Your Disaster Fund and the Best Places to Hide Money in Your Home

Most people who have emergency and rainy day funds use banks to keep their cash safe. However, it’s also wise to keep a home-based readily-accessible disaster fund in the event a situation arises that makes it impossible to withdraw the cash from those accounts — especially if merchants become, for whatever reason, unable or unwilling to conduct credit card transactions too.

The trick is in finding the perfect secret place for hiding your cash from burglars and, sadly, even dishonest friends or relatives.

Of course, some places are more secure than others. For example, workmen fixing a broken water pipe in an El Paso, Texas home last year were more than a bit surprised to find almost $1 million stashed inside a wall.

And while nobody needs a million bucks to tide them over in the event of a local disaster, everybody should have enough cash on hand to cover at least a week or two of living expenses.

Burying your cash outside is never recommended because it’s not only easier to forget exactly where you buried it, but it’s also prone to decomposition over time.

And although it can be an obvious target for burglars, inside the house you can always “hide” your money in a fire-resistant safe along with your other important papers and documents.

But what if you’re looking to be a bit more clever? Those safes are fairly easy to find and, unless they’re bolted to the floor, the smaller ones can often be carried off with minimal effort.

A few years ago my pal, the great Linsey Knerl, proposed several good — and not so good — unconventional locations to stash your cash.   Some of the better ones included:

  • Fake return air vents.
  • Fake drains.
  • Fake electrical outlets.
  • An empty box of frozen food.

I particularly like the idea of hiding money in the freezer because it reduces the risk of losing your disaster fund in a fire, but if you’re not impressed with any of those, there are other options.

A website called Brickhouse Security offers a panoply of products that allow you to hide your money in plain sight of would-be thieves including safes that look like cans of soda and shaving cream, jars of peanut butter, hollowed-out books and CD cases, landscape rocks, sprinkler heads and even scented candles.

No matter where you keep your disaster fund, just make sure it is made up of mostly small bills because merchants may be unable to make change in a crisis situation; the majority of my fund consists of $5 and $1 bills.

Now I know what the cynics out there are thinking: Why bother? A determined thief is going to find your money anyway!

True; but that logic still doesn’t justify making their “job” easier for them. I mean, if that’s how you really feel, why bother putting locks on your doors?

Besides, I’m not advocating that anyone should be hiding their entire life savings at home — just enough cash to get through a natural disaster or other adverse situations where, say, the power is out for a relatively long period of time.

Anyway, if you’ve got a favorite hiding place for your disaster fund, I’d love to hear about them.

Then again, I guess the burglars would too. Never mind.

Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar



Comments

  1. 1

    Allyn says

    Living on the Gulf Coast as we do, hurricanes are a very real threat every year and a brand new hurricane season kicks off in a couple of days. Planning for the possibility that I might not have access to bank funds and credit card terminals not working for days (or weeks) is a matter of course in an area where folks measure time in terms of ‘before Katrina’ and ‘since Katrina’. This whole area looked like a war-torn third world country for weeks after Katrina so we plan for living without basic services.

    My suggestion for hiding money in the house is to not put it all in one place. If a burglar finds one of the stash spots, he might be happy enough to stop looking or not be clever enough to find all the hiding spots and so maybe he won’t get away with all of the cash. I’ve used an empty frozen-food box, fake electrical outlets (which you can cobble together yourself — no need to buy a pre-made fake outlet), a Ziploc bag taped to the underside of the toilet tank lid, a vitamin bottle in the medicine cabinet, CD/DVD cases, in a Ziploc bag taped to the inside of a working air vent, and in a decorative jar on top of the bookcase labeled “Ashes of Ex-Husbands.” I also have a wall safe that looks like a small electrical panel and, of course, the fire-proof box. We live very modestly, so I don’t figure people would think we have much money hidden in the house. I’m hoping a burglar will be happy finding the money in the jar and the firebox that he won’t keep looking.

    • 2

      Kelly A. says

      All good suggestions except I disagree with taping anything to the underside of the toilet tank lid. Mine were actually pulled off and thrown aside during a burglary. The thieves were looking for exactly what you described. I like the fake drain suggestion in Len’s post. As for the fake electrical box, I would think plugging in an unused lamp might make it seem even more real. It’s not like burglars would turn the lamp on and even if they did and it didn’t work, they’d probably assume the bulb was burned out, not that the outlet was fake. Anyway, this is my third post so I’m being far too over-eager. Apologies, but this happened to me so it is something I think about.

      • 3

        Allyn says

        Kelly, I agree that the toilet tank hiding place (or any of the hiding places, really) can be discovered by a burglar. If the burglar thinks he is so clever that he found the toilet tank hiding place, maybe he won’t keep looking. Some of the hiding spots he’ll find and some he won’t.

        I really don’t have room for a decorative, non-functioning lamp. Instead of a fake electrical outlet, let’s update that idea and make it a fake phone jack or a fake Ethernet or cable jack plate.

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      Allyn, I love the idea of keeping a small fairly easy-to-find, diversionary, sacrificial stash! I think the logic is sound … Every second a burglar spends on the premises only increases the odds of him being caught, so once the thief gets something, he is probably more likely to hightail it out of there.

  2. 5

    nansuelee says

    Ours is in our gun safe. It is 5 feet tall so can not be carried off. Not all the guns are in the safe!

  3. 7

    says

    I agree with Allyn that you should spread the money around the house in different hiding spots. If a thief found some in an obvious place like your sock drawer, he might think that was your entire stash and leave without finding anything else.

    • 8

      Kelly A. says

      This was something an insurance adjuster suggested to me after my home was burglarized! I forgot to mention this in my post below. If you stick a hundred or two inside an envelope and hide it beneath your socks or underwear, burglars will surely find it and will probably stop tearing the rest of your house up looking for more. Yeah, it’s basically a ‘gift’ to thieves but believe me, the damage you may prevent if you stop them from tearing up the rest of your home would have cost you a lot more than one or two hundred bucks.

  4. 9

    jan says

    I have an old pickle spice can stored with all my spices. Also use the freezer and refrigerator. Don’t store all in one place.

      • 12

        Jessica says

        My sister’s dorm room was broken into and her piggy bank busted but all the thief would have gotten was about $2.10 in pennies nothing else was stolen not even her jewelry or TV guess they got spooked, but still her pretty bank was busted up good.

  5. 13

    Kelly A. says

    My home was burglarized about 15 years ago while I was on vacation. It was a mess. All desk and dresser drawers were pulled out and overturned, and all the food in the cupboards and refrigerators was dumped out onto the floors. For example, even the oatmeal canister had been opened and dumped out. I asked the claims adjuster why in the world would anyone do this, and the obvious answer was, of course, that the burglars were looking for hidden cash. The food canisters were obvious but one thing I hadn’t thought of were the overturned drawers. They weren’t just dumping out the contents, they were looking for envelopes taped to the underside of each drawer. The insurance man said that has become a common trick of homeowners and that burglars know this.

    I asked where the best place would be to hide cash and he gave me a few ideas. If you have children, hide it inside one of the toys they never play with and stick it way back on a closet shelf or buried inside a toy box. Kids usually have a lot of toys and burglars wouldn’t have time to go through all of them, plus parents don’t trust children with money so burglars know parents would rarely hide cash in a child’s room.

    Another option was if you have a particularly messy closet or junk room, stick it inside something worthless inside of a box buried beneath a mess. You can also use a fake book placed on a shelf with a bunch of others. The trick there is to make sure it has some sort of mechanism that keeps it closed. Burglars are very likely to pull out all the books en masse because people tend to slip the odd hundred dollar bill into books here and there. If the fake book is pulled out and doesn’t have a latching mechanism (a non-obvious one), its contents will go fluttering onto the floor when it’s pulled out.

    The last caveat is that no matter what, you must tell someone you trust where you’ve hidden your cash. We’ve all heard stories of cash and valuables found during home remodels or inside of things purchased at yard sales. You don’t want your next of kin donating your stash to Goodwill because it was inside of some worthless tchotchke.

    • 14

      Len Penzo says

      Somebody once broke into an old pickup truck I used to own and stole my car radio. And while I felt angry and violated, I am certain that it must be 100 times worse when somebody breaks into your home, Kelly.

      Those are some terrific tips your insurance agent gave you.

      Thanks for taking the time to share them with everyone.

  6. 15

    says

    Len, I enjoy your blog so much — but generally just lurk. Great job.

    Tuesday Morning has been selling stationery sets that look just like a book — only it’s hollowed out, with notes inside. They’re beautiful, and reasonably priced — buy the set, use the notes, and you’ve got a book for hiding stuff that looks amazingly real. (It fits shut, too, so nothing would spill out if it were tossed on the floor.)
    I have two or three of these now…I do think your other posters (and you) are right in saying that you should have two or three stashes. If you do that, though, tell your family where they are! When my mother-in-law died, we found little caches all over, including literally under the mattress. I am still wondering if we found everything.

    • 16

      Len Penzo says

      Cindy, thank you so much for kind words and taking a moment to comment. It’s always a treat for me to hear from longer-time readers who rarely or never comment.

      And I agree; it makes sense to tell at least one other person where your cache (or multiple caches) is hidden.

  7. 17

    Charlie Brown says

    My flat was burglarized about a month ago and since I didnt had any money stashed it was evident that burglars tried to find hidden places, making a big mess. The only places they didnt touch were the bathroom and the kitchen… so those are the places I would hide my money first.

    • 18

      Len Penzo says

      If I were a burglar I’d probably stay away from people’s bathrooms too. The kitchen … that’s another story!

    • 19

      Alex says

      We don’t keep cash around either. (at least not until about 2 weeks ago) I read yesterday that one should leave money where it can be found to prevent damage to your property. I don’t know about that. But if it prevents the thief from causing more damage then what he gets in cash I guess I’m ok with that……. but then its not like when the see our electronics they will mind all that much if they don’t find cash.

  8. 20

    says

    not to be a spoil sport or anything but this notion of “being prepared” seems to be a very popular issue around the web these days and i don’t mean just the financial sites. there seems to be a lot of sites with “survival tutorials” of all kinds.

    i wonder how much that says about the confidence we have for the future? anyone want to comment?

    • 21

      Len Penzo says

      I’ve definitely seen a lot more survivalist stories on the Internet — and series on the television too.

      And I think you’re spot on, Griper.

    • 22

      nansuelee says

      With National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers show there is even more preparedness information out there. I think the folks on the show are pretty extreme but do enjoy watching it. There are a lot of good ideas that anyone can use to be better prepared for natural desasters and such. In the midwest you just never know when a tordado is going to flatten an area and have some cash and food stores available is a good idea. Help will come but in the meantime, you can take care of your self for a few day.

  9. 23

    says

    My in-laws were burglarized twice in their lives. The one place that was always safe was the actual floor safe they had built into their house’s actual foundation. It’s only accessible if you know where to look under their carpet and then you need the combo. I actually was hoping to do this in our next house, but it’s an extra cost we aren’t splurging on.

    • 24

      Len Penzo says

      When it comes to safe, secure, hidden caches, I think a floor safe is the gold-standard!

      How much do they cost to put in?

      • 25

        says

        It depends on the safe and the builder. We looked into a water and fire proof model and it would have been more than $1000 altogether…

  10. 26

    Oscar says

    Why bother with this at all? When was the last run on an American bank? Oh yeah, like 80 years ago. How much money have people lost to theft, fire, decay, and inflation in all those years by bringing their money home on the fear that a bank run would leave them unable to get to it? I don’t have numbers but I’m guessing the odds of you getting robbed are millions of times higher than enduring a bank run.

    No thanks, I’ll leave the fearmongering to lesser minds.

    • 27

      says

      When the power went out in Southern California last year, all of the gas stations and groceries stores closed. The ATMs at the banks didn’t work. We went to our local corner maket and bought some beer and food with cash, since their debit machines were down. Then, we had a lights-out barbeque with the neighbors.

      It’s always good to have some cash around.

    • 30

      Allyn says

      People don’t stash money in case there’s a run on the banks. We stash money for emergencies when access to our funds is not possible.

      Hurricane Katrina was in 2005. If you watched the accounts of the hurricane’s aftermath on the news as the water in New Orleans slowly rose and flooded the city, you really have no idea what Katrina actually did to the Gulf Coast. Katrina didn’t hit New Orleans; Katrina missed New Orlenas. The hurricane hit the coast 100 miles east of New Orleans. The news media largely ignored the real devastation the hurricane caused. The destruction was more like what we saw from the tsunami that hit Japan last year. Katrina brought a 28-foot high wall of water surging inland along the Gulf Coast, breaking up everything in its path and flooding the area up to 12 miles inland. Then the receding water washed everything out into the Gulf of Mexico. It looked just like the videos from the Japanese tsunami except the tsunami happened on a bright, sunny day and Katrina’s wall of water was pushed by 100+mph winds. We didn’t have electricity for 11 days. (That’s not a typo. It was eleven days.) The area looked like a third-world, war-torn country. Whole neighborhoods were slabbed. (‘Slabbed’ means everything was gone except the concrete foundation slabs.) Stores like Home Depot and Lowes were the first to reopen, but they had no electricity to run cash registers. Their buildings were unsafe to occupy so they set up in the parking lots, selling building supplies and emergency supplies in cash-only transactions. The banks were closed, no ATMS were functioning, and there was no Internet so there was no way to get your hands on money from your bank accounts.

      Think about surviving for two weeks with no access to your bank, you can’t use your credit or debit cards, no job (yes, you had a job, but the building is gone now so there’s no place for you to work), and the only way to get basic survival needs is to have cash in hand. Katrina is an extreme example but folks everyday have to be prepared for hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other unexpected events that could knock out electricity for days.

      • 31

        Len Penzo says

        Well said, Allyn.

        Here in Southern California, my biggest concern is a devastating earthquake.

        But I can think of other possibilities that could leave us without power — or other reasons that would require me to have cash on hand — for as long as a week or more too.

  11. 32

    says

    Great read.. I don’t think I would be able to keep money in the house except for spare change. My gran used to hide money in her house all the time, so she said. I am too worried about if we get burglarized or if the house burns down. Try telling the insurance company you kept 5k in the freezer and they will laugh. I think for now my money will stay in the bank and that in itself will help me sleep better at night. Cheers Mr.CBB

    • 33

      Len Penzo says

      You can always get a rider for your home owner’s insurance policy if you are worried about losing your disaster fund to a burglar or other threat.

      Personally, the amount of cash I keep at risk is small enough that I don’t worry about it.

  12. 34

    says

    I never really thought about this. Definitely a great point though. I would be in major trouble if this happened because I keep little cash. I guess I could use my massive jar of change but I think people would get a bit impatient.

  13. 36

    Grunt says

    This is my first time post. I love reading your stuff, Len.

    I thought of this the other day. If I were a owner of an exotic animal (like a snake), I’d keep the cash in it’s terrarium. In some kind of small fireproof inconspicuous box. I think a lot of people including burglars and dishonest types won’t bother with a snake or exotic pet. (fear of the unknown…”is it poisonous”?) They wanna get the fast, easy stuff and get out.

    Counter to that, I agree with a post above that it’s kind of foolish to keep a lot of money on hand at home. IF you have to keep valuables at home…maybe letting the snake play security guard is a crazy idea that would work!

  14. 37

    says

    If a thief is able to find a well-hidden cash stash inside a ceiling panel or a fake air vent, he deserves to keep it!

    I’ve actually heard “experts” say to hide some decoy cash and jewelry out in the open, making a thief think he got it all. Not sure if that would work.

    Burying it in the back yard still works very well.

  15. 38

    Lib says

    Many years back I was working with at risk youth in a local agency. Some were break and enter kids, and I was told by them to hide my valuables in the bathroom. “We never do bathrooms, except maybe the medicine cabinet for drugs”, they said. Straight from the horse’s mouth!

    • 39

      Alex says

      i love this because A post I read earlier today recommended keeping your cash in a vitamin bottle in the medicine cabinet.. my first thought was.. and what if the robber just empties the entire content of the cabinet into his bag.

  16. 41

    ismail says

    i use an oil book to keep my money,but thanks i now have some other ideas to keep the same thanks.

  17. 42

    Jessie says

    When I travel, I always keep an envelope of cash hidden in the trunk of my car in case my purse is lost or stolen. That way I’ll always have enough money for gas to get home. If you’re worried about keeping money in the house, why not hide it in your car? The car is probably with you somewhere while the thief is going through your house anyway.

  18. 43

    says

    These days with interest rates where they are, the money stashed in the home is no longer a problem. I used to feel guilty stashing cash when savings accounts had 4.5% returns, but at .2%? Who cares? Put it under the mattress!

  19. 45

    SherryH says

    These are some great ideas. We don’t keep a cash stash, but I’d like to. I love the idea of small bills – had not thought about that!

    Another great reason to have one: One year when we were visiting my family out of state, a bad blizzard was predicted to move over the area. Mom suggested we start for home, rather than end up pinned down and unable to leave for several days. When we still hesitated (I can’t remember why – I think we were waiting for a paycheck that was going to be direct deposited), she pulled out a small stash that gave us enough for gas, food, and a motel room.

    Oh, and another, slightly silly one: Now that my teenager is able to drive, it’s lovely to be able to pull out some cash and tell him, “I could really use X, Y and Z. A small stash would keep me from running out of cash and having to run my errands myself!

  20. 46

    says

    I have not been a victim of theft yet, but certainly like the idea having access to cash in an emergency. Love the idea of freezing some in a food container. Lots of great ideas here! Thanks!

  21. 47

    Edward says

    …In a waterproof bag behind a screwed-in panel on the waterheater and the isulation beneath. Not many theives carry a screwdriver or would decide to take apart a waterheater. Only thing you have to remember is when the waterheater breaks down, don’t let the repairmen replace it before you retrieve your stash.

  22. 48

    john says

    This article reminds me of an episode of burn notice. The main character hides some document or file by cutting a slot in the door jamb, and then screwing hinges over the slot. You probably couldn’t hide much there, but no one would ever find it. Something like that but larger would be pretty handy.

  23. 49

    Pierre Santoro says

    Won’t stashing your cash in a freezer degrade the quality of paper bills after you take it out from it and let it melt – leading to severe degradation due to ice melting, which can “de-value” your money? Freezer is not so clever idea for me.
    Oh wait, maybe you can stash your cash in a tight plastic ziplock and then put it in the freezer. :)

  24. 50

    Guy says

    I mean if you are really worried I’d buy silver and gold and stash that, it will keep value better, last longer, and in case of something really bad will be a much better currency…

  25. 51

    Alex says

    I have never kept money in my dresser drawers. Recently i read that it is a good idea to start if you do not because that is the first place a burglar will look and he will spend less time in your home. I don’t know about the rest of you, but to me that seems like poor logic. I really wonder if he will take the time to look for more cash. Id like to get a small box or even a shoe box to put under the bed labeled important documents.. (assuming its true the would take that, and not keep looking) And keep fake documents in it.

    But on second thought why keep stuff where they are going to look.. we had a rash of burglaries in town here over 2 weeks 10 houses where hit, but nothing major was taken from any of the homes.

    I also wanted to mention that burglars check the freezer, look for fake paneling, hollow floor, and some even tare outlets of the wall.

  26. 52

    Jose Pantillo says

    from now on i will ask to use the bathroom whenever I am in someone’s home, then I will check under the toilet tank lid

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