If you are lost in the woods, having “money” with you is not likely to be of much help in surviving. This is because in order for money to have any value at all, you have to have someone with something you want or need, who is available directly or by proxy, to accept the money and deliver the goods or services. If nobody is available, or they don’t want the money, or they don’t have anything you want or need, then the money is just paper and small metal disks. The paper might be useful for starting a fire or wiping your rear; the metal might serve as weights, but that is about it.
But, survival and emergency are wide terms. Your car breaking down could be an “emergency”, where having access to adequate funds may indeed make things go much easier.
What then, is “money”? Most commonly, money is small pieces of paper and/or metal which have a “perceived” value. That is, it has a unit (dollar, pound, euro, yen, peso, yuan, ruble, etc) which is thought to be equivalent to some portion of standard goods and services. This perceived value can, and often does, fluctuate, because it is a PERCEIVED value, not an INTRINSIC value. Intrinsic value would be if the money was based on, or made of, something which had an actual value. In the past, this was often gold and/or silver. In modern time, it might be the “worth” of the entity issuing the money. However, pretty much all “money” issued currently has no intrinsic value. This means that theoretically, all the money you have could become essentially worthless. Overcoming this is difficult, because the only realistic solution is to use an intrinsic currency, which if you can even find, might not be universally accepted. Or transition to a barter economy, and this may be more inconvenient than you are willing to accept until you have to in order to survive.
Even more interesting is “virtual” money. Because actual money has little protection against loss, destruction or theft, there are “money equivalents”. This is where you give money to an institution (often a “bank”), and they provide you with a more secure form of that amount of money. Most commonly, checks or debit cards (which you fill out the unit amount of up to the amount you have on deposit), cashier’s checks or money orders (for the amount of the deposit), or travelers checks (which come in standard values adding up to that amount). With the computer age, we also have “money” which is nothing more than a transfer from one account to another. E-check, PayPal, Direct Deposit, Bill Pay and transfers are examples. Finally, there is “money” you might not even have but are expected to have; most commonly, credit cards, which can be used “in person” or remotely.
So, for Every Day Carry (EDC), you will want to have some cash (paper and/or coins) adequate for your expected needs and some extra. In addition, you want a relatively safe way to cover large, unexpected expenses; usually some combination of check book, credit card and travelers checks. If you are going to be “out of town”, it might be wise to have an additional supply of cash and travelers checks, separate from your “normal” supply.
In a “survival kit”, worrying about money is probably not a high priority, as your EDC supply should be adequate. I might sew a few silver coins inconspicuously into a kit bag or clothing “just in case”, but not if it pushed the size, weight or cost of the kit past its design threshold.
Now in the case of disaster preparation (“prepping”), money takes on a whole new perspective. In theory, most “disasters” will, at least temporarily, disable the virtual money system. It may also significantly reduce the perceived value of the money. In a disaster, it may well be that you cannot get to any more hard money, or the hard money will suffer a substantial (or complete) loss of value, or what you need may not be available for money. Thus one of the primary goals of the “prepper” should be to address these potential problems.
Possible ways to overcome disaster-related money problems include:
– Having a supply of emergency cash on hand (paper and coins, mostly small denominations). This will cover the period of time between when getting cash is restricted and when stuff becomes more important than money. This stash should be kept in a concealed, access controlled, theft and fire resistant container, because it is at risk from theft and fire, as well as pilferage and “convenience” use.
– Have enough stuff that you don’t need anything else, and so have no NEED for money
– Having extra of stuff which has a long shelf life and is likely to be in high demand/short supply. A barter economy is highly likely. It is possible that ammunition could become a defacto currency due to its relative standardization.
– Having skills and knowledge which will be critical in a regressed (no electricity, limited transportation, no central supply or control) society. Not only will YOU benefit from the skills, but they can be bartered to others for goods or services you need.
– If practical, and after satisfying the above options, consider a bit of precious metals. This generally means “coins”. These have the advantage of being relatively hard to “fake”, and having a “known” content, so are easier for both buyer and seller to value. Smaller is usually better than bigger; a 1 oz gold coin may be nice to have, but what are you going to buy with it? If gold is your thing, try for 1/10th ounce up to 1/4 ounce bullion coins, or actual gold currency containing 1/4 ounce or less. Of course, when I’ve looked recently, the “premium” on the small gold coins is outrageous. That may not be a problem if things fall apart (gold as insurance), but if by some miracle they don’t, and you go to sell your gold (gold as an investment), that high premium may turn it into a loss, or more of a loss. Keep in mind, “change” in a precious metal transaction is unlikely, so it is best concentrate on silver first. Pre-64 American coins are a good choice, as are a few 1oz bullion coins. Keep this in perspective; it is nice to have some currency which historically has always kept its value as insurance against governmental money becoming essentially valueless. Remember though, if somebody does not have enough of something THEY need, what are the odds that they will sell it at any price? They are more likely to keep it or perhaps trade it for something they need more.