Personal Finance: Living on Just Cash

Picture of cash spilling out of purse
Living a cash only life

I have never really been a frivolous spender. Okay, I think what I mean to say is I never thought I was frivolous spender. I was not buying anything outrageous. Most of my splurges were on food items. I am a self-labeled foodie and I take pleasure in new recipes and taking food pictures.

Even with all the spending on food though, I thought I was doing well. My savings account grew and…then stopped growing and would go downhill again. I would do clean outs of the kitchen and find food hiding away that I had forgotten I bought. Somehow, I started seeing all the signs that I needed to put my spending under control and the best way to do that was to say bye-bye to my card.

My beloved debit card is one of my most precious possessions. A quick swipe and I could buy almost anything I wanted. That bag of fancy rice I dreamed of making into a pudding. The cheese that I just had to have for one meal of grilled cheese sandwich to be forgotten later in the back of the fridge. It all seemed okay because it was 10 dollars here. Another 15 there. One weekend, between here and there, I spent 200 dollars and I could not really account for it. This was one of the big red flags for me.

Last summer, while I was in one of my melancholy sessions, I confided in a co worker that my financial future was bleak. I have never been one to stress out about money. I have been lucky to have parents who encouraged me to view my success in life beyond finances. But at the most basic level, I still yearn for things like knowing that I have enough money to see me through an emergency without having to call my father. I want to be able to buy a house sometimes in the next few years, with or without a significant other. I want to dream of vacations and know that they are within grasp. These are things that I know to be only possible if I am financially responsible.

After years of skimming articles and feeling superior because I felt that I had a grasp on my spending, I took the time to read the book suggested by the co-worker. It is called Total Money Makeover. The book advocates for living a cash only life. I read that advice and I thought to myself, “I am good at math, I will just tally up how much I spend and set a limit on my spending.” Then I got a credit card to help build my credit score because I have been smart enough not to have credit cards. But now that I had the goal of buying a house, credit history seemed like a smart thing to build.
I have a very limited balance on my credit card on purpose. Even with the limit, I realize now that I abused that credit card. I would spend money on my credit card against my future income. Then spend my debit card as well. So while I was able to pay off the card every month, my savings account suffered for it.
After taking another look at my savings and realizing I was in the low phase again after a high at the beginning of the year, I went back to Total Money Makeover. I decided to do a cash only lifestyle. I am currently on my second week.
One of the things I did before starting my budget was figure out how much my monthly bills are, how much income I have coming in each month and what my weekly spend is. I wanted to set a realistic budget for myself.

One of the perks of being on a budget is making better food choices. I would rather spend my money on a banana than candy. I am baking cookies at home instead of spending money on the fancy cookies I like. More importantly, I feel proud of myself. I no longer feel ashamed to open up my account each day. Before I would see transactions and wonder what they were for. Or I had buyer’s remorse. Now that I am dealing in the absolute currency of cash, I just don’t buy because I see in my hands how much I am spending. The other day, I calculated what percentage of my weekly spend a bag of fancy cheese represented. Knowing that allowed me to walk away. I am also teaching myself to save for little items as a reward or positive reinforcement for good behaviour instead of just buying.

Ultimately I have learned from saying no to things that I absolutely don’t need all the things I thought I did. I want them and one day I can have them if I remain financially responsible.

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