Why I Keep Cash Under My Mattress

It’s true. After all the financial advice I give out on this site, I keep a decent amount of cash “under my mattress” (actually, it’s in another secure place in my home, but it’s effectively the same thing). At first, this seems to fly right in the face of everything I preach on this site. Why isn’t this money at least earning 4.5% in a Capital One 360 savings account, if not earning a lot more in a mutual fund or something else? No, because this is a different kind of investment.

I keep a small pile of twenties in my home as my ultimate emergency fund. I keep this money on hand for the sole purpose of being available if I have no access to funds in any other way – in the event of an absence of electricity or some other essentials, a cash economy will dominate and I do not wish to risk being in that situation with no leverage to make sure my family has food, water, and protection.

Even though it’s not earning anything, I view this money as an investment. It’s an investment against the unexpected – situations where everything else has failed and I have no other options to turn to. Knowing that it is there provides a certain level of security that money sitting in a bank account somewhere can’t quite provide.

Is this necessary? Let’s step back to Labor Day 2005, when Hurricane Katrina basically wiped a major city off of the map in the United States. Let’s step back to the summer of 2003, when much of the northeastern United States blacked out, many areas for weeks. What about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 – I do live near the New Madrid fault line, after all. I’m only mentioning domestic disasters so far – what about the tsunami of 2004? The dozens of devastating earthquakes in recent years?

The fact is that such disasters happen, and quite often you have no way of knowing these things are coming. To not be prepared for them on some level is a poor choice, the type of choice that leaves people in situations of desperation, like those poor souls who inhabited the Superdome after Katrina.

I view the pile of bills under my mattress as an insurance policy against such a disaster, so that I can get my family the things that they need or at least get us to a place where we can get the things we need. If you live in a disaster prone area, there are home insurance policies that can prepare you for disaster. Is this the right thing for you? That’s a question you’ll have to ask yourself – it comes down to whether or not you feel that such preparation for a relatively slim possibility is worthwhile. Is it? Give it some thought today as you go through your activities – and put a few twenties under the mattress tonight if if feels right to you.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.