Pop culture is a curious thing. Sometimes we question certain trends or behaviors, and other times we don’t think twice – assuming there’s a logical reason behind the phenomenon.
Here, we’re exploring one of the great American zeitgeists: Why is hiding money in a mattress so commonly referenced? You’ve seen it in movies, in cartoons or maybe you’ve even seen your grandparents do it in real life. However, it raises some questions:
- Why did people do it?
- Is it still practiced?
- Why not just put money in a safe? Or a bank?
We’ll dive into these questions and more as we look into the details behind this unique concept.
Why Do People Put Money Under Their Mattress?
You’ve likely heard or seen references to people hoarding large sums of money under their mattress. Well, where did this start? Historical references explaining exactly how the bed became the de-facto place for people to hide their cold, hard cash are limited.
One possibility is that people started hoarding money during the Great Depression. During this era, there were lots of bank runs that created a need for cash storage in the home. The widespread poverty during the 1930s meant that safes were no longer affordable for the majority and, as a result, literally sleeping on top of your savings became one of the safest bets in lieu of something with a lock.
The Great Depression brought along with it a deep distrust1 of financial institutions across the globe. Following the stock market crash of 1929, Americans found themselves afraid of what those who held their money might do with it. Instead of leaving their financial futures to the bankers, some engaged in what became known as a bank run.
What’s a Bank Run?
The term refers to what customers would do when they feared that a bank or financial institution may not have enough cash to pay back their deposits. They rushed to a branch to withdraw all of their funds before they could be lost. The problem is that banks usually kept very little in actual cash on-location at the time.
While these bank runs typically started as a result of baseless panic, the droves of customers demanding their cash could force the bank to sell off assets at below-market prices2. This resulted in the banks closing and leaving the customers still invested in the bank.
Stories of those shafted by banks and their savings gone further contributed to panic and more mass withdrawals of funds. In fact, the famous line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” is a direct reference3 to the very real dangers of a mass panic during the times. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy that left many destitute and penniless.
In the end, many Americans felt safer with their cash in their own possession, regardless of whether that was a proper decision to make.
The Great Depression brought with it startling decreases in wages and purchasing power4. As financial stability plummeted, attendance for breadlines, soup kitchens, and funerals for suicide victims rose5.
When someone only has $10 to their name, it doesn’t make sense to pay $6 for something like a safe. Therefore, it was likely necessary to find a place to store funds that required no expenditure, something that many, if not all, had in their homes.
Therefore, it was likely necessary to find a place to store funds that required no expenditure, something that many, if not all, had in their homes.
A Brief History of the Mattress Safe
So, you have a few dollars you need to keep in the homestead. You can’t afford a safe, and you may not have any handy-dandy false walls or floors. Where do you put the cash? A mattress.
Innerspring mattresses and box springs appear to have been the defining sleep furniture at the time. Sure, there were other places to hide cash, but stuffing it into a box spring was an attractive idea. It’s fairly difficult to break into a house in the middle of the night and search under a mattress for cash when there are people on top of it.
Other Creative Places Homeowners Hid Their Money
- The teapot: My mother told me about this one. A child of parents who survived the Great Depression, she was no stranger to finding money in odd corners of the home. The teapot, according to her, was a familial favorite for a fire-proof method of money storage.
- The wall: The space behind your walls has also found use as an improvised piggy bank. In 2021, a plumber discovered $600,000 in cash and checks6 in the wall of televangelist Joel Osteen’s home.
- The garage: As it turns out, the garage can also act as a secure and conveniently cluttered place to store your cash. County officials in Carson City Nevada found an estimated 7 million dollars7 in gold coins, many of which were wrapped in foil and stored in various boxes, in a deceased man’s garage in 2012.
- The freezer: In a 2012 survey8, 27 percent of Americans who stored cash at home put their money in the freezer, bringing new meaning to the term “frozen assets.”
- Inside a sock: In that same 2012 survey, the second most popular option for cash storage was putting money in a sock, with 19 percent of respondents picking that location.8
- In the drawer: In 2014, a 10-year-old boy found as much as $10,000 in his Kansas City hotel room drawer9. Though he initially turned in the money, ABC News reported that he was able to keep the money after no one came forward to claim it.
- The cookie jar: Another Depression-era holdover and favorite of my grandparents, the cookie jar remains one of the most popular piggy banks today. Around one in 10 people10 who keep cash at home store it in the cookie jar.
- The floor: Under the floor is a relatively common location to secure your valuables. In fact, a self-described treasure hunter found $46,000 hiding beneath the floorboards11 of a Massachusetts home.
- Books: A Massachusetts man found $20,00012 in an old book at a second-hand seller and, probably after having a small heart attack, decided to do the right thing and try to track down the rightful owner. Judging by the fact that this book somehow found its way into a used bookstore, it might actually be too good of a hiding place.
Do People Still Hide Their Money?
As it turns out, people are still hiding their money at home long after the time of the Great Depression.
A 2015 survey13 found that 53 percent of people who stored their savings in cash said they planned to put that money in a “secret location at home.” Also, as mentioned above, a 2012 survey found that 27 percent of Americans hid money away in their freezer, while 19 percent put their money in socks. The third most popular option was under the mattress.8
So, even now, why would people not just store their money in a bank? For some, they may just prefer to visibly see their money. However, others may be more distrustful of banks following the 2008 recession. Though these are just some hypotheses, the surveys indicate that stashing cash, including under the mattress, is still a common practice.
Shop Our Picks: Best Mattress 2024
Even though people may still opt to hide their money at home, should you do it?
Keeping a few bucks on hand can be justified, but your home doesn’t have the same security as a bank vault. That said, if you are going to keep hiding your money under your mattress, at least make sure it’s a good one.
Growing up in the City That Never Sleeps, she learned the hard way how important a good night of rest really is. She’s made it her mission to help others realize the same. On any given day, you’ll find Alesandra in our Mattress Lab testing the latest mattress models, interviewing specialists on the importance of sleep, or curating the most helpful content for our readers. Alesandra’s been featured in Business Insider, USA Today, MarketWatch, Elite Daily and the NY Post for her perspectives on sleep health.
Education & Credentials
- Certified Sleep Science Coach
- “Losing Trust In Banks”. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Webpage accessed February 12, 2024.
- Kaufman, George G. “Bank Runs”. Econlib. Webpage accessed February 12, 2024.
- “Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”: FDR’s First Inaugural Address”. George Mason University. Webpage accessed February 12, 2024.
- “Great Depression”. History. Webpage accessed February 12, 2024.
- Tapia Granadosa, José A., Diez Roux, Ana V. “Life and death during the Great Depression”. National Library of Medicine. 2009.
- Lenthang, Marlene. “Plumber finds cash, checks behind loose toilet in wall at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church”. NBC News. 2021.
- Ng, Christina. “$7 Million in Gold Discovered in Dead Man’s Home”. ABC News. 2012.
- “Forget the Mattress! More than One in Four Americans “Freeze” Their Assets”. Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. 2012.
- “Boy Can Keep Unclaimed $10K Found in Hotel Drawer”. ABC News. 2014.
- Grant, Kelli. “Under a mattress, in the freezer: Why so many are hiding cash”. CNBC. 2015.
- “Treasure hunter finds $46,000 hidden under floorboards”. CNN. Webpage accessed February 12, 2024.
- “Marlborough Man Finds $20,000 In Recycled Book”. CBS News. 2012.
- “Millennials Make 2015 the Year of the Milestone”. Business Wire. Webpage accessed February 12, 2024.