Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone Challenge: Budgeting with cash. A week without cards.

I’d been thinking about making one of my upcoming challenges about money and weekly budgeting by using cash only (no debit or credit cards allowed), but I was concerned that I wasn’t quite *ready* for that particular feat. Almost immediately after I decide this, I lose my debit card, presumably somewhere in the Albacore Museum during our last visit. I didn’t find this “cash only” challenge…it found me.

Day One: I never have cash on me. I’m one of those people that uses her debit card for a $1.50 cup of coffee. But because I have no access to my debit card for “7 to 10 business days”, I have no choice but to actually go inside the bank (did you know that the bank has an inside with actual people working in there?) to withdraw cash. I suddenly realize that I have no idea how much I’ll need for the week. I do a quick mental tabulation of my typical out-of-pocket expenses and figure $125 should do the trick.

Day Two: I’m already in a budgeting frame-of-mind and decide to comb through the coupons from Sunday’s paper in preparation for my trip to the grocery store. As I’m walking up and down the aisles, I notice how hyper-aware I am of how much I’m buying (will this all get eaten?) and the cost (should I try out a less expensive brand?). At checkout, I’ve managed to spend only $66, but I’m already feeling the pinch of spending half my weekly allowance by Day Two.

Day Three: On an average week, I manage to hit up the drive-thru almost every day for coffee. That adds up to almost $10 a week, which is now more than 10% of my left over cash. Not to mention the extra money I typically spend on munchkins that my children are begging for from the backseat. Looks like I’ll be home-brewing this week.

Day Four: My kids and I are headed to Me & Ollies for this week’s restaurant review. I realize that I shouldn’t skimp on menu items since I’m there to judge said menu items, so I just resign to being out another $20. After we leave, I see that my gas tank is nearly empty. UGH! I only have $40 left in my wallet and the weekend is not even here yet! I put in a ½ tank and make a mental note to avoid trips that fall outside of my zip code.

Day Five: My kids’ Great Grandmother gave them each a $5 Gift Booklet to McDonald’s that’s burning a hole in their pocket. Looks like lunch today is on Ronald, nice! We order a decently healthy meal of a Grilled Ranch Snack Wrap, a package of apples, milk and a toy (did you know that you can buy the Happy Meal toys separately for $1?).

Day Six: I now have approximately $15 left and the kids and I are looking for a fun way to occupy ourselves today. What can we do for free? I hop online and check out this great local site, seacoastkidscalendar.org and find a bunch of area events that have no associated cost. Score! We decide on First Fridays at the Children’s Museum (free from 5:30-8:30pm) and have a blast, but my kids are anxious to hit up the gift shop. To my great surprise, they’ve been unusually understanding about the tight purse strings this week when I explain that we “just don’t have the money for that right now”. Wow, maybe I’ve been doing something right all along!

Day Seven: It’s a gorgeous day and we’re able to spend some time at the beach, and parking is still free! Afterwards, we decide to head across the street and splurge on an ice cream, and I really mean “splurge”. One small soft serve ice cream is $4.69! Jimmies are .70 alone! Is there a sprinkles shortage I wasn’t aware of? I end the week with $3 left in my wallet and the notion that I’ll be traveling this summer with a bottle of store-bought jimmies in the car.

What I learned:

  1. When I’m only allowed to use cash, it puts a greater focus on the “needs” vs. “wants” and I saved money by not buying the useless items that I probably didn’t need anyways.
  2. Whether it’s the beach, the woods or the mountains, spending time in nature is a fantastic way to bond with your family. The fresh air seems to make everyone playful, engaged and talkative. And it’s free!
  3. What about the other inevitable purchases like new shoes for the kids, summer clothes or social events? Budgeting for those items takes a lot of organization and pre-planning. But I realized that hunting for the bargains was kind of fun and it made the splurges that much more special.

 Are you a pro at budgeting? What are your saving money tricks?

4 Responses

  1. Sarah Lane

    Thanks so much for this! I constantly try to live “card free”. but it’s tough! I’m surprised you were able to survive the week on $125 – That’s my grocery bill. i need to get better on coupon clipping but have a hard time finding coupons for things i actually need. Thanks again!

  2. Jess

    We’ve been making the transition to being credit card free (although debit cards are ok) and following a budget one that is tweaked monthly depending upon needs. The way to plan for things like shoes and clothing are to save a set amount each month to be used when needed. That way there might be months when that money goes untouched but it will be there when needed.

    I have no idea how you pulled off grocery shopping on that amount though! Despite not using processed foods we usually budget about $200/wk for our family of five.

    If you are interested in becoming debt free and living without credit cards. Check out Dave Ramsey’s program. We just started after hearing many, many good things and success stories.

  3. Great post!

    My wife and I use a combination of cash and cards in our budget. We pull out our “weekly spending money” every Monday and try and only use the cash. We put all of our fixed (read: bills) expenses on our card and also any planned one time expenses that we have already budgeted for. An example of this would be a dinner out with friends.

    Cash can be a double edged sword. On one hand, it hurts to hand over three $20 bills for dinner, but you can also be stuck being the only one with cash for things like cab rides or parking. (we live in a big city) It takes a little practice, but eventually you will find your happy mix.

  4. Lori

    What an entertaining, refreshing and insightful post! Thank you for trying this experiment. I’ve thought about doing something like this, but am never brave enough to leave the cards at home. Nice to know it can change your whole perspective.

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