Old habits die hard during times of difficulty. When money gets tight it’s easy to start looking like your grandma or great grandma, stuffing cash into their bra—or under their mattresses. Just look at Silicon Valley Bank, which reads like a modern version of a bank run from a book like “Mary Poppins,” or in real life, the Great Depression. The TikTok version of handling and hoarding money has dropped, and it’s known as cash stuffing.
Of course, the TikTok version is a bit more aestheticized and polished than previous generations’ takes on budgeting. Trending videos with up to 200,000 likes usually show a pair of hands sorting wads of cash into various envelopes that all have different budgeting purposes: including gas, groceries, and eating out. The idea of the activity—making budgeting money more of a tangible thing—is that people will stop their spending once they reach the allotted limit of cash in each envelope. Because you can see yourself draining the cash, unlike a credit card, it might be easier to stick to your guns.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it likely is. Despite the addition of JOANN’s decorative paper, cash stuffing isn’t a new trick for helping people manage their personal finances. It’s really an old-fashioned hack that recalls financial panics of the past hundred years (or longer): Money is so treacherous in this economy that simply looking at the cash you have can freeze your spending a little bit. Looking under the covers of this retro financial planning trend reveals just how much the economy is stressing out people these days.
An account with more than 13,000 followers known as @momprenur, a self-described 25-year-old “first time mama” in the Bay Area, has made a platform off her ASMR-type cash-stuffing videos. Budgeting becomes a fun, calming thing to watch, as she quickly sorts through her bills and clicks her nails. Comments praise the crispness of her money and her cute wallet, while others ask for orders of sorting binders that she sells. Some have made a business off this kind of video, as users like 31-year-old Jasmine Taylor, who runs @baddiesandbudgets, a cash stuffing account with almost 700,000 followers and an associated business with four employees, selling wallets and money courses. Taylor’s business is on track to rake in $1 million this year, she told CNBC.
Other users gamify the experience, making holding themselves to the experience a challenge. It’s all part of the larger trend of social media videos about “hacking finances,” as a way to make finances more approachable. It might be worth being cautious about these posts, as a survey from Bankrate last summer found that many younger social media users report feeling negatively about their financial situation because of other people’s content.
While some of this might be about buying a cute keychain for a wallet, there’s a deeper paranoia that cash stuffing speaks to. Leaning on old habits is a sign of greater mistrust in banks following some of the largest banking collapses in American history, including that of Silicon Valley Bank, with many experts warning of a larger and long-lasting crisis. “The regional banking system is at risk,” Bill Ackman, founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, tweeted in May. “We are running out of time to fix this problem.” More recently, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, whose bank emerged bigger and stronger by acquiring the failed First Republic Bank and all of its deposits, called on the government to “finish” the banking crisis. And Americans are wary of banks, with an AP poll finding just 10% having high confidence after SVB’s implosion, down from 22% in 2020.
Though it’s not just about letting money sit there, as Katie Schrock responds to comments on a cash stuffing video saying that she still deposits her cash, “this is just something fun I challenged myself to do,” she says. “I deposit it every 26 weeks.”
Whether consumers belong to Chase or PNC, Americans started off this year with a largely pessimistic outlook on their financial situation, according to a Gallup survey. Even as inflation ebbs, the high cost of living and a general restlessness is enough to make everyone turn back the clock to old ways of envelope stuffing.
Savings APYs are hitting record highs, but most Americans are leaving money on the table. See the best high-yield savings accounts and CD rates from Fortune Recommends.