Green Day *

19 Sep

This past summer, I was feeling a little tight, cash-wise.  And I got tired of it.  So I conducted a little experiment to Take. Back. My. Cash.

I’ll confess something upfront—I’m not bad with my money.  Not because I have so much of it, but because I’ve always been fairly…thrifty.  And my parents instilled in me at a young age the importance of a budget, and saving up front (“pay yourself first!”), so like the good nerd I am, I learned how to balance a checkbook and was only allowed to spend HALF of my weekly $5 allowance and I had to save the rest (I eventually graduated to $20 a week, but only if I was willing to mow our biga$$ lawn).  They are magical, my parents, and I’m so grateful to have them for a support system.

But lately I’ve felt…a little strapped.  I only get paid once a month, and it seemed for the last 6 months or so that as soon as I got paid, it went away.  I wasn’t saving anything short-term, and I was regularly dipping into the short-term savings I had, and I just felt constantly frustrated.  I didn’t want to run up my credit card and I didn’t want to sell all my possessions to get more money and I CERTAINLY didn’t want to get a second job—I’m kind of lazy and I cherish my free time.  So what’s the solution?  And where was all my money going?

I started thinking about this way back in January when my church started talking about moving towards tithing (10% of your gross income—which is serious business.  I’m not even close to that!)  Honestly, I don’t even know that tithing is a realistic goal of mine, but I liked the idea of my money not just being for crap I want, but having enough to be more generous with it.  And a book was suggested to me that sounded interesting:

The Power to Prosper, by Michelle Singletary

Power to Prosper, by Michelle Singletary

The main point of the book (and it comes from a very Christian perspective, I’ll say that upfront) is to use only cash on necessities for 3 weeks: no meals out, no drinks, no movies, no shopping (not even window shopping!)  Only spend money on what you really need, and only spend cash.  It’s kind of revolutionary.  Her point was that you would see what you REALLY spend your money on, and determine what you do and don’t need.  3 weeks is a long time if you cut out a lot of the fun stuff you do daily/weekly!

I didn’t think I needed to go this extreme, but the cash thing intrigued me.  If I had cash in hand (which I almost never do), would I spend it differently?  Would i budget it differently?  Would it feel more real to me?  Would I be more aware of where it was going?  In July, I wanted to try it and see what I found.

**A note about my spending habits (you’re learning so much about me!  And I’m talking about money!  It’s all very taboo…):  I get paid once a month, and after I pay all my bills I have an equal amount of spending money left that I divide in half between my credit card (which i pay the following month) and my check card.  My credit card is for all random purchases: clothes, shoes, major meals out, gigantic Target bills, dry cleaning, very important Amazon purchases like my newest Mighty Mugg and Everwood Season 4, etc.  My check card is for my weekly stuff: groceries, gas, meals out with friends, Rite Aid, anything entertainment-wise.  The check card is what I was going to replace with cash only, but I wondered if it would indirectly affect my credit card (random purchase) spending, which is what I felt had gotten a little out of control.  Note-let thus ended.**

I got paid right before the July 4 holiday, and I went to the bank and took out $100 cash for the week.  It was really weird to have that much cash on me.  Tony is much more comfortable having cash on him, and in fact I’m always finding bills stuck in random places in his apartment, but I never have cash on me.  Which, to be honest, can be kind of stressful, because there are certain places (like parking, or bar cover, or splitting meals with friends) where cash is really helpful, and having to find an atm, then driving out of my way to go there, then running late, blah blah—it’s a hassle.  So I decided to get $100 a week for the next 4 weeks and see if I could make it last all month.

Holy crap, $100 a week not that much money (is that tacky to say?  It’s true!)  Going to the store to buy…not much at all (much less an actual meal)?  $45!  Getting a bottle of wine for kicks?  $12!  Running to Amelie’s because I really wanted some lunch plus a raspberry croissant (and a few other things that jumped from the pastry fridge into my box)?  $15!  Honestly, I don’t know how men do it when they’re dating.  Who can afford a $60 dinner out (and that’s being conservative) for two people?  God, I’m cheap.  I’m glad I’m a woman.  And what happens when you have kids?  Where does THAT money come from?  It boggles the mind.

Anyway, it was a really fascinating experiment.  When I had cash on me, I would go to Common Market to pick up a sandwich, then eye the dessert fridge.  Do i need to spend $4.50 on tiramisu? Really?  Nah…and I’d put it back.  I wouldn’t hesitate to buy that crap with debit, trust me.  Do I need that extra $9 glass of wine out with friends when I only have a $10 bill left in my wallet?  Not when it’s only Tuesday, and I can’t pay myself until Friday.  I made dinner for Tony at the end of September (when I got paid), and ended up spending $80 at the Harris Teeter.  For one meal! That only lasted 2 more times!!!  I about fainted.  I used to get paid at the beginning of the month, and because I was flush with cash, I’d almost immediately going on a spending spree.  Now, I’m budgeting by the week, so I actually have something at the end of the month (although this month isn’t a good example…I have a week and a half to go, and it’s looking like PB&J for the foreseeable future).  Honestly, I don’t think I’m going back to a debit card (except for emergencies and things like gas).  I like having the safety and security of cash, and frankly, I think plastic has been really detrimental to most of us.  And I’ve eliminated a lot of stuff I thought I needed, but really didn’t, and used to justify why I was buying it.  Stuff didn’t make me happy, but it sure felt good in the short run.  But it was the long run that I was concerned about…when was I feeling good then?

Good things about being a cash money millionaire: I feel more in control of my funds.  And when it’s out, it’s (pretty) easy for me to say—“I’m cash poor, I’ll have to wait on that drink until next week.”  It’s a realistic out for me, and it makes me feel like I’m not overly extended.  And I’m trying to think long-term.  If I don’t get that purse, I can apply that money to ________.  And then I KNOW I’ve saved money for the thing I really wanted, and not just the impulse buy.  I just bought new furniture, and the thing with new furniture is that there’s always more crap to buy—lamps, towels, chair cushions, a new TV—and I was able to save up my money for most of that stuff, just by budgeting.  THAT is a really good feeling.  I’ve alleviated a certain level of anxiety by not being overly committed.  And as I do it for longer, I know that I’ll free up more money in my budget, which will allow me to be more generous.  Skipping the new bathroom accessories from Bed Bath and Beyond and then giving some of that money to a nonprofit helping out deployed soldiers (who just happened to call me on a random Tuesday night, asking for donations)?  It felt good, man.  

BAD THINGS ABOUT HAVING A DAMN BUDGET:  It’s a total bore.  I think about money ALL THE TIME:  How much do I have?  Do I have enough in my wallet?  I hope my wallet doesn’t get stolen.  Should I really buy that bottle of wine AND those pine nuts?  Dang, those pine nuts are expensive.  OH MY GOD, I CAN’T BELIEVE I SPENT $80 TO MAKE CHICKEN PARMESAN.   Is that fresh mozzarella REALLY worth it?  Why do I care so much?  Will it really matter if I buy the generic brand of cheese?  THis money thing is so stupid.  I WANT SUSHI, AND I CAN’T AFFORD IT TONIGHT.  God, this is lame.   Now I have to wait until October to get my Everwood DVDs?  Bleh.  I hope Tony is making dinner tonight.  I will pay him back with kindness and LOVE.  How is it possible to charge that much at Target?  Oh, the bargain book section!  My happy place!  I really want that new novel by—PUT IT BACK, PUT IT BACK, PUT IT BACK AND GET IT FROM THE LIBRARY.  Ohh…I wonder if I could just stop by Julia’s coffee and browse their book section, will I find (DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.  [But it’s for charity!  It benefits Habitat!] YOU HAVE 200 BOOKS AT HOME.  READ THOSE.)

…this is the running commentary of my budgeting brain.  It never shuts up (and frankly it’s kind of mean.)  It’s so tedious, and I worry that it’ll make ME tedious.  It’s like people obsessed with their weight, and it’s all they talk about.  Shut up, already. 

So the only thing to do is share this blog, then keep it to myself.  And keep my cash handy!  And then NEVER MENTION IT AGAIN.  

Seriously, though.  Cash is my new friend.  Maybe it’ll be yours too!  And I’m hoping that as I get better at this budgeting thing with each passing month, it’ll be less stressful, more automatic, and I won’t long for crap I don’t need.  A girl can dream!

* Blog post title was the brain child of Jason Law.  Jason, like a good librarian I’m giving you credit!

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