How much money do people accidentally throw away every year?

How to Misplace Big Bucks

In an age when practically everyone seems to have a credit card and a lot of us make purchases and pay bills online, it might seem puzzling that anybody actually amasses enough physical cash to lose a sizable sum. One sign of the times: The Salvation Army reported in 2014 that contributions to its Christmas kettle program had fallen off 10 percent from between 2012 and 2014, which one official attributed to the fact that people carried fewer bills and coins in their wallets [source: Schmidt].

The truth is, though, that cash is far from dead. About 65 percent of Americans prefer to use it instead of plastic for purchases of $5 or less, according to a recent survey. And that preference gets stronger with age. While millennials are slightly more comfortable using credit or debit cards for small payments, 82 percent of people 65 and older prefer currency [source: Merzer]

Additionally, many of us don't completely trust the cashless economy — or, for that matter, banks. A 2015 American Express survey found that 29 percent of Americans are keeping at least some of their savings in paper money and coins, and a little more than half of those people have stashed the money in some secret location. According to another study, the most popular place to hide money is in the freezer (27 percent of cash hoarders), with another 20 percent using the sock drawer. A further 11 percent use the stereotypical mattress, and 10 percent prefer the cookie jar [source: Grant].

The problem, of course, is that people sometimes forget where they've stashed their savings. In 2013, a woman forgot that she'd stashed $98,000 in cash in a desk, and mistakenly sold it on Craigslist. Fortunately, she sold it to a rabbi, who found the money and returned every cent of it to her [source: Shaw]. On the other hand, in 2009, an Israeli woman replaced her mother's mattress, not knowing that $1 million was stashed inside. She searched three landfills but did not find that old mattress [source: Associated Press].

Author's Note: How much money do people accidentally throw away every year?

This assignment was a perplexing one to me, because there really isn't any good data on how much money people lose. But even so, I found that there were plenty of interesting anecdotes to relate. Also, I think that I'm going to start buying used furniture, in hopes that I'll find some secret wealth stuffed into the cushions.

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