Cash Observations After One Month

We did it!  One month down, two to go in The Money Saving Mom’s Budget three-month cash challenge commitment.  I’m not ready to cut up the plastic, yet, but things are going well!  Here’s what the challenge has looked like for us.

Credit Card Statement

Before taking on the challenge, we had previously used our credit card for nearly all purchases.  (Note to the haters:  do your homework before hating.  We live debt-free, including the house, on mostly my husband’s teacher salary.  We’re not spenders.)

We always knew it was coming and planned for the bill.  No big deal.  I must say, though, that this time, having only my May Azure order on our statement (which I included in the challenge) was so much fun!  I don’t know why… I don’t think we spent less money this month without the card, but seeing that low number made me a happy girl.  (I can’t comment on debit card use and how that would affect us, because we don’t own one.)

Creative Spending and Organization

I’m not a fan of failure.  We knew going into the challenge that May was going to be on the spendy side, what with our daughter’s birthday and several graduations and such.  I found myself digging out, remembering, and redeeming all sorts of “play money” that I must have forgotten about been saving for a rainy day.

T’was a great reminder that SwagBucks credits, Vitacost rewards, and yes, even credit card bonuses (more on those later) spend like cash.  No reason not to use them and keep the green in my wallet a little longer.  I also gathered a few gift cards with partial balances that added up to a few bucks here and there.  It pays to be organized and prepared!  (Who knew?!)

Lessons from My Littles

I made it very clear in previous posts that a big reason why we took on this challenge in the first place was that we felt like our children may be getting confused about spending.  Case in point:  one evening after a ballgame I ran into the store with our 6yo to grab some snacks for his team.  He picked them out, after great deliberation, and we went to the register to pay.  The total wasn’t much more than $5, but his face fell when I pulled out my cash.  “Aren’t you going to use your card?  I don’t want you to spend money on my snacks.”

Break my heart!  I explained (quickly, while checking out) that’s it’s okay and that “the card” is a form of money, too.  That appeased him temporarily, but it reminded me that at this age our children are very literal learners and I really do need to keep using cash until they can grasp what’s in that plastic and how it gets there.


I do stop to think about what I’m spending.  I do have to make sure I have enough cash in my wallet.  I haven’t decided if it’s making me spend less (let’s not talk about how well I keep track of such things yet, okay?) but I really, truly do have the “Do I have enough cash with me?” thoughts that give me pause.  Attention spenders:  this one observation may very well be your key to spending less with cash.

Cash Conclusion

I have none.  😉  Perhaps that’s why this is a three-month challenge, and so far we’re just plugging along.  There are great lessons to be learned when handing over the green though, and we’re still trying to discern if it should be a permanent change for our family.

If you’ve hesitated to jump on board, I truly do encourage you to give it a try for a time.  Inconvenient, yes.  But if you’re in debt, that sounds even more inconvenient to me.  Do something!  (Perhaps this will be your something?)




  1. Marilyn says:

    We used our credit card for a lot of things – always paying it off at the end of the month. We decided to “GO CASH” several months ago. I love it! I love getting no bill at the end of the month. I love (well, love is a little strong here) handing over the cash. But is does make me feel more like I am purchasing something. And we even save 5 cents a gallon on gas in our area for paying with cash. It just feels good. Yes, I have to pass up some things because I don’t have the cash. But never anything I can’t live without. And our savings has grown over the last several months. That is the best. It grows and there is no bill at the end of the month. Everything is already paid for!

    • Such an encouraging comment! I’m preparing to write a post about credit cards (you know… how people think those “rewards” are so important) and I’d like to quote you if that’s okay.

    • I’m a little bit confused. If you were previously using your card for everything AND you were paying it off at the end of the month, why/what do you have to pass up some things because you didn’t have the cash? It seems like you’re spending the same money…

  2. Random question for all the mommies out there…how do you pay cash for gas with kids in the car, especially more than one? Perhaps this is going to make me out to be lazy, but the thought of unloading my kid(s) to go pay cash, load everyone up again, etc…well, it seems completely impractical. I’m not saying its a reason to not go the cash route. I’m just curious if you all have your husbands fill your cars up, or that, again, I’m just completely lazy. This is one reason why I’ve hesitated going the all cash route. Perhaps some of you go all cash except in one or two areas? I suppose I could do just that, do all cash except gas, because I KNOW I’m overspending in that area, but outside of driving less I can’t do much about it 😉 (Oh for the days that gas was less than $2 a gallon…I remember those days and I’ve only been driving for 10 years).

    • We switched to cash only last year. I try to fill up when I am running errands alone, which I try to do one day a week. If not, I go to a station with a pump right next to the outdoor attendant. I don’t feel irresponsible standing there paying for my gas. I am within arms reach of my car. I have also taken my kids with me when I had to. I try to fill up when possible to limit gas trips.

    • I don’t think you’re lazy. I think the people paying for gas with cash are crazy. 😉 KIDDING!!!!!!! But really… that was one of my own caveats. We get our gas at a pump in the middle of a grassy block in our tiny town. No attendant. Nothing. Just a 30 year old gas pump and a co-op card. I’m good with that, and I’m not changing something that works.

      And YES to the “partial cash” plan! I am rarely an all or nothing kind of girl, and this is definitely one of those situations. IF we remain on the cash plan indefinitely, it will likely be for groceries and “fun money” only. (which is kind of a lot when you think about it…)

    • We do a cash system, but put gas on the credit card for this reason. We don’t go over in the gas part of budget really because my husband works out of the house and I am a SAHM, so this works for us.

      • We only pay in cash for gas when we travel as a family (then it comes from our vacation fund). But I use my debt card every other time, because I am not about to haul all three littles in and out of the car (and there are no free standing stations as described anywhere near my house).

    • Michelle says:

      Completely agree with you… I have been wanting to try the all cash method but gas would be the one exception. I only have one child but she is disabled so it is just way too much to have to carry her or get out her stroller or wheelchair just to get gas.

      • I say try the cash method except for the gas. Trying *something* would be better than doing nothing because of one aspect of it. (And really… VERY few people use cash for EVERYTHING.)

    • The gas station by my apartment is always the cheapest in town. Lucky duck I know 🙂 I purchase with Cash Money 🙂 a store card that I can use at the pump. The receipt will print out with your remaining balance. I have a gas budget for the month So it all goes om the card at one time.

    • I do it. I’ve been doing it for years – and I’m a single mom so I hardly ever have time to do it alone – unless I time it for on the way to work or on the way home. My girls are 2 years apart. Now they’re 6 and 8, but I did it when they were little – and we lived in Cleveland, OH, so I’ve done it in the snow.

      Now, when there was no WAY I was going to do it in the snow, I pulled it from my debit card, but then I took it from my gas envelope so I didn’t double spend it.

    • heather says:

      hi katy – i’ve heard of lots of families who still use a card for gas – even if they use cash for most everything else.

    • April W says:

      Where I live, you can buy gas cards at the grocery checkout. You can even get $50 gas cards for $40 on a regular basis.

  3. It would be neat to only use cash. But sometimes the only choice people have for needs like gas and groceries is to put it on a credit card.

    • If you have littles and you don’t want to leave them in the car while you go inside to pay with cash, yes, it works.
      For things like groceries (unless you mainly order online, which some people do), cash is a great option. At least for me, I have noticed that I eat healthier when I carry cash, simply because I have a limited budget and can’t splurge on things like Cheese-Its or Oreos (my weaknesses) because I wouldn’t have enough money to buy my whole-milk yogurt and berries for my breakfasts. Those Oreos? SO not worth it in that perspective.

      If you are considering cash for groceries, I would encourage you to look at the past several receipts to get an idea of how much your family spends on groceries and get an average. Pull out that money in cash and go from there, don’t pick a number for your family that comes from any other source (friends saying how much they spend for a family your size, etc). And be sure to shop from your pantry before you shop at a grocery store!

      Side note: some places offer discounts if you use cash, so be sure to ask! I saved 5 cents per gallon at a gas station a few weeks ago because I paid with cash!

  4. I very much relate to your experience! I haven’t totally switched, but I have been using cash more and I like not having so much on our cc statement. Your story with credit cards sounds so similar to ours.

    I have greatly appreciated being introduced to swagbucks through MSM and to have them to use. Every little bit helps that’s for sure!

    Credit cards are handier and cash does require more planning!!

  5. I would love to hear from people like me and the strategies they have implemented. I seem to stay on budget when I use my card as opposed to cash. I can’t seem to make it to the end of the month with the cash b/c it is too readily available for me. I have found that I waste more money when I use cash.

    What is wrong with me?

    • If you’re staying on budget, I don’t see a problem. 🙂 Just because cash works better for other people that doesn’t mean it’s best for you. Good job!

    • Jessica H says:

      I stayed on budget with my credit card as well before I switched to cash. What helps me with cash is that I started taking one week’s worth of grocery and household money out instead of the whole month.

      Recently, I tried to see if I could make it longer than a week before I withdrew more money. I found that I only had to withdraw three weeks worth of grocery money. It was a fun game to me, because I was able to surprise my husband with an unplanned date night and pay for some extra expenses while still meeting our monthly savings goal.

      That being said if credit works best for you, don’t feel bad. It sounds like you are doing a great job managing your money already!

      • “It was a fun game to me” Yes! That’s where we’re at with it. I don’t think we’ll ever use cash exclusively, but it IS kinda fun just to see “how low can you go?” 😉

    • Cristin says:

      I also spend cash much faster than credit. I pay my bill in full every month, but the cash just goes until it is gone. I have never had a problem with credit cards, and I enjoy the rewards I get back. Since I already stay on a budget, the rewards I would lose are higher than the cash I might be able to save.

      If cash works better for you, that is great, but it is not the best way for me.

    • 1) If cash is stressful and counter-productive for you, I say there are other things in life to stress about. 😉 No worries!

      2) In my heart of hearts, I don’t think we can blame the cash for our spending habits. Don’t make it readily available. Once it’s gone, it’s GONE. Don’t go get more. Maybe pull out a smaller amount to begin with? More of a hassle, for sure, but I’m finding that sometimes it’s the hassle that keeps people from spending.

      3) Nothings “wrong” with you. 🙂 We all have to work hard to implements what works best for us!

    • My strategy is that I think about the next few days before I make a purchase. “This is a great deal on ____, but will I need to buy more yogurt/eggs/etc in the next few days?” “I would like to try this new _____, but I have a friend’s wedding coming up and I haven’t bought a gift yet…is there a way I could make my own version of this ___ at home with things I already have? Or can it wait?” I used to be extremely impulsive. My frugal future-roommate makes comments “She spends money left and right, I don’t think ___ will bother her.” OUCH. I’m much better about it now, and even she has noticed. 🙂

    • For me, cash disappears quickly IF it isn’t labeled. If I have undesignated cash in my wallet, I will spend it on something and not remember where it went. If I put the cash in an envelope (Dave Ramsey’s envelope’s to be precise) and label it “groceries” then I become terrified that I will run out. I also don’t get a full month’s worth of cash at once. I get paid every two weeks and I withdrawal cash after each payday.

    • I’m with you. My husband and I burn through cash with little self control, but when its all on the card, we do just fine. I don’t let the cash system people make me feel bad though because this is what works for our family and they do what works for theirs. Cash tends to burn holes in our pockets…we both want to spend it NOW when we have it. We rarely make impulse purchases with our cards. We are also debt free and got there without a cash system, so I think the years of extreme discipline using our cards responsibly while paying off debt helped shape how we use them today even though we now have room for that in our budget. In fact, at least half of our fun money goes unspent and is extra we put in savings on top of what we already put in there. Our system isn’t broke so I have no desire to change it up. I admire those who have better discipline with cash, but I have better discipline with cards.

      One thing I found really interesting is the aspect of teaching our children about card vs cash. That gave me a lot to think about as to how I will instill using money responsibly into my daughter.

    • April W says:

      I also use my card. I feel very uncomfortable keeping cash in my home. There have been a couple of break-ins in my area. Besides the obvious dangers of a break-in, losing part of our budget to one would be a serious complication for us. I have a very STRONG fear of overdraft fees, so I am super careful about using my card. Every dollar in our budget has a job.

      My big budget busters were books and Starbucks. I have a Starbucks card, now. I load that with my Starbucks budget money. And, yes there was a time when that was not a part of my budget. For every so many drinks I buy, I get a card for a free one. This way my husband gets his favorite drink every couple of months. His is super expensive and he won’t get it unless it is free. Good man.

      To appease my book lust, I lean heavily on the library. Also, many people don’t know that a lot of libraries have free downloadable audiobooks. You can “rent” up to three at a time. Great resource. I like to listen to audiobooks while I clean and while I commute.

      But, back on topic, I think some people are geared more towards responible card use than others. I can use Quicken to track my expenses and be more accountable. My husband can log on to our accounts and see right there if I have mismanaged our funds. He never has, but he could. And believe you me, if I spend $4 at KFC out of anything but the food budget, I get a very high level of anxiety that curbs that activity for a while.

  6. How would someone use case and be able to send off bills that you can’t just go and pay with cash? For example – our mortgage or utilities that the payments do not go to a local company? Do you manage that differently?

    • I may still live in the dark ages 😉 but whatever bills aren’t already automated or can’t be automated, I still write checks.

      • Me too! Most of my bills are automated, but for those that aren’t (my car payment, for example) I send checks.

        • So then using checks is still considered using cash? I’m just trying to understand so that I can try to implement this. If I am not using my credit card, but just my bank account debit card to pay those few things, I can still consider that using cash vs. actually having the dollars in my hand and then handing the dollars over to whomever I am paying? If so, I guess I am already doing that. 🙂

          • If I understand correctly, Crystal avoids even the debit card in the cash challenge. However… I can’t really say anything about that since I don’t own a credit card. 😉 I do still write checks for my bills that don’t have auto-pay (we kinda live in the dark ages here) but am working the cash challenge for discretionary expenses. Honestly? If you want to implement the challenge, I say don’t let any “rules” hold you back. Make it challenging, but make it work for YOU.

    • I use my bank’s online bill pay. It is free and comes straight out of my checking account. I don’t see any value in attempting to use cash or writing a physical check for those things. The point in spending cash, to me, is to control situations where you are more likely to be impulsive –> places with shelves full of products that you have to walk into and look around to find what you need/want.

    • I use cash for groceries and household products. I pay my self that set amount each week even though we get paid every two weeks. The other weeks amot is in a safe in my house.
      I still deposit all bill paying money into my savings account and transer what I need to my checking and write checks and mail them in an envelope. I pay all bills every two weeks for what is due over the next two week period.
      I do stop and take out cash if I will need it for gift giving or something like that.
      I have multiple savings accounts which are labeled: household/boys, vehicles, recreation, taxes, debt and savings. I put a set amt in each on payday and keep a separate checkbook register for each account to see where the money is going at the end of the month and year. It is a lot to keep track of but it makes me very aware of what money is going for what and makes for easy adjustments.
      Since I gave up having a credit card (my husband still has one) we have saved a lot of money as I have to conciously go and get teh money or make a transfer to be able to buy anything.
      I also have a locally owned gas station that still fills up your car for you. We have an account so they bill us once a month for our gas purchases. I never step out of my car!

  7. We pay for almost everything with cash. The only things I purchase on a credit card are online items and Azure. Even then I am finding I can wait and use my swagbucks credit for many of those purchases too. I have found we do much better on an almost all cash system and use the credit card for just online deals I find.

    • Very encouraging. I *think* we’ll end up with a hybrid system of sorts, too.

      • I think we’re heading towards a hybrid system, too. I am trying cash this month for groceries/household/health & beauty. So far, it’s going well…I’m looking forward to pulling my thoughts together at the end of the month.

  8. We’ve been on a mostly cash system this calendar year and I’m really liking it. Like you, I find it fun to check our credit card and see only gas, cat food, and my husband’s comic book order. Much easier to predict our spending.

    I don’t think Crystal’s book mentions this specifically but one of the most enlightening things for me has been creating Sinking Funds. When we sat down and listed all the expenses that pop up once a year or quarter (everything from the water bill, AAA, and my son’s cello lessons) it totaled $315 a month! No wonder if felt like there was always *something*. Looking ahead to summer, which is a time of year we make a little less money but spend a little more, I feel great knowing that everything is paid for. The next water bill, our second CSA payment, summer and fall cello tuition, etc.. So much less stressful!

    • Very smart! A lot of our once a year payments (car tags/taxes, life insurance, car insurance, etc.) come in the summer.

      • That and things like vacations – which for us means a drive up to the Grandparents – and Back To School stuff just means we spend more than usual. And depending how wedding season goes for me (musician) I might not make much money for a few months. Intellectually we know it’s coming and plan on using savings but emotionally it’s hard for me to watch that money trickle out. Even when we planned for it! I know that’s a little nutty and I need to accept the ebb and flow of our financial year.

    • We did the same with our once-a-year expenses (license plates, property taxes, etc). If property taxes are $600, then we “budget” $50 a month and stash it in our savings acct, so that when taxes are due, the $600 is already in the acct and ready to pay. And yes, it can take 6 months or more to actually get everything paid up to date and then start the ‘savings’ plan.

      • I do this for every bill, expense, gift etc. I took the total for the year and divided it by 26 for the number of paychecks. Each payday that amount goes into that account. I keep track of 37 different categories on paper. It takes me about an hour every two weeks to figure out my new totals, pay the bills, menu plan and make my grocery list. It is great to know that everything has money set aside. If something we did plan for comes up I highlight it in pink so when we reevaluate in July I can add those amounts to next years budget. We have paid off thousands of dolalrs this past 9 months and started a savings account. Cash has been the answer for me. I can not have a credit card!

  9. Jessica H says:

    Some months we still use all of our budgeted money when we use cash, but I feel like we have gotten a lot more for our money. I’m now able to pay for a lot of those extra unbudgeted expenses with leftover grocery money. This helps us continue to meet our monthly savings goals.

  10. We started limited cash use this month. We’ve tried switching before and have failed. I realized that I needed to break this down into manageable bites, so for this month, we used cash for all of our grocery needs. I also planned and took out a little more cash than our budget usually allows, because I wanted some flex and wanted to make this work rather than feeling so tight that I gave up. We made it, with the extra wiggle room left in our envelopes! In June, I want to continue using cash for groceries and also include another budget category, probably our household expenses.

    We’ve always used a debit card or credit card that we pay off each month, so, like you, I don’t know that it made us spend any less. However, it was good to think through my purchases and to try to save as much as possible. We also made a game of trying not to spend our $5 bills, and so we had $55 leftover just from that alone.

    So far, so good! Thanks for the encouragement!

    • “I realized that I needed to break this down into manageable bites…” absolutely! *ALL* cash is a relative term for me. 😉 Our challenge is in the discretionary spending zone. I’m really not willing/able to do cash for every.single.thing.

  11. We have been cash spenders for the last 9+ years. I find it is easier for me to keep track because I often forgot to write down this or that, and then the credit card bill would come and my total would be off by $50 to $100. I have friends thought that are super at record keeping and seem to never loose track of a dime. So I guess it really depends what sort of person you are. I do agree though for the Kids seeing me pay cash helps them get it more.

  12. We had a reverse month last month. We have been basically using cash for the past six month. But last month my husband’s bank was purchased by another bank and his information was transferred to the new bank. However, I had opened my bank account at a different region (which was not sold) and so my information did not transfer. During our transition to merging everything all to one bank we have been using our card and WOW have we gone over budget.

    I miss staying focused with cash. I hope to resolve everything in the next couple of weeks. It has been way too easy to charge it!

  13. Rebecca says:

    I have often thought about using a cash only system, although I change my mind every time we get a $50 check in the mail from our credit card company. Since we pay our credit card bill in full every month and are not paying interest, I feel that the cash back rewards are worth using the credit card instead of cash for our expenses. We are disciplined with our finances which is why using a credit card is not a problem for us. It seems that the cash only system would be a good option for those who are in debt or are unable to spend within their means.

    • Yep, I’m paying off credit card debt. I’m tempted to pay one off tonight (and close it), but then I’d be flat broke for the rest of the month. Decisions, decisions!

    • I think the argument here is that you would save MORE than that $50 every so often because of the “discipline and emotion” of spending cash. Some people find that is true, others, notsomuch. Really depends on what kind of spender you are, but I don’t know if I’m willing to put in the time it takes to see if I save more with cash than I “make” with cashback. (But if using cash keeps someone from buying a $4 frappe every day, then that likely would add up to WAY more than any 5% cashback system.)

      “It seems that the cash only system would be a good option for those who are in debt or are unable to spend within their means.” I agree completely!

      • “I think the argument here is that you would save MORE than that $50 every so often because of the “discipline and emotion” of spending cash. Some people find that is true, others, notsomuch.”

        I really appreciate that, Amy! So many cash-only people (who PUSH it) do not have this attitude. Thanks!

    • Also, for some the protest again credit is part of their faith and not necessarily attached to over spending or lack of control.

  14. “Note to the haters:” That cracked me up. 🙂

  15. As a teacher, not every child learns the same way. We will all agree with this. As adults, the same is true. What works for some, may not work for others. It is great to hear what works for others, but you have to find what works for you. We use debit cards so I can monitor all purchases. It works for us. We still save every month as well as put money in the accounts for our kids biweekly.

    • EXACTLY why I’m doing this challenge. I can’t (and I don’t think anyone else can, either) say “cash doesn’t work for me” if I don’t give it a good shot. 🙂

  16. Christine M says:

    I’m loving all the comments. With 4 kids and 1 on the way there is no way I would pay cash for gas. I’m not lazy I just use my debit card at the pump and stick to my budget =). We have tried cash only but for me it just doesn’t work. I think once hubby gets back from being overseas we will try it again. We love Dave Ramsey have done great at sticking to the budget we planned and only have student loans left to pay. I also notice when I have cash I’m quicker to spend it than if I only have my debit card. My hubby can’t track my cash but can track my debit spending esp for all these preggo cravings lol! I think using a card keeps me more responsible. I love reading about using a CC strictly within your budgets and racking up the rewards.

  17. For me using cash is less stress. Even thou I have the money to pay my credit cards off every month, that huge bill is a mental stress to me. Yes, I get cash reward for using my card and I used to cash them in as soon as I had enough. However, this year I am saving them to cash all at once for something special, vacation, Christmas, 40th birthday party for my husband 🙂 or something. It’s like a savings account to me. I can easily forget I have it too. The only caution is to watch out for expiration of rewards. Each card is different so be sure to watch that if you are saving them up and don’t let them expire. Congratulations on your 1 month success. Our family is still somewhat divided on credit card use. I am still trying to get my husband to use more cash and less credit card, but we are still making it work. Have a wonderful day!!

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