My Cash-Only Challenge Diary – Start of April 2012

Cash may be king, but my monthly budget sheet rules my life. That’s a good thing–it’s like having an accountant by your side at all times.

Here’s how my cash-only challenge has been going:

Gas: Using cash for gas is great. And that’s because there’s motivation to use cash versus debit. You get a .10 cent discount per gallon around here when you use cash. If I go to Shell, use cash, and have gas points from Stop & Shop, then it’s a great deal and using cash is enough of an incentive. I’ve been sticking to about $25 to $35 a week on gas once a week, even when I deviate from around-town driving (which of course is worse). (By the way, a post on hypermiling is coming….)

(Photo credit: Tax Credits)

The grocery store: For a few weeks I had limited my cash budget for groceries to $50. That was just awful and not possible for us. So, I upped it to $75 which was better. But $100 a week for food is the magic number for my family. I ended up using my debit card for additional groceries when my budget was $75 and under. But with $100 in cash in my wallet, it works out great and I do not feel the need at all to raise my grocery budget again. Since I started my cash-only challenge, we have not had any organic meat in our freezer from the farm where we have a share of a cow, and I’ve had to (reluctantly) buy organic meat or chicken from the store. But I’ve greatly reduced the amount of meat/poultry we eat to once or twice a week (we used to eat it frequently). By reducing our meat/poultry intake, and make creative dishes using beans, vegetables, and pasta, it’s easy to stick to the $100 mark every week.

My budget: Every month, I write up a new budget, and just achieving this act helps me to realize how much I should spend on groceries, which is how I arrived at the $100 a week mark. The magic of having a budget to refer to is invaluable. I also write down every single grocery receipt on my budget sheet so I can keep track all week on what I’m spending regardless of what’s in my wallet.

What I’m learning is that my budget sheet is King. If I did not have a budget sheet, but carried cash, I think I’d just go get cash out of the ATM once it was gone! But because I know what’s coming in, what’s going out, where it’s going, and it’s all on this magical budget sheet, the sheet itself holds me accountable; I’d be lost without my budget sheet.

I’ll report in again in a few weeks.

~Marilyn, TFF

The First Three Weeks on Cash-Only Budget

Time for a cash budget. (Photo credit: 401K)

It’s been a long time coming to use cash for food, gas, clothing, and entertainment. I’ve been religiously watching Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s show, “Till Debt Do Us Part,” and eyeing those money jars. It just makes sense. But, I never did anything about it.

But one day, I realized my grocery budget was creeping upward, even with couponing. What the heck was I doing wrong? Using a debit card and not using a solid budget–that’s what I was doing wrong.

I drew up a serious budget (much harder than it sounds, it takes t-i-m-e, but it’s essential). In my budget–$75 cash for groceries, $25 a week cash for gas in my car (my husband uses more, but I work from home), $20 miscellaneous or “blow money,” per Dave Ramsey. That’s only the cash part of the budget.

I didn’t use jars, but I did use basic envelopes, which proved too cumbersome as I went through my week.  I ended up labeling two pockets of my wallet. One pocket says “Gas” and the other says “Groceries” and that’s where I keep the money.

Some highlights:

1. Week One: I was filmed for Channel 12 News (not aired as of yet) on a shopping trip at Stop & Shop in Fairfield–it was an extra shopping trip that week and I shelled out an extra $54.00. To balance the budget, I decided to reduce my grocery budget for two weeks.

2. Week Two: Did relatively well, was able to buy about four pounds of expensive organic ground beef because I used some Catalina coupons from ShopRite thanks to some great deals I put together. By week’s end, I spent an extra $10 at Whole Foods when I found a couple of extra deals. It’s only $10, you say, but you know how the psychology on this works … “it’s ONLY $10….” turns into “it’s ONLY $20 and so on…” But, it’s like a diet, you make peace with yourself and get back on the program.

3. Week Three: So, it’s now Saturday, one day into my third week of cash only, and I have spent my reduced cash budget. But, we have plenty of food and will only need some fruit and veggies–but it’s extra money.

But so far, it’s great, I love it, and I see where my money goes and it gives me great hope. I spent $200 so far in three weeks–not too terrible in an affluent town like Fairfield.

Stay tuned.

~Marilyn from TFF