How to Find Money You Hid from Yourself

Last week Fivecentnickel had a post on how to Avoid Lifestyle Inflation: Create an Artificial Sense of Scarcity. Basically, the idea is that you need to hide your money from yourself so you won’t spend it.

Out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t see the money sitting there every time you check your accounts, you won’t be constantly reminded of its presence, and you won’t be tempted to spend it.

Chicklet-currency This is a fairly common idea. The Automatic Millionaire series, for example, is based around it. But very little has been written, until now, on how to find that money again when you really need it.

For some people, the "hiding" of money is merely notional. They just open a so-called "savings" account at the same bank that has their checking account. But for many of us, that kind of hidden is not hidden enough. We need the money to be truly out of sight and mind. For us, the money must not be merely well hidden, but in a place we would never think to look.

Which presents problems when the time finally comes to spend it. If you are like me, you may have gone to great lengths to hide money from yourself and need some ideas on where to look for it.

Your 401(k) This is a popular place to stash money. If you read your paycheck carefully you may find an indication that a slice of your hard-earned money is going to this hidey-hole. You may also receive periodic statements in the mail about the account.

However, if you were really clever you might have arranged for these statements to be sent to another address. You might even have asked your company to doctor your pay stub so it appears that you are not saving anything. You should call your HR department and ask if this is what you did. But keep in mind that you may also have told them to lie to you if you ever asked about it, so be persistent. It may take several, maybe even a dozen, calls to find out if you really have money hidden there.

And don’t forget 401(k) plans at former employers.

A Bank Although primarily known as originators of sub-prime mortgages and as a conduit for tax dollars to reach Wall Street fat cats, these institutions are also popular places for storing money. The problem is that there are so very many of them and you are unlikely to have hidden money in a bank with which you normally do business. Start by finding the bank that would be the most inconvenient for you to use. Remember that it probably does not have branches in your area or state. Call that bank and ask if you have an account there. Keep in mind that you may have used another name, so ask if somebody matching your description has an account there.

Friends and Relatives Another popular tactic of money hiders is to give it to a close friend or a relative for safekeeping. If you did this, you almost certainly told them to deny that you gave them anything if you ever asked. So try to bluff them out of it. Call each one up and casually say "I need that money I gave you to keep for me."

Around the House For the traditionally minded, hiding money means a stash of cash someplace nobody would think to look. If you might be of that mind, a thorough search of your house is in order. Skip the sock drawer: that would be the first place that you would that think you would look. Try your spouse’s sock drawer instead. Look under floorboards, and behind large appliances such as the refrigerator and washer/dryer. You may also have hidden cash inside something, such as a cushion, a hollowed-out book, or one of your child’s toys. And don’t forget to look behind picture frames for a wall safe.

Members of your family may ask you what you are doing during this search. Saying that you are looking for the money you hid from yourself is pointless. Because they love you, they will follow your previous instructions and insist that there is no cash hidden in the house. Better to respond to their questions with something non-committal such as "I think you know what I am doing."

In many ways, finding that hidden money is almost as hard as the many years of artificial scarcity it took to hide it. But in the end, it is all worth it. How else can we normal Americans save for retirement?


  • By Kosmo @ The Casual Observer, August 17, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

    You might have buried it in the backyard, so grab a shovel and start digging! You probably buried it at least five deep, to make it hard to find.

  • By The Incidental Economist, August 17, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

    I like to hide it in the human capital of my children. Liquidity is a problem.

  • By CalLadyQED, August 17, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

    As a kid, I would some times lose money and than find it again (in a drawer, coin purse, jewelry box, etc.). It gave me such a buzz to find the cash and be suddenly rich (Whoa! I’d forgotten all about this 5-dollar bill. Now I’m wealthly!), that I tried to purposely hide and forget about money in order repeat the experience. After a while I realized that I was cheating myself out of being able to use that money whenever I wanted. It’s not worth it anymore.

  • By Rob Bennett, August 17, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

    You have a problem with irrationality, Frank.

    I can tell.

    My view is that irrationality serves a purpose. Without it not too many of us could make it through the day. I don’t intend this as a personal dig, but my view is that the most irrational thing of all is to deny our irrationality.

    I am irrational and proud of it. But I do aim to rein the irrationality in when it becomes especially dangerous. And I like to believe that accepting my human inclination to irrationality makes me capable of being more rational in an ultimate sense than those who cannot do this.

    But then I would, wouldn’t I?


  • By Geoff, August 17, 2009 @ 4:05 pm


  • By Jim, August 17, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

    Kosmo burying money in your own backyard is too obvious. You probably buried it in your neighbors yards. So people should dig holes in their neighbors yards instead. If you dig a hole in your own back yard you’ll probably just find your neighbors money.

  • By G. Jules, August 17, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

    Awesome! I can see I need to go quite a bit further in my quest to hide money from myself.

    …seriously, though, if you really *have* hidden money from yourself, you can probably find it at your state’s unclaimed property/unclaimed funds website. I haven’t found any of my money, but I did find some money that a cousin of mine didn’t know she’d hidden from herself.

    The Massachusetts page is at and googling “[your state] unclaimed property” should bring up a similar page for other states.

  • By gpr, August 17, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

    There’s simply no way you can hide money from yourself. You need help doing it. This is why my new company “Stop Me Before I Spend Again” is now looking for angel level funding, and early beta testers.

    We can carefully hide your money in places you will never find it. That’s a guarantee, by the way. If you can find it, we’ll give your money back.

  • By CJ, August 17, 2009 @ 5:48 pm

    Kosmo & Jim: I would think if you buried it in anybody’s yard it would grow into a money tree. And that would be a GOOD thing. Leave it there.

  • By Frank Curmudgeon, August 17, 2009 @ 5:53 pm

    gpr: If you had early beta testers, you wouldn’t need angel funding.

  • By kitty, August 17, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

    What about freezer? Somewhere at the bottom and close to the back. Then put a lot of various frozen food packages on top so that it’s extremely cold and unpleasant to get to it.

    Why not just try fall in love with money. Maybe buy shiny gold coins so that you can take them out and caress them as the “gold lady” from TV gold ads does. Then you don’t need to hide it, you’ll just find it so difficult to part with it that you’d never want to spend it.

    CJ – buried money is guaranteed to grow into a tree. Especially if you bury it in the Field of Miracles in the Country of Fools and say the right incantation. I can show you where it is. I read all about it in a Russian children’s book.

  • By gpr, August 18, 2009 @ 1:06 am

    gpr: If you had early beta testers, you wouldn’t need angel funding.

    Yeah, we had some cash flow problems. We had plenty of money but we lost it.

  • By Paul Kamp, August 18, 2009 @ 10:47 am

    @ Kosmo
    I like to help my friends and family find money they stashed in their walls. If they live in a house with common walls, like a townhouse or a condo, this is all the more effective; you can help their neighbors search too!

    Of course, you may not get to keep much:

  • By bex, August 18, 2009 @ 10:49 am

    There’s always 24 month CDs that automatically renew… the “loss aversion” of early withdraw is usually a good enough deterrent…

  • By Kosmo @ The Casual Observer, August 18, 2009 @ 11:15 am

    CJ said:
    “Kosmo & Jim: I would think if you buried it in anybody’s yard it would grow into a money tree. And that would be a GOOD thing. Leave it there.”

    Argh. That won’t work. How can I hide it from myself when it sprouts into a freaking TREE?

  • By Rick Francis, August 18, 2009 @ 11:22 am


    I found this post amusing, but Fivecentnickel’s strategy is valid because adding an additional barrier to an undesirable behavior like spending your savings is a great way to prevent that behavior.

    I suspect even you have some bouts of irrational behavior- eating too much of a favorite food, failing to exercise because of your mood? Maybe even spending more than you should at times? Why not recognize one’s weaknesses and take steps to moderate them?

    -Rick Francis

  • By Chapter 86, August 18, 2009 @ 8:07 pm

    True story: Looking for a place to hide her jewelry before going on vacation, my genius stepmother put it IN THE GARBAGE CAN in her kitchen.

    (I think you can guess what happened….)

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