Money Mondays: Money Hack to Help You Stay on Budget

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This post is by Bernie Carr,

If you are trying to stay on budget but seem to be having difficulty succeeding, here is a hack to help you get there.

Money Hack to Help You Stay on Budget:  The Debit Card Diet

We tried the debit card diet during the month of August in our own Apartment Prepper household.

What is it?

The Debit Card Diet involves using cash for all shopping transactions.  Mr Apt Prepper and I agreed to leave all debit and credit cards at home for the whole month.   Bills will get paid normally and will not be affected.   If we needed prescription medicines, we got what we needed BEFORE starting this experiment.  However, to pay for groceries, gas, toiletries, meals out, entertainment we agreed to stick to using cash only.

Here’s how to do it

On payday, go to the bank and withdraw the specific amount of cash budgeted for each expense:  gas, groceries, school supplies, entertainment etc.  Place the cash in an envelope and pin the envelope to a bulletin board or keep in your cash drawer.

Anytime you have to go shopping, bring only the cash allotted for that activity.  Once the cash is gone, that’s it until the next budgeted paycheck.

How did we do?

It was harder than I thought.  I wasn’t thrilled about using cash only at first and actually had nightmares about going up the cashier and being short on cash.  Standing at checkout lines, I watched how other shoppers were paying for their items:  most people were paying with some kind of card, either debit or credit.  Very few pay with checks, and even less with cash.  Shopping with just the flat amount budgeted, say $100 is not as easy.   The high prices are really noticeable when you are adding up each item you add to the grocery cart.  I’ve had to return less needed items (will buy it when I really need it) to the shelf if I am too close to the limit.

Paying with cash turns you into a very careful shopper.

When eating out with cash, you get really picky about what you order.

When you are relying on cash and have to go to the bank for more, you rethink whether you really need something enough to go through all the trouble.

Once I got used to it, I made it into a challenge.  After a month, I realized the benefits.  We’ve stayed on budget and now I don’t even miss the cards.

Tips to help you succeed

Here are a few tips if you plan on using cash only for any period of time:

  • Going out to eat:  check the menu online ahead of time to make sure you know the prices in advance.
  • Grocery store shopping:  You have to weigh all the produce to avoid overbuying.  It is better to over-estimate when you are adding up your total.  Round off to the higher nearest whole dollar to make it easier to track your spending.
  • If you are needing prescriptions or medicines for a health condition, don’t skimp or avoid it because of the debit card diet – your health is more important.
  • Try generic or brands – they are a lot cheaper than the name brand, but very close in quality.
  • Fill your car’s gas tank at gas stations that give a cash discount if you have one close by to you.
  • Don’t forget to take coupons for dining out or grocery shopping with you.

Try it for a week and see you you do.  I know you will get a good feeling when you are under-budget and you get change back.  If you like the result, try it for a month.  Hopefully you will be able to stick to your budget.  If you have any cash left over, add it to your emergency fund or buy a few staples for your emergency food pantry.

For more tips on prepping on small budget, read my latest book:

Bernie's Latest Book

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  1. I did this for about six months and it completely changed my shopping habits. Went back to rewards credit cards but continue to spend about half as much.

  2. I’ve been doing the envelope cash system for about 25 years now. My mom and dad did this system as well, but as a young adult I thought I knew better and didn’t follow their advice. The result was debt and no savings. The only difference my husband and I do is going to the grocery store, I write a check. Also, I found that shopping for groceries in bulk at Amazon and Walmart on line for bulk items (using and American Express which is paid off monthly but we do limit total on bill by checking daily or weekly to keep current), as well as Costco (writing a check) cuts down on the grocery bills a lot.

    End result, no bill and a savings account

    1. Hi Joyce, That’s great that the cash envelope system has worked for you. I have not tried Amazon for bulk items, but it sounds like a great option. Thanks for the comment!

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