save money by using cash

Can I save money by only using cash for a week?

The Slice: I started the week with $120 in cash and managed to spend $123.

The Challenge: All purchases for the week must be made in cash. No debit or credit cards allowed. Total budget for the week: $120.

Difficulty Levelmedium level difficulty

stuffed wallet from using only cash to save money

Consequences of a cash only challenge: My fat a** wallet.

I have a problem with saving money. When I’m in a bind, I rely on my credit cards to make up the difference and then pay it off as much as I can when payday comes around. I cover all of my bills every month – a reality that I am thankful for, but it’s the superfluous spending that gets me in trouble. I use the app, Digit, to passively save money and Acorns to passively invest. I also save money by automatically transferring money to two separate savings accounts every payday. While it’s a step in the right direction, I really just need to save money by spending less.

So with $120 set aside in real, tangible dollars, I set off.

The Receipts

Monday was easily my most expensive day. Something about spending money when you have it, maybe? I stumbled into the office cafeteria for an iced coffee, bagel and cream cheese. $4.22. I didn’t get my lunch together due to a busy weekend, so I opted for the cafeteria special – though for $11.98, it definitely wasn’t that special. It was my roommate’s birthday that day, so after work I got her an oversized birthday balloon. $11. After, I stopped in to the grocery store for my weekly haul, and so I could avoid buying food for the rest of the week. $53.21.

I caved and used my debit card, but for a good cause. A close friend recently began running art lessons for kids. I wanted to support the arts and my niece’s creative development, so I paid for the lesson. Payment is due online, so cash is not an option. $26.97.

Tuesday was going really well, until it wasn’t. I left work early for a doctor’s appointment. They validated my parking, but it was still $1. It is machine operated, so I was forced to use my debit card. Day 2 was also election day. You may recall the stress everyone was feeling that day. I dealt with mine in a very healthy way and bought myself a large pizza. $20.

cash saving tips

All I had left by Friday morning. $2.04

Wednesday, I couldn’t resist a snack at work. $2.93. After work, I met with some classmates for a group project. I needed coffee and another snack. $6. I found $3 in my backpack. (a profit!)

Thursday, I failed to bring lunch to work again. It cost me. $7.62. I have class Thursday nights. Coffee. Need. $2.89. Pringles. Need. $1.96.

Friday morning came around and I had $2 left. I went for the bagel and cream cheese. $1.62. I made it! Work fed me lunch, and I stayed in for the rest of the day. Someone reminded me that we were all pitching in for my coworker’s baby shower. I forgot. I had to Venmo $10. So close.

My takeaways

keeping receipts to track spending

So. many. receipts.

I used my debit card three times: the art class, the parking fee and the baby shower. I didn’t feel too bad about these “failures” because it was something nice I wanted to give to those close to me. Sometimes, these things in life come up. Admittedly, I could have just deposited the cash back into my bank account to make up for these purchases.

In retrospect, I should have made a budget for the week. I didn’t need the stress pizza from election night, and I spent an absurd amount of money on snacks. I think this might be a consistent problem of mine. I should have allotted myself a sum of money for snacks and accounted for that in my grocery shopping. It’s helpful to see such unnecessary spending written out.

It was also super helpful for me to be using cash because I could hold myself accountable for my purchases. I was committed to not going back to the ATM. My coworker pitied me and offered me some cash. I declined. It is a strategy I will definitely be using again.

Cash used: $123.41
Total money spent: $161.38.

Andrea Aldana is YDA’s finance contributor. She hates the smell of money, oversized wallets and keeping receipts, so obviously, she’s in the right place. 

4 thoughts on “Can I save money by only using cash for a week?

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