Cash Stuffing Is Going Viral on TikTok, But Does It Actually Make Sense for Your Finances?

what is cash stuffing - woman holds envelope of $100 bills
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Cash stuffing is taking over TikTok. The tag has nearly 820 million views, all clamoring for the ASMR videos of cash flying through hands in a whisper, safely and neatly tucked into corresponding (and incredibly cute) budget binders. There’s no denying it: Gen Z has made the act of saving money an aesthetic. But what is cash stuffing, and is it actually a good financial habit? To find out, we turned to Priya Malani, founder and CEO of Stash Wealth. Here’s what you need to know about the TikTok money trend before diving in.  

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Meet the Expert

What Is Cash Stuffing? 

Cash stuffing is none other than the envelope system with Gen Z flair. As explained by money guru Dave Ramsey, the envelope system is a budgeting tool that has you allocating cash into different buckets (by way of designated envelopes) as a strategy to control monthly spending. Cash stuffing is the identical concept, but swap ten-cent bank envelopes for personalized binders, calligraphy-labeled pouches and cash holders à la Monopoly. Videos show users filing away funds for everything from groceries and gas to restaurants, beauty, vacations and emergencies. The system appears fun, but in reality can be time-consuming—not to mention overwhelming. Perusing the Amazon storefront of one influencer yielded no fewer than 14 items needed to start cash stuffing. So what’s the draw? 

"The ASMR of the TikTok videos. Something about seeing cash and hearing someone shuffle through it is therapeutic,” Malani explains. “If we want to get philosophical for a moment, in a time with so many insane headlines (Crypto crashes, market pullbacks, looming recession, the list goes on), it makes sense that people are looking for a little more control. A dollar bill you hold in your hand provides that comfort, even if holding cash in your hands can be detrimental to your goals. People are craving stability at a time when headlines read as anything but.” 

The Drawback to Cash Stuffing 

We get it. Cash stuffing is appealing because it makes your money tangible. Self-control is always easier to harness when you see a physical pile of cash beginning to dwindle. Paying by card just doesn’t pack the same gut punch. However, before you commit to this system, know that it might not be the most efficient way to hit your financial goals.  

“Similar to low-rise jeans and jelly shoes, cash stuffing is not “new”—but a resurfacing of a trend that probably should have died a while ago,” Malani asserts. Why? Inflation. “By keeping your money in cash, you’re essentially losing value on that dollar (the exact thing you’re trying to avoid). There are better methodologies—especially with the emergence of the ‘buckets’ concept available from most high-yield online savings accounts.” 

How to Start Saving  

Using the Cash-Stuffing System 

Everyone needs to start somewhere, and if you think that you need the physical money in front of you to help you reign in your budget, go for it. If anything, it can help you build a healthy habit of discipline that you can then transfer to an online setting. Malani advises, though, that you only cash stuff for certain expenses, such as planned purchases and bills in the next month or two. Otherwise, she recommends applying the concept digitally instead.  

Using the Cash-Stuffing Concept  

If you love the organization of the cash-stuffing system but don't literally want it in your hands, the concept also works in a digital sense. Again, Malani stresses that you should only really use it for expenses that you're expecting up to eight weeks out. For longer-term goals up to two years, it's most beneficial to use a high-yield savings account and any longer than that means you should consider investing.

Online, digital “buckets” replace tactile cash pouches, but function in the same way—and you can earn interest, which cash stuffing prevents you from doing. “Ally is a great place to digitize the cash-stuffing experience, especially because there is no minimum balance requirement,” Malani explains. “To use their online savings buckets, decide what your goal is, what it costs, and when you’d like to accomplish that goal. Then, nickname a savings bucket and automate the appropriate amount each week/month/paycheck/whatever works for you.” 

Applying the system with online banking has its benefits when it comes to larger savings goals. Malani uses the example of saving up for a $5,000 cruise. By using a savings bucket, you can tuck away $833 per month for the next six months and see your progress—all without having copious amounts of cash laying around the house or having to carve out time to run to the bank to make a deposit (and then replace the deposit with “placeholder” money at home). 

Alternately, Try Reverse Budgeting

When it comes to advising her own clients, Malani actually applies a principle she calls the “Reverse Budget.”  

"At the end of the day, no one actually wants to budget. They are hard to stick to and end up making you feel guilty because no matter how hard you try, you end up over-spending one area or another,” she says. “There’s no such thing as a typical month—something always comes up!” 

Reverse budgeting simply turns the idea of a budget on its head. Instead of planning what you’re going to spend, this method instead has you choose your savings goal first, leaving you to plan your expenses with what you have leftover.  

“Whether you’re spending on groceries, Netflix, nights out or everything in between after you’ve saved for the things that are important to you, you know exactly how much money you have left to spend that pay cycle without going into debt,” Malani says. “It’s important to know where your money is going, but nowhere near as important as staying out of debt.” 

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I’ve covered the lifestyle space for the last three years after majoring in journalism (and minoring in French) at Boston University. Talk to me about all things sustainable &...