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Besides trying to cut gasoline expenses this month, I've also decided to switch over to cash only with eating out for lunch and so forth.

I usually just pull out my check card when I grab a bite. However I was curious to see if I would spend less if I used cash.

At the end of each week any cash left over is placed in a safe spot for the end of the month tally. Whatever is left over will be used to pay down the student loan.

ATM Runs for Cash

So I decided to take out my food money once a week from a local branch ATM. The first thing I noticed when I went was that I was conservative when choosing how much to take out.

Looking over fast food expenses for the last 4 months, I noticed I spent and average of $130/month or about $30/week.

Since Wells Fargo, like many other ATMS, offer cash withdrawals in $20 increments and I didn't want to take more than my average, I took out $20.

Mentality of Eating On $20

It sounds kind of ridiculous, but having the cash in my wallet be my only source of money for eating out changed my perspective.

I went into college student mode and became more aware of the deals in my area.

An unintentional effect of using cash is that I also have found ways to get a bit more of it by carpooling and being the driver.

I've taken a few people on errands (both going to the same places so why not?) and I've received a bit of gas money (~$15). It's not a ton of money, but it's still just a bit extra.

Bought Clothes with the Leftover Money

What's fun about using cash only is that the $20 is going further than I thought.  Saturday comes and we have my brother and sister in law in town for a brief visit.

We took a tour around the neighborhood and in the shopping area was the local consignment shop for babies and kids.

Looking at my wallet, I decided to go inside and see what I could get.

I managed to pick up a summer dress, a play outfit, a bottom to go with our baby girl's Wonder Woman onesie, and a fall jacket.

I still had a bit of cash left over. So I managed to spend less on eating out, but I also picked up some clothes for our daughter.

Thoughts on Using Cash

Have you noticed something similar with cash only spending? Do you spend more or less when you only use what's in your wallet?

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About Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..

16 comments add your comment

  1. Great job! That’s such a good way to keep expenses in check. Sometimes, when I’m going to a store with a friend to run an errand, I just leave my wallet in the car. I can’t spend the money if I don’t have it with me!

    • I understand; I try not to take my credit card with me unless I have a specific purpose for it. I don’t want the temptation to spend.

  2. I’ve actually found that cash goes quicker in my pocket than the credit card. I’ve always used a credit card for purposes for tracking. It’s now commonplace for me to use money as a way to cheat that tracking. So, whenever I have my hands on cash, my feeling is like cash doesn’t count so I can spend however I want.

    • I appreciate the feedback John. I had a similar habit with my cash spending before, so I’m surprised at how that’s going now. I think the scarcity (only $20) and single purpose (for food) helps me to be more aware. I don’t think I can take out cash for general spending because I do want to track my spending.

  3. I’m like you. When I only have cash to spend, I try to do everything possible to keep that money in my pocket. I am much better at fighting against temptation when cash is involved!

    • Thanks KNS! Hopefully this will continue for the rest of the month and we’ll have a little something extra for the student loan.

  4. I’ve noticed I spend/order more if I use my debit card; Impulse buying. If I were using cash only (which I’m going to do now) then I know I would be more hesitant to order something.

    • Please let me know how it goes with your spending Nicole. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try it and I’m happy I did.

  5. I practice ‘envelope ‘budgeting’. I fill three envelopes on Sunday: Food/Household, Fun/entertainment/dining out/, Miscellaneous. Although my husband doesn’t stick to any kind of a budget (yet!), I find that it saves us hundreds of dollars even when I’m doing this alone. An additional benefit is that I write down every expenditure on the envelopes so I can see exactly where my money is going and a running balance of what I have left for the week. I made copies of a blank check register and fashioned these copies into envelopes. When the money is gone, it’s gone, period, no more spending for the week. I found that after 6 months of doing this I had lots of cash left over so I adjusted my budget accordingly but I actually like your idea of taking that money and putting it towards my car fund, insurance co-pay, or whatever fund I need to build up. I’ll need to ruminate a bit more on this one.

    Thanks for always getting us thinking in the forward direction Elle!

    • Wonderful job with your envelope system Darris! Not only are you budgeting your expenses, you’ve tracking them. Great solutions; thank you so much for sharing 😀

  6. I feel the same way as John. I always feel like cash is “there to spend”. I feel much more accountable for my money when I use debit. But since you felt the same way prior to the experiment, maybe I can give it another whirl!

    • I think Christa it’s working for me because it’s limited to one expenses, so I’m more focused on how I spend the cash. I hope to expand this, but just having a bit extra at the end of the month with this experiment is good for me.

  7. In some ways I am sad knowing that cash will be used less and less as I age. Right now I use it almost exclusively but systems are moving away from it.

    Having that physical number of notes and coins really makes you ask yourself if you really need a certain thing and makes it easier to grasp how much you really have left in the budget.