Jun 292012

My husband and I are in the midst of an unofficial Three Month Cash-Only Challenge, in which we reluctantly forego credit cards and use actual, physical cash for all of our purchases.  If you’re curious as to why would go cash-only despite our love of credit cards, check out Part I, “The Accidental Players.”

The Roller Coaster

Week 3 of the Cash-Only Challenge has been a bit up-and-down for us, so I’ll give you a day-by-day synopsis:

  • Monday: Mood: Calm.  After being a nervous wreck last week about whether we would overspend and run out of cash (see Part II: Grocery Budget Jitters), I had separated our spending money into envelopes- each month we’d withdraw $350 for groceries, $50 for household expenses (toilet paper, shampoo, etc), $100 for miscellaneous expenses.  With one week left in the month, we had $21  in our “household” cash envelope and $25 in the “grocery” envelope- everything was proceeding according to plan.
  • Tuesday: Mood: Gleeful.  By doing some coupon acrobatics, I spent $17 from the “household” envelope on a really good deal on all-natural sunscreens, which means we’ll be stocked up for the summer.  More coupon acrobatics ensued at the grocery store, where we spent $24 from the “groceries” envelope and bought enough food for the rest of the month (with $1 left).  I’m embarrassed to say that I felt positively flushed with endorphins- we were going to survive our first cash-only month without running out of money.
  • Wednesday: Mood: Confused.  Realized that if we withdraw $350 for grocery expenses every month, how are we supposed to account for the occasional online food purchase, like the $20 in agave nectar we were going to order next month?  Do I deposit $20 back into our account to cover the online purchase?  But wait, I can’t do that, because we bank with Charles Schwab and ING, which don’t have branches to make cash deposits.  Now I’ll have to create some kind of accounting system where we set aside cash for the online purchase, and deduct a corresponding amount from our usual $350 cash withdrawal the following month… what a headache!
  • Thursday: Mood: Happy.  I discovered a surprising benefit to using cash: you end up with lots of spare change.  After so many years of using credit cards, I had literally forgotten about all those coins you end up with when you use cash.  Every time we returned from a store we emptied any coins into a jar: after 3 weeks we’ve got about $4 of change in there.  That’s $4 we would have spent unconsciously when using a credit card, but instead it’s sitting on our desk, patiently accumulating.
  • Friday: Mood: Panicked.  The weather is beautiful today, so we decided to go to the beach this afternoon, build a bonfire, and barbecue dinner at the beach.  Except with $1 left in the grocery envelope, we can’t go buy our usual bonfire food (hot dogs, hot dog buns, chips, salsa, marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate bar).  And we can’t call off the bonfire- our daughter is too excited about it, and besides, it would be super lame to announce that we didn’t have a beach bonfire because we ran out of money.  Hence, I discovered a new phenomenon: Panic-Induced Creativity.  No hot dogs? No problem- we’ve got two-year-old teriyaki meatballs in our freezer that we can cook kebab style.  They needed to be eaten anyway.  No hot dog buns? No problem- we’ve got garlic naan (flatbread) from Trader Joe’s- a light toasting over the fire is all it will need.  No chips and salsa?  That just adds extra calories anyway- I’ll pack celery sticks to snack on.  No marshmallows, graham crackers, or chocolate bars for making s’mores?  Uh oh- major problem here.  I took a deep breath and broke the news to our 5-year-old daughter- no s’mores tonight.

She didn’t miss a beat, “We’ve got marshmallows in the pantry!”

“But those are mini marshmallows, and there are only 5 left.  And there’s no graham crackers or chocolate.  It won’t work.” I explained patiently.

“Yes, it WILL work, there are only three of us,” my daughter said happily, looking at me like I was missing the obvious.  “And, I don’t like the chocolate and graham cracker part anyway.”  I pictured us threading mini marshmallows (each about a centimeter around) onto little wooden kebab sticks, and then eating them- each one was less than a bite. My daughter was looking up at me, smiling.

I smiled back, and put the baggie of 5 little white marshmallows into our beach bag.

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 lifestylePart 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.

Viva Harris

+Viva Harris writes The Daily Citron, a fun blog about setting goals, saving money, staying organized, and enjoying life in the process. Don't want to miss any tips? Sign up for the free Daily Citron Weekly Newsletter.

  4 Responses to “Cash-Only Challenge Part III: The Roller Coaster”

  1. […] Part III: The Roller Coaster: A cash-only system proves to be an up-and-down experience involving coupon acrobatics and mini marshmallows. Be Sociable, Share! TweetRelated posts: […]

  2. […] Part III: The Roller Coaster: A cash-only system proves to be an up-and-down experience involving coupon acrobatics and mini marshmallows. […]

  3. I know that it would make sick to my stomach to try to check out at a grocery store without enough money. I keep a pretty strict budget for groceries and household expenses of $160 per month. What do you use your $100 for miscellaneous expenses for??

    I want to know how the mini marshmallow experience went :) It sounds like we all just need to think like a kid to come up with some of the other ideas on how to stay under budget :)

    • I am astonished that you only spend $160/month for grocery and household expenses for your family of three. Amazing! That’s only 59 cents per meal, per person- how do you do that?? I guess I need to read up on your blog to find out how!
      The mini marshmallow experience was hilarious- those marshmallows were so tiny, they roasted in about 10 seconds. And then dissolved in mouth in about a half second. I wouldn’t recommend it as a planned dessert, but as a spontaneous idea it was fun, and definitely more memorable than if we had bought regular marshmallows.

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