Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cash only

Does anyone remember the days before debit cards? Remember how you had to make sure you were carrying cash, or at least had your checkbook? When you went to the grocery store, you tried to keep a mental tally of how much you were buying, so you wouldn't go over in the checkout line? Then debit cards came along. How awesome. You just put the card in the machine and it took the money right out of your checkbook. Whoosh! Suddenly it was easier to make those impulse purchases. If you were shopping for produce and saw a really nice cake, you could get both the carrots and the cake. Then came the next level – debit cards were accepted at fast food restaurants. No need to carry cash for those impulse trips to the Golden Arches. The kids caught on quickly. If you claimed you didn't have the money for a Happy Meal, they'd point out that you could just put it on your card. And you thought, "You know, if I stop at McDonald's, they can eat their fries in the car and maybe we can get a few more errands done before the complaints start."

I don't know about you, but the debit card became my lifeline to instant gratification. I didn't have to plan anything. If I was out, I could swing by Target and grab that laundry detergent I needed, as well as about 13 more things I didn't realize I needed. Debit cards made it easy to spend money. Sure, there's that annoying task of actually recording your purchases when you came home. I always tended to underestimated how much I spent in a week, too.

Lately, the husband and I are wondering if we can live on a little less each week. We've decided to give our debit cards a break. Each week, we take out enough money to cover grocery runs, Target runs and an occasional meal out. We leave enough in the bank to cover an emergency debit purchase, but most of our purchases have to be in cash. If the cash runs out before the week is done, we stop buying. Crazy concept, I know.

I went to the grocery store and immediately noticed a spending difference. The M&Ms looked yummy, but did I want to add another $3 to the grocery bill? Could I live a few more days without Diet Coke, or should I take advantage of the $5 for 24 deal at Meijer? Even so, it's Wednesday now and I have about $24 to last until Friday. Matt was working last night, which sometimes translates to a trip to Steak N Shake for the girls and me. Instead, we stayed home and had pancakes for dinner.

I have to be honest. I'm not sure how long this will last. I miss my debit card freedom. But I do like the feeling of saving money, and I do like living without the guilt of extraneous purchases. I kind of like having cash in my pocket, too. When I'm at church and want to put an extra buck in the collection plate, I can. When my daughter remembers that she needs $3 for a field trip, I can give her $3 in singles, rather than write a check. Target trips may never be the same, but I do love the feeling of living within our means. I've missed it.