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Lessons learned from our no spend summer

by Karen on September 1, 2009

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

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