Tag Archives: no spend summer

Why I’m happier on a tighter budget

Yesterday I confessed that we kind of blew our budget this month.

After a summer living on cash, we went a overboard once we started using our debit cards again. It wasn’t that we went completely nuts and totally disregarded our budget. It was much sneakier than that. It was a few things here and there at the grocery store, because we can afford it now, right? It was stopping on the way home from work to pick up a few things because why not?

For us, it’s never something huge that blows our budget. We’re too careful about big purchases for that to happen. Big purchases are always planned out, saved for. What blows our budget are the fifty or so purchases throughout the month. $1 here, 50 cents there. Then suddenly we’re a week from the end of the month and we’re already out of money.

Living on a cash budget, that didn’t happen. Each and every purchase was given the same consideration as a major purchase. Even if it wasn’t, we were protected from spending next week’s budget today because we didn’t have the money on hand. All we had was what we were allowed to spend for the week.

As I’ve said before, my favorite part about living on cash was that there was no Monday budget dread. I didn’t look at the budget on Monday morning and kick myself for overspending on the weekend. We withdrew what we wanted to spend, and that was what we spent. It was so much less stressful for me to have those decisions made ahead of time instead of keeping track of everything in my head. I could just enjoy the weekend without adding things up in my head, because I knew that we were spending the right amount.

My point is, we have decided to live on a cash budget going forward. With so much to save, we can’t afford to let a hundred little purchases eat away at our savings. We’re getting serious for the next 15 months so we can have it all: Europe, a stress-free move, a healthy emergency fund, and our own home sooner rather than later.

And instead of feeling restricted by our tighter budget, I feel free from the stress and worry of trying to keep track of all of our purchases in my head. Life is too short to spend it worrying about every little purchase.

Lessons learned from our no spend summer

cashIs it really September 1st? It seems like just yesterday when I started no spend summer, but it’s been three months.

Tony received his first paycheck of the school year at the end of last week, which means our experiment is over. But I have to be honest, it feels like it ended at the end of July. Between the Paul McCartney concert, our vacation, our huge camera purchase last week, and some necessary car maintenance, August has been anything but a no spend month.

Despite the fact that our budget fell apart this month, we still accomplished what we set out to accomplish: we made it through the summer living on 2/3rd our regular income without spending any of our savings.

Here are the things we learned from living on a cash budget for (at least) two months:

We developed better grocery shopping skills.

Shopping with cash forced me to learn better budgeting habits for groceries. We were menu planning and list making, but too often before this summer, our total at the cash register was a surprise. We were shooting in the dark when we tried to stay within a budget each week. Now I estimate the totals of each item on our list based on previous purchases, and then I update those amounts as I put things into the cart. This allows me to keep track of how much money we’re spending and make changes at the grocery store if we’re over budget. This skill is essential to staying within grocery budget, and if this was the only thing I learned this summer, it would be worth it.

Cash budgeting is actually easy and freeing.

I used to have a negative attitude toward cash budgeting. Because I tracked my spending electronically, cash in hand was money that had already been deducted from my budget, so I was more likely to blow it. But I found cash budgeting to be incredibly freeing this summer. I no longer dreaded looking at my bank account on Monday morning, seeing how much we’d spent over the weekend, and adjusting my budget for the rest of the month. With cash, I knew exactly what I’d spent, and I knew that it was within budget. Tracking where that money went was simple with Mint, and knowing that we’d stayed within budget removed spending stress.

We became more creative and resourceful.

I’d like to say that we learned to live on MUCH less than normal, but I can’t. We cut our budget pretty close, and most weeks we spent all of our cash by Monday. In the past, we relied too much on the ability to run to the grocery store and pick up a few things in the middle of the week. But with cash budgeting, if we were out of cash and we realized on Thursday that we’d forgotten to add a crucial part of a recipe to the grocery list, we couldn’t just run out and pick it up. It forced us to make do, and we learned to look at our pantry differently.

While this is the official end of no spend summer, we’ve decided to continue cash budgeting. I have actually enjoyed the structure, and I’m hoping cash budgeting will allow us to save more each month so we can reach our goals for Europe, moving, and buying a house much faster.

If you’ve never tried cash budgeting, take it from someone who used to hate the idea, and give it a shot! You might find that you like it. :)

Photo by nicmcphee

Tracking spending on a cash budget

budgetingOne of the top complaints I hear about cash budgeting is that it’s harder to track spending with cash. When you’re swiping a debit card, it’s easy for to track spending electronically. When you’re spending cash, there’s a little more work involved.

I use Mint.com to set and track my budget. The idea of changing my system completely, or using the envelope method was exhausting. So I came up with a system for tracking my cash purchases electronically.

I still use Mint.com to track my spending. Mint allows you to split transactions. Before we were cash budgeting, we used the split transaction feature to categorize spending. If we bought dog food at Target along with other household purchases, we’d split the transaction so that the price of dog food was categorized with “Pet Expenses” while the rest of the purchase went under “Household Expenses.” Simple.

That feature makes it just as easy to split cash transactions. On Saturday, we withdraw our weekly cash allowance. We do our grocery shopping, pick up household purchases, and run errands for the week. I save all the receipts for purchases made with that cash.

Mint categorizes our ATM withdrawal as a single transaction. The following Saturday before grocery shopping, I split the ATM transaction based on the receipts I’ve saved.

To do this, just highlight the ATM transaction, click on “Edit Details,” and then “Split.” Enter the store and spending category. That amount will be categorized correctly in your budget. Cash we don’t spend remains categorized as “ATM Transaction.” If we spend it later, I go back to the original ATM transaction and categorize it correctly.

It reminds me a lot of something I watched my mother do every weekend when I was a kid: balancing a checkbook.

Electonic banking and money management software have made checkbook balancing obsolete. It’s possible to track purchases up-to-the-minute online, so most people are happy to be done with the hassle of checkbook balancing. But tracking spending manually makes me more accountable. It a little extra work, but it’s made me a lot more knowledgeable about where my money goes.

This system takes all the guesswork and stress out of budgeting for me. Instead of mentally adding things up in my head and checking my bank balance, I forget about budgeting until Saturday morning. I only take out the cash I can afford to spend, so there’s no danger of overspending. At the end of the week, I organize that week’s spending and start over again.

Have you ever lived on a cash budget? How do you stay organized and track spending?

Photo credit: spiderpop

A change in perspective

Our no spend summer has resulted in the lowest balance on our checking account in, well, as long as I can remember. I was paid Friday, and after paying our bills and buying our groceries, our checking account balance is now $250.

I know there were times when I was in college, and even after I graduated, when my balance dipped well below $50. There were times when I overdrew my account. I remember these times vividly. But this is the first time since we started living frugally that I’ve seen a bank balance this low.

Don’t worry about us. We have more money in savings than we’ve ever had in one lump sum in our lives. We’re doing fine. Keeping our checking account balance low is a defense mechanism. It protects us from ourselves, and prevents us from spending more money than we want to spend.

But looking at that balance stresses. me. out. Especially since we’re heading on vacation this weekend.

I have access to our savings through my ING checking account just in case we need money immediately. Our low balance doesn’t pose us any threat since every penny is accounted for these days.

I still just don’t like seeing our balance that low. It makes me feel out of control, just like I did a little over two years ago when every penny wasn’t accounted for. When I still had bills to pay and food to buy with that $250 balance, and I was trying to make a dollar out of 99 cents.

I’m tempted to move some money around just to make myself feel better. I don’t like looking at that balance. But then the sadist in me wants to keep going, to see how far we can go this summer without dipping into our savings. After all, that was the point of the challenge. If I move $100 into our checking account just to make myself feel better, that’s technically cheating. So I’ll probably keep going, and it may even dip lower before the summer is over and Tony starts getting paid to teach again.

But it’s made me think about those days 2 years ago when low balances were a fact of life. Back when my bank balance rarely went above $500, and there was no separate account where I kept my savings because I didn’t have any savings. Back when I spent every penny I earned almost immediately. I felt out of control, and I never knew where my money went.

It’s times like these when I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in such a short time, and I remind myself that I don’t ever want to go back. It’s amazing what frugality has done for my perspective.

Reflections on month two of our no spend summer

We were not as successful this month as last month. We made a handful of unnecessary purchases on our debit card in desperation, not because we needed things but because we wanted them. I know, I know, we’re bad. But this is an experiment. In the beginning we set a goal, and even though we’ve had some setbacks, we’ve still accomplished our main goal: getting through the summer without spending our savings.

We made a short trip to Myrtle Beach to see The Wallflowers. It was a lot of fun, and aside from the tickets we bought in May and a couple gallons of gas, it didn’t set back our budget at all.

We also made the decision to splurge on concert tickets to see Paul McCartney. While this wasn’t part of our no spend summer plan, it wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t spent the summer saving.

The biggest benefit we’ve experienced this month is we’re getting much better at sticking to our grocery budget. I’ve learned to estimate the cost of items based on past experiences, so we have no surprises at the checkout. I know when we’re over budget, which allows us to reprioritize, cut things out, and come in at the right amount. If that’s the only skill we’ve learned through cash budgeting, I’d say it’s absolutely worth it.

While it’s been more difficult this month and we’ve faced more setbacks, I’d still call it a success. After all, we haven’t touched our summer savings, and we’ll even have enough extra money to buy new tires and do some necessary maintanance on the car without dipping into our emergency fund.

How’s your budgeting going this summer?

Thoughts on our first month of cash budgeting


Photo by lincolnblues

I can’t believe it’s been a whole month since we began our cash budget. It has flown by so quickly, but I guess that’s a good thing.

As I wrote yesterday, the longer we go, the harder it gets to keep it up. A lot of our initial excitement and motivation has faded. For the first couple of weeks we had plenty of money left over. For the last two weeks, we’ve spent every penny of our weekly $90 allowance for groceries, household expenses, and entertainment (sometimes a little more).

But there have been some definite benefits to our cash budget. I’ve lost 7 pounds, and I think Tony’s lost a few, too, though he doesn’t know what he weighed in the beginning. We’ve also been having a lot of fun rediscovering frugal activities and trying new meals.

I’m surprised at how well we abstained from using our debit cards. One week we forgot to pick up romaine for the salads I bring to work for lunch. We ended up debiting a little under $4 for 6 heads of romaine at Costco. That’s the only debit charge that’s come out of our main bank account.

I’d be lying if I said that’s the only “extra spending” we’ve done. I started the summer with about $50 in an ING checking account (including a $25 bonus they sent me for opening the account). I didn’t count this with our summer money, because I was counting on some slip ups.

A few dollars here and there have been charged on the card for expenses that we didn’t plan for in the budget (a little under $20 total). I’m leaving the $30 left in the account out of this month’s budget, too, so it’ll be there if we need a little help making it through the week. Yes, it’s technically cheating because it is a debit card, but I knew we weren’t going to be perfect. Planning ahead for errors has made it easier to manage.

The good news is we’re getting better. Last week we trimmed our grocery budget down by $10 to avoid going over budget. Motivation is harder to come by, but practice is making us better at cash budgeting without going over.

As I look at our success, I’m feeling a renewed motivation. I’m going to need it to get through the next two months!

A little symbol to remind us of our goals

Photo by benklemm

Just last week I wrote about the importance of dreaming big. Sometimes the day-to-day reality of living frugally can be tough. Having big goals to remind you why you decided to scrimp and save can make it easier. By keeping my eye on the prize, I’m reminded of why the daily sacrifices are so worth it.

It’s been almost a month since we cut back to a limited cash budget for the summer. Even though we’ve been living frugally for almost two years, this is more extreme than anything we’ve ever done. I’ve been reminding myself of our big goals more frequently lately to stay on track as it’s starting to get a little tougher.

One of our biggest goals is an extended trip to Europe after my husband finishes grad school in a year and a half. We’re trying to save enough cash for two frugal months in Europe in addition to money for moving and an emergency fund. This is a huge goal, which is part of the reason we’re cutting back even more than before.

Last week, I received a tangible reminder to keep with me. My lovely friend Kacie at Sense to Save sent me about 15 US dollars worth of euros that her husband collected in an overseas trip. Her bank wouldn’t let her convert the coins, so she sent them over to me in the hopes that we’ll be able to use them on our trip. (Thanks, Kacie!)

These little coins have actually been incredibly helpful. It seems silly, but having something tangible to keep the trip on our minds is exciting! It motivates me to push that much harder toward our goal. I look at those little coins, and I’m so excited about the possibility of this trip that the daily extras don’t seem so important anymore. They serve as a symbol for why we’re working so hard.

If you have a big goal you’re working toward, why not see if a tangible reminder can help keep you on track? If you’re saving for a new car, maybe you could pick up an air freshener and save it until you can hang it from your new rear view mirror. If you’re saving for a new house, maybe pick up a piece of art at a yard sale or a welcome mat for when you move in.

Having a tangible symbol of your goals not only feels like a step toward accomplishing them, but it also serves as a reminder of why you’re working so hard.

Have you ever tried this? Leave a comment if you have an idea!

Menu Plan: 6/26-7/3

I’m ready for a short week after a fantastic, relaxing weekend!

It was a great weekend budget-wise. We only have $3 cash in our pockets today, but we’re getting better at appropriating our cash for the week. After finishing our grocery list and doing price estimates based on past costs, we determined that we were coming in about $10 over budget for groceries. We made some cuts to bring it down to our $60 budget.

I bought contact solution for $3 and a Nylabone for the dog for $10 (pricey, but it’ll last him a while and it keeps him occupied!) We also used our entertainment fund to splurge on a 6-pack of summer ale and some ice cream. :)

Chicken still hasn’t gone on sale! It’s been over a month since we stocked up! We bought just enough for the week at $2.99 a pound, but I’m waiting until it falls below $2 a pound to stock up. Buying meat every week is killing our budget!

This week was our last cash-only weekend for our first month of cash budgeting. Expect a round up of the month’s successes and failures on Wednesday. For now, I’ll definitely say it’s getting easier to stay within budget, but it’s getting harder to keep ourselves motivated.

Here’s our $60 healthy menu plan for the week:

Saturday: Roasted chicken and corn on the cob
Sunday: Mexican chicken skillet with refried beans
Monday: Chef’s salad
Tuesday: Leftovers
Wednesday: Chicken and broccoli stir fry
Thursday: Tomato-basil baked chicken with side salad
Friday: Chicken Caesar wraps

For more menu plans, visit Organizing Junkie.

Happy Monday! I hope you all enjoy the short week!

Rediscovering frugal fun on a cash budget

Photo by qisur

Back when it was easy for us to head out and spend a little extra money on entertainment, we neglected all the free entertainment we have available. Since we started living on a cash budget, we’ve had to get more creative about how we entertain ourselves on the weekends. A lot of it isn’t really creativity, though, as much as it’s rediscovering all of the entertainment right in front of us.

Here are some of the things we’ve rediscovered:

Card games

We picked up a pack of cards on our frugal camping trip last month, and we discovered a website with a huge directory of card games. We’ve been playing together and learning new games ever since. I hadn’t played cards since my dorm room days, and even then it was rare, so this is a really fun new activity. Aside from the $3 we paid for the cards, it’s absolutely free! :) If cards aren’t your thing, you might like to play dice games. My family loves to play an old fashioned dice game called 1000, and all it requires is a pair of dice and a scratch pad for keeping score.

Board games

We have a stack of board games in our coat closet that hasn’t been touched in several years. Scrabble, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit … we’ve rediscovered all of them. Chances are you have some neglected board games lying around somewhere. Dust them off for some free fun tonight!

Crossword Puzzles

We have a book of New York Times crossword puzzles that we bought a few years ago for a road trip. I think it was about $4. Lately we’re been solving them again. Lots of fun if you like words and puzzles! You can also find free crossword puzzles online.


During our college days, we both amassed a pretty good sized collection of DVDs. We often neglect them in favor of rentals, which isn’t too expensive with Netflix and Redbox. But lately we’ve been dusting off our old collection and rewatching some of our favorites. It’s been long enough since we’ve seen some of them that they feel almost new.


Between the library and our personal collection, Tony and I have been making a pretty good dent in our summer reading list. Books are another thing we both spent a lot of money on once upon a time. It’s a good thing they can provide so much entertainment! We don’t buy books anymore, but we’ve been going through the book shelf reading each other’s collections and checking out a ton at the library.


Now that we’re looking for free entertainment, we’ve found ourselve venturing outdoors a lot more. Whether we’re hiking or heading to the beach, we’re appreciating all the frugal fun that nature has to offer.

I’m actually surprised at how much fun we’re having with these simple frugal activities. They feel brand new, and enjoying them together has brought Tony and I that much closer!