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How to Use Cash Instead of Credit and Debit Cards

By Matthew Pryor

My wife and I decided this would be the year we would transition from using a combination of credit cards and debit cards to primarily using cash. While we'll still use a rewards-based credit card for gasoline purchases (we're not going to spend more on gas just because we're using credit, so we might as well get rewards for that spending), we're otherwise moving to a cash approach.

We haven't finalized the plan just yet. Probably, we'll combine our cash spending with some kind of online accounts for certain budget categories, such as using ING "sub-accounts" or some version of PNC Virtual Wallet. (Having been avid debit card users for 11 years, I already gave Mvelopes a try, but didn't find it intuitive or helpful.)

So, I posed the following question on Facebook: Best advice for someone transitioning to the cash/envelope budgeting system?

Here are some of the responses I got:

• Find a method that works for you (we like MoneyWell), adjust your budget as needed (it can take a bit to fine-tune things), include some fun money, and be patient with yourself (trying and missing the mark is more progress than not trying).

• Start with the right envelopes. I don't think you want to get carried away with too many envelopes.... Cash works very well with those areas of your budget that are tough to control such as entertainment and grocery shopping. Perhaps try cash with those and use a debit card with the rest.

• We're thinking of trying it just for the areas I tend to overspend in.

• Make sure you have your spending categories finalized.... Get your envelopes together. You may find that most of your fixed expenses do not need to be part of the envelope system. We mainly use the cash system for food and miscellaneous.

So where are we in the process? We're no longer using the credit card except for gas (as noted above). Previously, we paid for most of our expenses via credit card (to earn cash rewards). But because we pay the balance down to zero each month, it felt like a huge bill hanging over our heads. Now it'll be much smaller and more palatable mentally and financially.

Next up we need to finalize our budget categories and their percentages/amounts. I've always found this calculator from Crown Financial Ministries to be a good starting place, so we'll likely use that.

After that, we'll need to devise our game plan: take out X dollars every Y weeks and divide it among these Z envelopes. Also, we need to decide who is making the withdrawal and who is carrying how much money and... logistics in other words.

I'll be back later in the year to report on our progress. At that time, we hope to be well-oiled machines — but as one commenter said, "be patient with yourself (trying and missing the mark is more progress than not trying)."

But we haven't got there yet, and that's where you come in. What have you tried that has worked and what hasn't? Any software or physical envelope systems you'd recommend? I'm all ears. Just post to the comments area below!


Sound Mind Investing exists to help individuals understand and apply biblically-based principles for making spending and investing decisions in order that their future financial security would be strengthened, and their giving to worldwide missionary efforts for the cause of Christ would accelerate. In other words, we want to help you have more so that you can give more.

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