How Much is Inside a Million Dollars?

Hardly anyone knows what that kind of money really looks like.

How much is inside a million dollars? It is a nice, round number that gets thrown around all the time in movies, commercials, annual reports and blackmail notes, but hardly anyone knows what that kind of money really looks like. Would it all fit in a paper bag? A backpack? A shipping container?

The first step in showing "how much is inside" was withdraw one million dollars from my bank account. I quickly realized that the exiled Nigerians had not yet deposited my payoff, so I had to settle for a bit less. 

One hundred dollars came in a tidy packet, with a cute blue paper band. If you ever meet someone with a bunch of these paper bands in their glove compartment, please show them my website.

The largest U.S. bill in circulation is the hundred dollar bill, and it takes 10,000 of those to make one million dollars. Ten thousand bills. That is the smallest size you can get a million dollars in cash.

The first step in simulating a million dollars is to take a close look at genuine money. All bills from the US Federal Reserve are the same size, so I carefully measured and weighed my $100 bankroll. This would serve as a guide for my MASSIVE COUNTERFEIT OPERATION.

Intent on getting 10,000 bills of paper, I visited Office Circus and bought six 500-sheet reams of paper.

Real bills are 6.125" wide, 2.625" tall and one packet of them is exactly one centimeter thick.

Each sheet of paper, when cut, would yield four bills.

Next I visited Kinko's copies, where they have an industrial paper-cutting machine. I asked them to cut the 8½x11 sheets of paper into bill-sized mini-sheets. They asked about my intentions, and when they found out about my counterfeiting plans, they reminded me that I would not be able to pay for the cutting service with fake bills.

Disappointed, but understanding, I paid with a fake check.

I came away from Kinko's with 10,000 paper bills in a cardboard box.

I made a hundred one-centimeter paper piles on my couch. Each centimeter represented $10,000.

After separating the paper, I designed and printed some paper bands for my counterfeit cash. The bank teller had told me that hundreds are wrapped with purple bands. She asked me about my intentions, and when she found out about my counterfeiting plans, she reminded me that I would not be able to deposit fake bills.

Soon my pile of fake bills were done and wrapped. A hundred packets of a hundred hundreds.

The pile filled 643 cubic inches (~8" x 6" x 13") and was about the size of an old 15" television. It weighed almost 20 pounds (9 kilos).

Immediately I began living the life of a millionaire!

There was Champagne! Cigars! Caviar! Cocaine! Rio! Tivo! Ritz crackers! Limousines! Ink cartridges! Lobster! Yacht races! Gold cards! Glamour! Diamond watches! Diamond pendants! Diamond Tennis bracelets! Baseball Diamonds! Pyramid Schemes! Chewing tobacco! Helicopters! Tuxedos! Penthouse Suites! Real estate! Gated communities! Gilded communities! Art auctions! Marble statues! Bribes! Baccarat! Intrigue! Lasers! Polo! Fashion Shows! Awards Shows! Broadway Shows!

Oh, wait, there wasn't any Chewing tobacco... ok, maybe just a little, but it was DAMN FINE chewing tobacco.

My reign of magnificence was cut short by a disturbing phone call. Some Tibetan rebels had taken Mark hostage, and were demanding a million dollars ransom! They warned me not to call the FBI.

Luckily I had charged all my recent purchases on my black American Express card, and could use the pile of fake cash to pay Mark's ransom. I just had to warn them not to call the U.S. Secret Service.

Stacy was the first to point out how cumbersome all that money was to carry. I needed some kind of case to carry it in... it wouldn't all fit in my neon green "life's a beach" fanny pack.

I assumed I would need to buy a chic looking briefcase, but they were pretty pricey. I considered asking the kidnappers to leave a small deposit for the case, but I didn't want to deal with the paperwork.

Steve suggested a 5-gallon paint bucket.

"This is perfect!, keep it in the back of your truck", he said.

I liked this idea, but kidnap negotiations can require a certain level of confidence. I needed to find some good luggage that would fit all this money.

Brooke and I made our way to Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento.  Luggage stores are always devoid of customers, so I figured I would get help immediately. Sure enough, they had a nice doctor's bag that could hold about $1.2 million in hundreds.

I didn't want to look like a doctor, so I kept searching. I wanted a briefcase, but a "regular" briefcase can only hold about $780,000.

At Malm's Luggage in Downtown Plaza, we encountered the silvery cases I had been imagining. Debbie and Donald, the two salespeople, were happy to assist us.

One, the Zero Halliburton Premiere Silver Attaché Case (US$545) held all the money...exactly one million dollars! Debbie, Donald, Brooke and I took turns lugging it around the store.

Being burdened with a million dollars in cash is a nice sensation. It was pretty heavy, illustrating the need for sturdy briefcase handcuffs.

Returning home, we were pleased to have an answering machine message from Mark! He had been safely located in Xixabangma after out-drinking his Buddhist captors.

Before blowing the money on supplies for the "welcome home" party we took one more measurement: The stack of bills was 40 inches (one meter) tall.

The party was great, but it ended up being BYOB.

The fake money had been refused at almost every liquor store. Sheesh! I wish people would learn to use their imagination!

Epilogue: Real currency photos from Brittany