Mine was a very low-tech approach: I took the wad of cash and stuffed it in a business envelope and put it in my desk. I wrote down what I was taking money out for and then what I actually spent it on. (Money as provision rather than an on-demand resource. What a concept!)
The first thing I realized is that I’m a very bad judge at predicting what I might spend. Forty bucks disappeared like water (or wine) during an evening out. A friend’s birthday dinner should have cost me no more than $60. But I threw in an extra $20 to help cover the tip when the group’s contributions came up short. Ouch.
My errands also felt noticeably different. Why? Because now when I needed something, I walked into a store, found the item, bought it and left, rather than linger in the aisles looking for other things I might “need.” (Ooh! Face scrub!) No more spending as a diversion for the delicious hit to the pleasure center of my brain it can provide--at least initially. What the cash game does is make it more fun to try and hold onto your money instead.
(It should come as no surprise that researchers have found we’re willing to spend a lot more when we use a card instead of cash--up to 100% more, in some cases! Behavioral economists have actually coined a term for the phenomenon: the “credit card premium.”)
Still, I found it hard to stretch $500 out over a month—especially in Manhattan. I finally sputtered out in the fourth week of July. I was disappointed I hadn’t made my money last the whole month. But my main goal was to be more mindful about my spending, and that I was.
I remember standing over a $3.89 container of dried cranberries, debating whether I’d get more satisfaction from gnawing on the fruit or from having that $4 in my pocket. (Ultimately, I chose the cash.) I made dinner at home instead of picking up takeout. When I did go out, I often decided to forego a second glass of wine and skipped entrees in favor of bar snacks or appetizers--decisions that were probably as good for my waistline as my wallet.