The past couple of weeks, I experimented with the “cash-only diet,” ditching my Discover card and reverting to cash for everyday purchases.
Research shows that people spend significantly more when using credit cards instead of cash, and several people have used this strategy to get out of deep debt.
What began as a short-term personal challenge quickly evolved into a long-term lifestyle amendment — 14 days of cash changed the way I’ll spend forever.
If I keep it up, I’ll save $US600 this year.
The strategy worked brilliantly for a number of reasons: I knew exactly how much I was spending each week, had a better idea of how quickly money can disappear, gave more thought to certain purchases, and enjoyed the overall convenience that comes with carrying cash.
The most eye-opening and rewarding takeaway was how much I actually saved, and how much I’m on track to save each month, simply by altering the way that I spend.
Outside of rent and utilities, I try to keep monthly expenses to under $US500, which allows me $US125 a week. That number has always seemed more than doable, but I realised within days of starting the experiment how easy it is to find yourself over-budget with just one bigger or unexpected purchase.
What the cash-only diet did was force me to use exactly $US125 — there was zero wiggle room.
It turned that abstract number of 125 into physical cash — something tangible, that I could grasp — and brought my budget to life in a way, allowing me to interact with it and be more hands-on when it came to spending habits.
This spending strategy doesn’t allow you to brush off unexpected purchases that roll around (a wedding gift, parking ticket, flight home, or wardrobe necessity, for example) and deem them too infrequent to account for. It forces you to alter your everyday spending habits so that you can make the bigger purchase and still stay at or below budget.
Just by sticking to my weekly allowance of $US125, I will be saving about $US50 a month, the average amount I tend to go over-budget due to unexpected purchases or lack of discipline when handling a debit and credit card.
That’s $US600 a year, just by turning my theoretical budget into something tangible.
This strategy still requires discipline — my debit and credit cards sit in my wallet, itching to be used — but it puts one more barrier between me and spending money.