you might spend per day in NYC in dollars and just mentally say pounds instead, you likely be fairly close to your daily expenditure.

Posted by
5654 posts

I much prefer the anonymity that cash offers.

Cash feeds the "shadow economy" and large denomination notes are favored by criminal enterprises. Some estimates of the UK shadow economy to be in excess of 10% of GNP. "Cashless" transactions bring transactions to light and eliminating 500 EUR notes fatten criminal wallets.

Posted by
253 posts

Well, I think it may be a little far afield to discuss shadow economies when most of us are spending two-three weeks in GB. My most expensive hotel is under 125 pounds a night. I must assume the criminal element won't survive long on my fish and chips and stout pub orders. I think your concerns are for a different order of spending magnitude. And, since we'll be using the pound sterling, no worries about those pesky 500 Euro notes, either. :) The largest denomination English banknote I am aware of is 50 pounds.

Posted by
3895 posts

I'm not a Luddite by any means, but I still like using cash...(sorry, off topic a bit)...makes keeping track of the bank account much easier. I spend what I have in my purse.

And as someone who works retail - when the system goes down, it isn't pretty. And it always seems to happen at least once or twice at Xmas - cash still works - obviously. If you have a credit card, most places you are SOL unless they have one of the old manual machines they used in the 80s (and even then - as I learned last time the system went down - in the olden days, we could enter the persons cc info from the paper after they left when the system came back up, along with an authorization number that we got from the cc company - now, with PIN's, we can't do that. We had to send the slip to the head office in Ontario and let them deal with it. That made paperwork that evening interesting for me). Debit - well, you can go use the generic machine in the mall that charges you $3 to take money out - as one guy did - I gave him a discount on his purchase to keep him happy. And the few times I've been at the grocery store and the systems were down, I was glad to have cash instead of having to abandon my stuff.

But to the question - I always like to go over with a couple hundred GBP obtained from my bank. Then I just go from there with how much we have left vs how many days to go.

Posted by
3895 posts

Just wanted to mention something about offering discounts for cash - at least here where I live, there was a local coffee shop and some gas stations that will give you a discount if you are paying with cash/debit card vs credit...because - they have to pay fees to the cc companies. A couple of gas stations will give you .02 off per litre if you use cash/debit. And there was a coffee shop that would charge a little extra if you used your cc for a transaction under $5 (with a note at the register explaining why).

Posted by
5654 posts

In the US credit card surcharging is a matter of contract law defined by credit card company contracts.

Are credit card surcharges in the UK illegal?

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/card-surcharge-ban-means-no-more-nasty-surprises-for-shoppers

Hidden charges for paying with a debit or credit card will be banned from today (13 January).

Published 13 January 2018 From: HM Treasury and John Glen MP

Hidden charges for paying with a debit or credit card will be banned
from today (13 January), helping millions of UK consumers to avoid
rip-off fees when spending their hard-earned money.

Today’s ban means that it will be unlawful for retailers to charge
additional fees when someone uses a particular credit or debit card,
or other payment systems like PayPal, to make a purchase. This will
ensure consumers can be confident that there won’t be any nasty
surprises, and they won’t be penalised for wanting to pay in a
particular way.

The ban on credit and debit card surcharges is effective across the EU from Saturday 13th January 2018, and will apply to all purchases
made where the banks of the consumer and retailer are within the
EEA.
In the vast majority of other circumstances surcharges are
capped at the cost to the retailer for processing the payment. The UK
Government took the decision to also include other payment methods
such as PayPal in the ban to further protect consumers.

Posted by
5654 posts

Financial Times on credit card surcharge ban in the EU:
https://www.ft.com/content/e1bdfc9a-f6f7-11e7-88f7-5465a6ce1a00

Claer Barrett JANUARY 12, 2018 6

A ban on charges for paying via credit or debit card comes into force
across the EU from Saturday, making it unlawful for retailers to
charge customers additional fees for paying on plastic.

It's not clear if the EU ban on card surcharges includes cash discounting. Perhaps our EU forum participants can help clarify legality the cash discounting of credit card sales.

Posted by
253 posts

Yes, I,too, would like to hear. It seems the ban is on have a credit card surcharge. It specifically does NOT mention giving a cash discount. Very interesting. And, of course, there is always Brexit to consider. What rules will the UK have to play by?

Posted by
253 posts

Emma, I concede your point. But, A: to get my anonymous cash, I will need to access ATMs which won't dispense me large bills of anything, but again, I would be dealing in pounds, not Euros. / B: if it is a really big fee I will have either prepaid or will use my fee-free credit card and C: I have to question whether or not it is my moral obligation to help the British government make sure every merchant pays their taxes. My obligation seems to me to be to pay my bill promptly and in full using whatever legal means are accepted by the merchant.

Posted by
74 posts

Following Steve's advice, I bring little cash with me. I pay most charges with a credit card that imposes no currency exchange fee (Amex or Chase Saphire) and obtain any needed cash in country at any bank ATM. I have a debit card from Schwab which refunds any bank fees. I keep only about $1,500 in that account to limit my exposure.
I am going to London next month and will follow that procedure. I have a handful of pounds from my last visit and if there is no bank ATM at Heathrow, I will exchange for about $50 just to see me through incidentals until I can find a bank. Incidentally (pun intended) you will have a hard time finding a place that does NOT take credit cards, so you will end up (as I have) bringing pounds or euros home with you.

Posted by
1128 posts

If you're gong to be only in central London, I highly doubt there is any place there with the 'discount for cash' I used a contactless Capital One card for 99% of my purchases there, no fees.

I'd get as little cash as possible and try to use it up before you leave. The UK changes their currency quite often, although most of the changes have already been completed, they've introduced a new 5 and 10 pound note as well as a new pound coin over the past couple of years.

I'd get 100 pounds or less from the ATM and plan on using it up the last day or so you're there, most likely it will just sit in your wallet.

Posted by
4528 posts

He was a real gent. Considered cab driving to be a profession, scrupulously honest, and heartedly disliked those who weren't. Sadly some less moral passengers took advantage of this and his general good nature, but in the end he shrugged them off.