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Cash Stuffing TikTok.jpg

What Is Cash Stuffing? The Online Money Saving Trend That's Turning Finances Into Aesthetics

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Social Media | August 16, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Social Media | August 16, 2023 |

Cash Stuffing TikTok.jpg

The almighty algorithm is constantly recommending me ways to save money. I’m forever besieged by videos of smarmy tech bros talking about the power of side hustles, online surveys, and cryptocurrency. It’s all pretty tiring, particularly when such content is nestled in-between endlessly inescapable ads for Shein and Temu. Call me old-fashioned but I doubt the sweaty dude with the slack-jawed grin and ‘Save Money Now!’ banner is going to get the job done. Yet this cycle led me to stumble upon a financial trend I couldn’t help but become instantly fascinated by.

Cash stuffing is the name given to a system of financial budgeting where you rely on physical money and allot it for various needs rather than relying on online banking or direct debits/standing orders. You get paid, you cash your cheque, then you divide it by your various monthly requirements: rent, bills, food, etc. This money is ‘stuffed’ into envelopes and used accordingly. Other envelopes can be used for savings purposes, often accompanied by goals cards or graphs to keep track of how much you’ve put away. If you’ve used up all the cash in your treats envelope, for example, you have to choose: do you move money away from another envelope or are you simply done with treats for that month?

When I think of people showing off their money online, I tend to swing towards eye-roll-worthy videos of flex culture, with pound-shop pseudo-rappers (usually white guys) holding up obviously fake bundles of bills like they’re a mobile phone. We’ve all seen clickbait ads bellowing about how you too can make cash fast, just like the very real person holding up what looks like Monopoly paper. So, seeing all of these women (and it is almost exclusively women) counting their bills, carefully doling it out, then packaging it in cute envelopes proved intriguing from the get-go.

Everything can be aestheticized online. Water can become your aesthetic. Doing your homework can be turned into a visual feast. Cleaning your home and organizing yourselves is as fancy as a night at the opera. So, why not paying your bills? Cash stuffing influencers love to make it look as pretty as possible. The typical video focuses on the well-manicured hands of our expert, sitting at a desk with their tools at the ready and a candle burning. They have adorable purses with calligraphic pockets and themed cards to help you achieve your goals (and it’s all available on their various Etsy stores, of course.) There’s a lot of dusty pinks, plenty of that ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ style of font. Some stuffers offer themed envelopes, like Disney characters or sticker sheets to jazz up your binders. Even their calculators are on theme. Add to that the ASMR qualities of paper notes rustling and coins falling into jars, and the process becomes curiously therapeutic as well as visually pleasant.

Cash stuffing seems somewhat detrimental to the current era of finance, where the vast majority of our bills and banking are done not in person but through banks. You don’t have to take your rent money out of your account and hand it to the landlord. That’s what the direct debit is for. Cash stuffing is definitely a throwback to an old-school version of economics. Yet therein lies the appeal. It’s tough to keep track of your money when everything is flying out of your account without you even noticing. For many, having it all in your hands, painfully real and easily disposed of, helps to rein in unruly spending.

Because, to put it bluntly, times are fucking tough. We’re in the midst of hard inflation and a cost-of-living crisis. Everything costs more, from rent to gas to food (seriously, the cost of dry spaghetti TREBLED at my local supermarket!) I don’t know a single person who hasn’t seen their day-to-day lives change because of this, regardless of their occupation or spending habits. I know I’ve had to seriously tighten my belt, which is no mean feat given that I’m a freelancer who works primarily with Americans so am beholden to the terror of the constantly fluctuating exchange rate. There’s no fun to be had in worrying about paying the bills. You can download all the apps in the world or watch Martin Lewis give you advice on cutting corners, but the crushing difficulties of saving at a time like this are unavoidable.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve found myself drawn to these cash-stuffing videos. Aside from the pristine visual appeal of them all, there’s something so tangible about them. There’s the cash in hand. Here is how it’s divvied up. It’s a lot harder to ignore how quickly your money disappears when you have it on your person and can count each note. This is the cold, precise method of being an adult, and even though it sucks, there are still ways to brighten up the process for yourself. It won’t solve everyone’s problems, not during times of massive inflation or union busting, but at least some people out there seem to have their shit together.

It remains to be seen how truly practical cash stuffing is for most people in the long term. Doing so means you lose the interest you get from the bank and it’s frankly a pain to get your paycheque, empty the account, then put a bunch of it back in for the rent. This trend is just the old ways revamped for a new generation, and there’s a reason we’ve evolved how we deal with our finances. Who feels safe with potentially thousands of dollars in their bag or home, particularly if you’re bragging about it on social media? I could see this system being helpful for young people trying to figure out basic adult stuff as they leave home, or for the rest of us on a smaller scale for mini goals. It just won’t be as pretty as the ones with the gold pockets and lit candles. I’m not sure a purse full of envelopes will help ease my financial concerns. Maybe the jar of pennies in my house will eventually pay off in a big way.