The summer is just about over, which means we're in the home stretch when it comes to meeting end-of-the-year financial goals. If you strayed a little (or, let’s be honest, a lot) last season, you can still get your budget back on track. While there are a couple ways to tighten your belt before winter, one of the easiest and most successful methods could be going cash-only.
“Cash is king,” Certified Financial Planner Catalina Franco-Cicero said. “With your credit card, it’s very easy to lie to yourself about how much you’re spending.”
Why go cash only?
Anyone who has trouble tracking their spending or overspends with their debit or credit card should consider going cash-only to regain control of their financial health. Having your money in tangible form helps you realize that, yes, your money can run out — and pretty quickly.
“If you aren’t paying attention to how much you're spending, you are never going to experience financial freedom down the road,” Franco-Cicero said.
The envelope method
One of the most popular ways to go cash-only is the envelope system, which has you set a limit for how much you’re going to spend on big budget categories, like dining, entertainment and groceries, each month.
Once you set limits, put aside that amount of cash in an envelope for each category. Leave your plastic behind and carry around the envelopes to buy what you need. If carrying around cash makes you nervous, just bring along one envelope at a time.
The envelope method may be a little bit too drastic for the average person looking to put less stress on their wallet, but it will definitely give people who continually overspend a better sense of where their money is going.
Other ways to keep to cash
Of course, it's not always possible to pay bills, like your rent or utilties, in cash. For monthly payments like that, use a check or set up ACH payments, which are electronic transfers debited directly from your checking account. You can use a debit card or credit card to pay these bills in a pinch, but for categories that fluctuate, consider heading to the ATM.
If the envelope method is too hardcore, try switching to cash for just your discretionary spending or one or two categories. Hold yourself accountable — i.e., don't use your debit or credit card for anything in the categories you choose. Setting hard and fast rules gets you in the habit of relying only on money you have on hand that day, which saves you in the long run.
How to stick with it
Going cash-only is a trial-and-error process: Set aside a certain amount each month, and if you burn through it by the 17th, tweak or revisit your budget. Create an easy system to track your purchases. Use a personal finance app or this simple spreadsheet to identify problem areas and places you can pare back.
Make sure you are making time to take out and organize your cash, instead of just throwing it into your bag or back pocket. And lastly, stick to your limits. Just because you're suddenly able to spend more than you originally allotted doesn’t mean you should.
If you aren’t sure about going cash-only, check out these other ways to save.