This is an example of one significant way cash budgeting has changed my behavior in the short month and a half we have done it.
I love Target. I love shopping at Target. I love casually strolling down the aisles and looking at all the bright colors and the beautiful patterns. I love the home section, and the clothes section, and the accessories section, and the candle section, and the food section, and the kitchen section. Plus they have those red stickers poking out from the shelves alerting you to “good deals” down an aisle you never intended to visit.
You can probably guess why this is a problem. In our old budgeting system, which was spends money and see where it went afterwards I had a category called “general house stuff”. We don’t like to get too fancy in naming our budget categories. On average over 2013 this category was $55 a month. You might be saying “$55 a month on general house stuff, I don’t even know what that means!” Yeah, me neither and I spent the money and categorized it. I like to think it has happened to us all, we go to Target to get plastic sandwich bags and a birthday card and boom we leave having spent $60. How does Target do this? It is like magical retail drunkenness. You walk in sober, by the time you get to the birthday card section you’ve also seen a candle you want, and you need a new hair thing, and nail polish, and that rug is exactly what you’ve been looking for! Bam! You sober up at home with all your regrettable purchases.
After switching to a cash budget I realized exactly what I had been doing at Target. Target was a free-zone, when I went into that store I could convince myself I needed anything. Target doesn’t have exaggerated prices but offers an atmosphere is more inviting than some other commercial retailers. The environment created by Target makes you feel comfortable…until you get to the cash register. So I was going there and spending money without thinking and analyzing whether I really needed or even wanted the thing I was buying. When I would sit down at the end of the month to see where our money went I would look at the debit charges at Target and have no idea what I had purchased. I knew that I had intended to buy toilet paper, sandwich baggies, and a birthday card but what else did I but? I didn’t know so I categorized it as “general house” because 2 of the 3 things I had gone into buy were for general house use. After doing this for the length of our marriage (2.5 years) I had trained myself that anything bought at Target would just get buried as a house expense. I had basically trained myself to use a slush fund. I was cheating us.
This all came to an end when we switched to a cash budget in January 2014. We each get $70 a month in personal money, and there is also $30 a month for general house stuff, which is now defined as: paper towels, toilet paper, soap, tooth paste, shampoo and any of the other small stuff that sneaks into your grocery budget. There is no more room to fudge the “general house” budget. Last month $30 was the exact right amount of money for general house stuff. The other night I was at Target buying a few grocery items and I walked by the one of the kitchen utensil aisle and saw these little cuties:
Now I have eyeballing these cute little guys since before Thanksgiving. I just love how vintage they look. And the whole family of canisters with foxes would be so cute and fun! And they are on clearance now! So I waited long enough for them to go on clearance and now I should reward myself for all that waiting and buy them because I had REALLY wanted them for months! But what would I do with them? What could I store in them? They aren’t really big enough to store any food in them? I already have cotton balls and q-tips stored in recycled candle jars. I could put my necklaces in them but then they would get all tangled. Did you see that? That was the magic moment right there. The use of cash caused me to think beyond the reward of buying something I wanted to what I would actually use it for. I only have $70 a month to spend on whatever I want and it doesn’t really qualify under any other category of spending. If I had just been swiping my debit card I would have not even thought about it. But since I needed to choose a cash envelope to pay out of I had to think about how it would fit into my life after I left the store.
It was a really clear crystallized moment for me when I could feel the benefit of spending cash over just using our debit cards. Has anyone else accidentally lost copious amounts of money to Target? Tell me I’m not alone!