2/28/13

Experiment report: Cash-Only February

Today is the last day of February, and I must say I'm glad to see my "Cash Only February" experiment come to a close. I'm glad we did it, and I learned a few things, but it wasn't my favorite project.

My tattered, and empty, envelope
The first two weeks were relatively easy. Almost like a game. It was kind of exciting to pull out actual green bills to pay for things, after years of putting everything on plastic. Online purchases I might have made were deferred with not much more than a dramatic sigh of regret and the thrill of knowing I was saving (or at least deferring) spending and keeping on track.

By the start of the third week, the newness had worn off and we'd settled into a spirit of steady determination. A very few credit card charges did sneak into this period despite our determined efforts, but I forgave myself since they seemed unavoidable. (A summer camp online registration deadline... the kids dentist appointments which cost more than I had on hand...) Everything else was done with cash.

By the end of the 3rd week, I experienced my first moments of true weakness. It was a couple of sales that got me. A 40% off sale at the Gap tempted me to stock up on some sorely needed basics for my girl. A 50% off sale at Shutterfly had me ordering a photo book I might have otherwise delayed ordering. (Both paid for online with my credit card, naturally. Oh, the shame.)

But other than those two incidents, I stuck to the plan and used cash all month. We didn't refill the cash envelope I'd filled on January 31st. We spent our last few dollars today. Whew, that was close. I am relieved, pleased, and surprised we made it.

So, the big question. After all that effort, did we learn anything? Well, yes. But, I admit that many of the takeaways were really just confirmations of things I kind of already knew, though this experiment brought them into blinding focus.
  1. It's really really expensive to live these days, particularly here. Watching the cash spill out of my wallet all month in vivid green technicolor really brought that to life. It made my hyper aware of how much things cost, and the choices we are making every day.
  2. Using cash sounded easier than it was. This month made me realize how much of my spending has shifted online. The whole world has moved online. Without a credit card, it's nearly impossible to shop online, make reservations, register for events, buy many forms of entertainment, and sign up for services. Using a credit card is both more practical, and practically a requirement, for the way I live today.
  3. I underestimated how annoying it would be to handle cash. Remembering to stock up on it before leaving the house turned out to be a big challenge. Stuffing enough cash into my slim wallet to fund both the grocery store and the gas station in one day was an exercise in cramming and jamming. Using a card is WAY EASIER.
Will I be switching to cash going forward? Definitely not. I'm going back to credit cards on March 1st and won't be looking back. Did this change any habits long term? Maybe. I hope so. I gained a sharper appreciation for the tradeoffs I'm making with the spending choices I make. This is bound to affect my decisions going forward, and in a good way.

A couple of last points to make on this before I close the door on this experiment and cheerfully move on....

Many thanks to my husband who indulged me on this and kept up his end of the experiment to the last day, despite a generally low (and declining) lack of enthusiasm for the project. 
One of my primary objectives was to use the project as a learning tool for the kids. I think they do have a greater understanding of cash and what things cost because we did this. It was worth it just for that. 
Lastly, while this project confirmed for me that using credit cards is highly convenient, I feel I must add my point of view that using them only makes sense if you aren't carrying balances. Anyone not in a position to pay off the balance each month should stick to a bank card or the old fashioned green stuff. There's nothing convenient about paying extra in interest for everyday purchases.

Another experiment in the books. Yay!

Bottom Line: Glad I did it, and happy to move on. 

Can't wait to see what March has in store!

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