Lessons I Learned from Using Cash Only for 30 Days (No Cards)

I’ve finished another 30 day challenge, spending cash only for 30 days. I talk about the lessons learned. It was fun and fixed a tad annoying habit, which gave me such a relief.

If you haven’t thought about using cash only, here’s some insight from my experience.

Perhaps you’re thinking about doing this and want to find out how spending cash only might look like.

Whether it’s something that’ll benefit you.

One thing I can tell you is that using cash only changes the way you spend money (more on the below).

But first, here’s a little background information about why I started a spending cash only for 30 days challenge.

I’ve long adopted a lifestyle of somewhere between frugal living and minimalism.

It has begun with my debt payoff journey.

It was around the same time I got more conscious about my personal growth and improvement.

It has led me to try a variety of different things I haven’t thought about before, including budgeting, No Spend Challenge, and now this.

I got so into personal development I’ve compiled 100 30 day challenge ideas, most of which I have completed. 

My life has changed so much since. So much for the better.

I thoroughly recommend investing in yourself, starting from reading self-help books and finance books, to drawing up your personal development roadmap and becoming your own life coach.

Now onto today’s topic.

Why Did I Use Cash Only for 30 Days

It started with curiosity.

From the way I spent money, I was certain that the way we pay for things change the way we spend.

Here’s one real-life scenario to illustrate my point.

You just joined a gym.

You feel like treating yourself to match the renewed resolution of getting fit.

It calls for a fresh outfit to celebrate the occasion.

(So we convince ourselves)

On the way home, you spot fancy tracksuit displayed on the shop window.

The price tag says $59.99.

You rummage through your purse and find that all you have is $50.

You walk away.

In a financially sensible world, that would’ve been the end of the spending impulse.

But that’s not meant to be, with credit cards coming to our rescue.

We whip out a plastic, pay for the tracksuit, walk out $59.99 lighter and add the tracksuit to the pile of other tracksuits in the wardrobe.

That’s what card does to us.

It makes unnecessary spending and over spending easy.

It starts with one tracksuit. Tomorrow, it will be something else. And the day after that…

So I wanted to make spending difficult by carrying cash only, know exactly when money goes out (instead of waiting until my statements come and have a minor heart attack, ha!) and physically feel when money is dwindling.

That’s another thing about relying on card payments.

We don’t see our hard-earned money leaving us.

When you don’t see money leaving out of your pocket, you get insensitive to how much and how often you spend.

Card payment is too quick and easy to feel a tangible loss of money.

Which leads us to overspend or buy unnecessary stuff.

So here are the lessons I’ve learned after 30 days carrying cash only.

Lesson 1: Cash Too can Disappear Fast

Since I take care of the essential expenses via direct debit, the biggest cash expenditure is my grocery shopping.

Your budget will more likely look the same with grocery making up the biggest expense, save mortgage/rent.

I worked out an estimate from my budget and withdrew enough cash to last me a month.

For the first 2 weeks, I bought my grocery as usual, once a week. Then, on week 3, I noticed I had far less cash left than I had expected.

Cash disappeared fast!

So I skipped grocery shopping on week 3. Lived on leftover veg, beans, rice, various spices and salt. (Bring out the violin, please. Ha!)

And on week 4, I went to the supermarket with a VERY thin purse.

As I pick an item, I started mentally adding the total price to make sure it didn’t go over the small cash I had.

As I walked to check out, I was pleased with myself because not only I bought all that I needed, I also kept it under the cash I had with me.

(Or so I thought)

Only to be told by a lovely cashier I had 2 pence short!

Oh, no…

Funny thing is, I was more annoyed with failing basic algebra. Ha.

Before I could think what to remove from my basket (which I’ve never done before), the nice cashier said:

Don’t worry about it. We have plenty of changes.

Phew…

I now know this was because of a poor planning, which you can easily avoid.

Lesson 2: Old Habits Die Hard

The first two weeks of this challenge showed that my old spending habit still prevailed.

I didn’t think to spread my cash over 4 weeks (duh!) because at the beginning I had enough not to care.

When cash started disappearing, I got more deliberate with the way I spend money.

So, to avoid the same mistake, here’s what you do.

If your food budget is $300 per month, divide it by 4 weeks and allocate $75 per week to last you the month.

Lesson 3: I can Live with What I Have

Well, “when push comes to shove” and all, if it’s important enough, we make it happen, right?

On week 3, I could withdraw cash to top up, but it meant I’d go over my budget and fail this cash only challenge.

I didn’t want that.

And guess what.

I could live with what I had (or didn’t have). It wasn’t much of hardship.

When you have a purpose, it’s easy to follow through your plan even after a minor hiccup.

And you become resourceful and make the most of what you have.

So I learned that give it enough time; we adjust and adapt to live comfortably with what we have.

Lesson 4: I Set the Pecking Order of Stuff Quickly

So this is something that bugged the heck out of me.

For a few weeks prior to this cash only challenge, I had grown sudden fascination over tortilla chips with sour cream and chive dip (of all things!).

I had devoured a pack (200g) every day.

Since I wasn’t much of a snack person (I swear!) – they’re too sweet or too salty -, this “addiction” baffled me.

Turned out this brand was just right (for me) with 0.49g salt per 100g. Other brands double or triple the amount. Next time you shop, see for yourself.

It was an unpleasant experience because I hated the constant pull to satiate my urge. Every time, it reminded me of my weak willpower.

But remember, my week 3 when I skipped grocery shopping?

That’s when I finally broke this unwelcome habit!

Skipping grocery shopping on Week 3 meant no more chips for the entire week.

So buying things in cash forced me to stick to what’s necessary and do without junk food/snacks.

It was a big win for me (and an immense relief).

Lesson 5: Life Goes On… (Even with Less Money to Spend)

Regardless of how much money we spend or don’t spend, life goes on in one direction.

Life doesn’t care whether we horde stuff or buy the latest gadget.

It’s us who puts a price tag on everything and gets attached to it.

To make this cash only challenge a long-term commitment, though, it’s important to be realistic with your budget.

If you’re too strict with yourself, you’ll feel deprived and give up.

Remember, paying for cash for 30 days is about getting rid of your card spending habit that makes you too quick to buy unnecessary stuff.

If you want to treat yourself with rib-eye or oyster and have included in your budget, by all means, go for it.

But mindlessly grabbing chocolate bars or various trinkets whilst standing in a checkout?

Nope, that’s the sort of things this 30 Day Challenge will put to rights.

We know how easy to grab things out of habit and pay with cards, but if you have a certain amount of cash only for specific items you have planned, you wouldn’t reach out and grab them.

Simple as.

Final Thoughts

Card payments can easily make us spend more than we need.

Since our environments make it overspending and an impulsive buy easy with credit cards or countless “buy 1 to get 2” offers, we need to make spending hard for ourselves.

If you cannot stick to your budget, I thoroughly recommend using cash only for 30 days.

You’ll be amazed by how watchful you become on your spending habits and learn that every little choice makes an enormous difference on our bank balance in the long run.

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