30-Day Challenge: Cash-Only – Halfway

I'm a few days late for a proper mid-month update on my 30-day challenge of going cash-only, but better late than never.

A quick recap of the concept if you can't be bothered to read the first post: for the month of June 2012, I'm avoiding any use of credit or debit cards and exclusively using cash. After estimating a month's worth of expenses, I withdrew that amount of cash and must stick to that budget. I may not withdraw any additional cash.

(To make this a little easier on myself, this challenge excludes any recurring expenses that are already set up to be paid automatically online – utilities, insurance, and so on.)

By the numbers

Without giving actual dollar amounts, here are the numbers as of :

TotalSpent
Groceries6%
Other Food87%
Shopping16%
Auto59%
Entertainment0%
Alcohol78%
Reserve0%

Overall, not so bad. I'm way over on the "Other Food" budget, which is for non-grocery food purchases like meals at restaurants, vending machine purchases, et cetera. Barely halfway through the month, I've already burned through almost 90% of that money. This is perhaps a failure on my part to properly estimate how much was needed for the month, and some of that I could or should really have avoided spending.

(Though, taking the ladyfriend out for dinner to celebrate making it one month into a relationship without any catastrophic failures was a worthwhile expense.)

I'll have to divert some cash from the "Shopping" or "Entertainment" budgets to cover any additional non-grocery food for the rest of the month.

The "Auto" budget is a bit past halfway as well, but that's due to letting my gas tank get almost completely empty before filling up. I don't anticipate going over on that particular budget.

Realizations

  • Cash is really inconvenient. It takes up extra space in my wallet, it gets bent and wrinkled without the slightest provocation, and it takes forever to deal with cashiers.
  • It forces you to plan ahead. Unless you want to carry your entire month's cash allowance on you at all times, you have to think about what you're going to do that day that would require money. I have neither the confidence nor wallet space to carry that kind of cash with me constantly.
  • You're much more aware of what you can or cannot buy. Rather than just swiping a card and knowing it's coming from a nebulous account somewhere, you're acutely aware of your buying limits. At the grocery store, considering an impulse buy of some cookies, I realized it wasn't going to happen because there wasn't enough cash in my wallet to cover it.
  • No online purchases. Until they develop a way to feed paper money into the computer and have it go towards online purchases, online purchases are out of the question. It would have been really easy to drop $40 for the entire Alien anthology on Blu-ray when it was on sale from Amazon, but nope. Not even quick 99¢ ebooks, which is probably for the best since I'm already staring down 10 pages of unread titles on my Kindle.
    Technically I could use cash to buy a pre-paid gift card for myself and use that, but nothing urgent has come up that would justify that.

So far, it's going okay. I'm definitely spending less than I normally would have, in part because my budgets were deliberately set somewhat lower than they perhaps should have been.

Trying not to spend money on lunch from the work cafeteria means I'm relying on leftovers from home, which are invariably cheaper and better for me. Not wanting to waste my grocery money means I'm drinking even more water than usual, instead of my daily Mountain Dew to go with lunch.

I put some money in a "Reserve" category more or less as a fallback in case something happened that went beyond the budgeted categories, but it's not much. I also didn't budget anything for medical expenses, then ended up having to visit the dentist – fortunately, insurance covered the up-front cost, though this is a relatively new experience for me since I never had health insurance until last year (that's a whole different topic). If a true emergency were to come up, I'd have to forfeit the challenge and just deal with that on credit.

Ready to be done

Overall though, I'm ready to be done with this. It's not been that bad, but I've grown very accustomed to being able to do what I want when I want without having to check my wallet to see if there's cash in there. The inconvenience is killing me (talk about a first world problem).

Twelve more days to go, then I'll post a recap and go back to living like a proper civilized person, with magnetized plastic.

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