My husband and I have officially begun our unofficial Three Month Cash-Only Challenge, which means that we reluctantly weaned ourselves of our credit and debit cards and start using actual, physical cash to make our purchases. If you curious as to why would go cash-only despite our long-standing affection for credit card rewards, check out Part I, “The Accidental Players.”
As you can imagine, the weaning process was easier said than done- credit and debit cards have become such an integral part of our financial lives that it’s a task in itself just to track down all of the auto-pay bills that are linked to our credit and debit cards. It turned out there were eight bills we needed to take care of: the water bill, garbage bill, gym membership, cell phone bill, Tivo bill, newspaper subscription, auto insurance bill, and the internet bill. It took me about 30 minutes total to log into each billing account online and switch the auto-pay information over to our checking account. (Ok, I admit that I didn’t change the billing information on the Tivo bill- it’s not due for 7 months, and I just couldn’t commit myself to the cash-only challenge for that long.)
Bills like the gym membership, newspaper subscription, etc. are the same amount each month, so it didn’t freak me out too much to switch them to our checking account- I had already budgeted for those, and the payments wouldn’t go up unexpectedly. But nonetheless as I went through the process of switching the bills to our checking account I felt a bit sick to my stomach, because I was bringing us closer and closer to the point where we’d actually have to dive in and start this Cash-Only Challenge. It’s the fluctuating payments that scare me in a cash-only lifestyle- what happens if I need $500 for groceries one month but I only have $350 to use? I reassured myself that my Quicken financial software shows that we average $350 in grocery spending, so there’s no reason why I’ll run out of money for groceries if I allot $350 in cash each month. But the $350 is an average- what about those months when we have lots of parties and barbeques to attend and we spend more money on food to bring to the parties?
I sort of cheated in handling that very situation this week- we had a party to go to and we brought 2 packages of sausage, a large salad, and two loaves of garlic bread- about $20 worth of food (we would normally spend less than $6 to feed the three of us for dinner). Rather than go to the store and spend the extra $14, I raided our pantry, freezer and fridge and was able to come up with everything except the garlic bread, which was only $5. So, in one way it was a success, because we actually spent a dollar less than we normally would on dinner, but I still call it cheating because presumably at some point we’ll have to replace what we used, which means we’ll have to come up with the other $14.
In an ideal world, I’d save the extra cash left over on months when we spend less than $350 on groceries, and use it for unexpected grocery expenses like party food. But my fear is that I’ll unwittingly spend the extra money on everyday food, and then not have enough left when the extra money is needed. And that right there is the beauty of the Cash-Only Challenge- it puts your budget and your discipline to the test- either you stick to your budget or you are out of luck- there is no money left to spend. That’s why embarking on this challenge feels like standing on edge of the cliff and diving off- we have to hope that our budgeting skills are as good as we think they are, or else we won’t fly.
Do you cash or credit to pay for groceries? How do you stay within budget despite the extra costs of barbeques and summer parties?
Want more? In Part I: The Accidental Players, I explain how we wound up in this Cash-Only Challenge despite having no interest in a cash-only lifestyle. Part II: Grocery Budget Jitters describes how we weaned ourselves from credit cards and took the plunge into using cash. Part III: The Roller Coaster, tracks my logistical acrobatics (and occasional panicked moments) as I attempt to cover all of our month’s expenses before our cash runs out. In Part IV I report back on taking our Cash-Only Challenge on vacation with us. Part V describes the cash-only budgeting method we used to keep our spending on track.
Interested in doing a Cash-Only Challenge yourself? Check out Crystal Paine’s book, “The Money Saving Mom’s Budget” (which I reviewed here) and learn all about it. In her trademark upbeat style, Paine lays out the blueprint for a cash-only lifestyle.