I Went Cash-Only for a Week and Saved So Much Money

I have never budgeted so well.

The only time I ever have cash is when I know I'm going to a bar that has a cover charge. There is no other time when I use paper bills to pay for anything. Truly.

Cash is messy. It takes up space in my already cluttered-with-junk purse. And then there's the change. Forgive me, but, how often do you throw quarters into the depths of your bag only to pull them out when you find yourself near a vending machine? By that point, the coins are either covered in crumbs or are stuck in gum.

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Cash also feels so slow. Why pay with cash and wait for change when I can swipe my debit or credit card, and move on with my life? Especially when I spend most of my time in New York City, where I can pay for pretty much anything with a card, no minimums required.

I'm not the only one who feels like cash is a thing of the past. Gallup found in a July 2016 survey that only 21 percent of young Americans (ages 23 to 34) make almost all of their purchases in cash. The survey also found that 62 percent of Americans expect the United States to become a cashless society in their lifetime.

I've gone so cashless that my "wallet" doesn't have room for bills. I walk around with a coin purse, which is actually never filled with coins. It fits my debit and credit cards, and that's about it.

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With credit cards, you're not bound to a finite dollar amount the way you would be if you only carried cash. Sure, you could always go to an ATM for more cash, but that requires finding a machine and possibly getting charged for withdrawing if it's not an ATM from your bank. Credit cards are easier and freeing. With that freedom, though, comes the regret of overspending. Regret that I hate to admit I have felt.

At 23 years old, I have a job and a steady income. I'm an associate editor at Cosmopolitan.com, and being in the "Real World" for almost two years has been exciting. There's something about knowing you're working hard for your money and you can spend it however you damn well please.

Those $75 Adidas shoes? I deserve them. A $50 dinner? I earned that. I've purchased things that I don't need just because I finally could.

Granted, I know what I can and can't afford—I do need to pay rent and bills, and have a savings account—but I'm still prone to spending money on unnecessary shit.

Part of the problem might be the plastic. It's easy, almost too easy, to swipe a card and move on. I don't have to face the reality of what I spent until I check my bank statement later on, if I check it at all.

I recently caught myself in a pattern of swiping a little too frequently, spending around $300 a week. That's $100 more than I'd like. So I decided I would only use cash for a week to see how my spending habits would change. I knew that I needed a plan—no random "treat yourself" dinners, no ordering lunch and paying a delivery fee—and that it wouldn't be easy. I took out $200 for the week (surely I could live off that amount—it's a lot of money!) and had a major financial wake-up call.

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MONDAY

Money spent: $20

Two things to know about me: I spend my money on food and coffee. I love food and I love coffee. It's who I am, it's what I am, and I'm not ashamed.

With my coffee addiction comes a lot of Starbucks runs. There's a Starbucks underneath my office that makes it easy to make several Starbucks runs a day. (I'm not proud of this.) I usually go before work to get some breakfast and my morning caffeine kick. Later, I take a trip down with a coworker when we need a mid-day pick-me-up. Not this week though.

A Pink Drink I bought just because it was nice out.
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As the wise and inspiring Macklemore once said, I only got $20 in my pocket.

I made one Starbucks trip per day for the whole week and it was NBD at all. To make up for the lack of the mid-day Starbucks run, I made tea in my office with a coworker instead. It was fun, and I didn't have to spend any money. This made me realize I am a fool for ever wasting more money than I should have on coffee.

My coffee and breakfast that morning cost $8, and for lunch, I spent around $11. That night, I went home and made myself a frozen veggie burger that was in my freezer. I wasn't totally in the mood for it, but Smart-With-Money Danielle had to deal with it. I spent $20 for the day and that was that.

TUESDAY

Money spent: $20

Confession: I have never walked into CVS or any grocery store needing to buy one thing and walked out having bought just that one thing. I go in for toothpaste and then can't not get that Chapstick or gum or hair ties or bobby pins. Then there are the knick-knacks by the register that I'm an absolute sucker for.

I'm very much like, Treat yo'self! You deserve it, girl! I will make you feel good about any decision you're not so sure you should make. Should you get that new lipstick you wanted? Yes, girl. Do it! When I say it's extremely challenging for me to walk past a store I like and not buy random shit, I mean it. But I certainly do not have the funds to treat yo'self! on any random Tuesday.

That being said, I typically have a flavor-of-the-week thing that I like to spend my not-so-spare cash on. I'm currently obsessed with bath bombs from Lush. And, sadly (for my bank account), I pass a Lush store every single day on my way to and from work. On this Tuesday—when I was out of bath bombs and wanting them more than ever—it was a struggle to keep walking without popping in the store. Exactly a week earlier, I had spent $40 there, but this week, I kept walking, with my head down and my cash in my pocket.

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Things I spontaneously purchase: Candles, bath bombs, wine.
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Here's the thing about cash: There's no overdraft protection. You have what you have, and there's no choice but to be smart with it.

I spent another $20 this day to get my morning coffee, breakfast, and lunch. It was Valentine's Day, so I went to dinner with my boyfriend who also picked up the check.

WEDNESDAY

Money spent: $35

Have you ever had to make a decision between taking public transportation and a Lyft, and thought, Fuck it, I'm taking Lyft? Same. But no credit card meant no Lyft and on this night, I really became my own hero.

My coworkers and I went to see Fifty Shades Darker after work (a must-see if you need a good giggle!). I brought $60 with me, you know, just in case, but I had no intention of using it. Yeah, look at me, sticking to a budget.

I spent my standard $20 on lunch and breakfast (I had a system at this point) and then $15 on dinner with my coworkers. I resisted snacks at the movie, thank you very much. Okay, fine. The line was just too long and the movie had already started but everything happens for a reason, right?

When the movie was over at around 9 p.m., that's when I realized I was a Changed Woman.

I live in Hoboken, New Jersey, a little city right outside of New York City (you'll know it if you know Cake Boss). My commute is around 30 minutes with public transportation, and it's about a 20-minute car ride. That car ride with Lyft costs $30 and can only be charged on a credit card. I had no choice but not to be a lazy POS and take public transportation. Because of it, I was $30 richer.

THURSDAY

Money spent: $22

I can be pretty lazy. And, sometimes, walking to lunch feels like so much effort. I really wanted to order in this day. Plus, it was Thursday, so I wanted to treat myself. I deserved it, right?! LOL, no. There I go again, trying to treat myself for doing literally nothing.

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If I were to order lunch online, I could only pay with a credit card. So, I got my lazy ass up from my chair and walked to lunch with my editor. Shout-out to her for making moving my body be tolerable. And also for saving me from a delivery charge and tip, which really add up.

I got a salad for lunch and spent $12. When I order that same salad for delivery, it costs $18. Yikes! I spent closer to $22 this day, but I was comfortable with spending $2 more than usual. For dinner, I cooked up a chicken burger that was in my freezer.

FRIDAY

Money spent: $22

By this day, I was in The Zone. I knew that I could spend $20 a day and contain myself as I walked past a snack stand and a Lush store. That's a big step for me, you guys!

The Starbucks barista that I talk to everyday noticed I had been paying in cash all week though. He said, "No scanning this week?" I sighed and nodded. R.I.P. to all of the Starbucks Star Rewards that could have been.

Laughing on the outside. Crying on the inside.

SATURDAY

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Money spent: $0

I went home to visit my family. I raided the pantry and ate everything in the refrigerator. On this day, I successfully spent no money.

SUNDAY

Money spent: $40

Over the weekend, there was summer-in-February weather in the greater New York City area. This meant only one thing: brunch. Even better, there was no work Monday, which meant boozy brunch.

I don't know about you, but after a few drinks, I think I have Oprah-level funds and am all, You get a shot, you get a shot, and you get a shot! This time out though, I only had $45 on me, which meant I could only buy for myself. Sorry, friends.

I managed to spend $40 on the day and evening out (with food and alcohol, thank you very much), compared to the $70 I spent the previous weekend when I went all Oprah on my friends at the bar.

Total spent for the week: $157

THE TAKEAWAY

When your hard-earned money only exists in a banking app on your cell phone, it's very easy to spend mindlessly. When you have the physical money in front of you, though, you feel a lot more protective over it. You recognize its value.

I have a savings account and a 401(k), which is responsible enough, but I still spend money on a lot of stupid shit. Listen, I love food, and I don't plan on cutting delicious food out of my life any time soon, but there's a way to be smarter about getting it. For instance, I can buy groceries and cook for myself more. That starts by limiting myself ahead of time, which cash helps me do. I can even have more fun while I save. I recently created my own Insta-worthy breakfast using toast and cream cheese I already had, and it only cost me $3. No overpriced trend foods here!

Breakfast of unicorns 😜✨

A post shared by Danielle Tullo (@danielletullo) on

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In my week of only using cash, I spent $157. If I spent that much every week for a year, I'd be spending $8,160. That would leave so much more money for me to save, or travel, or, in general, spend money on more valuable things than junk at CVS and multiple cups of coffee a day.

This week, I took out cash again. I'm not eliminating my debit and credit cards from the picture (hello, Netflix and Amazon), but I now see using mainly cash as a way for me to meet my financial goals. Time to get a regular-size wallet (which I'll pay for in cash).

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