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November Cash Experiment: Successful, Perhaps

This article was written by in Credit. 8 comments.


Early last month, I decided to leave my credit card in my wallet throughout November. Over the last few years, I’ve been using a rewards credit card to pay almost all of my day-to-day expenses. I never pay interest charges because I always pay my credit card in full before the due date. I buy what I buy, and the form of payment is irrelevant. If I spend $30 on music with my credit card, I would spend just as much with cash. The bonus cash back provided by the credit card would effectively leave me with more money once the points are cashed in.

I spent less in November than I have since October 2006. Before October 2006, the most recent month in which I spent less was January 2005, the earliest date for which I have data in Quicken.

My biggest concern when starting this experiment was my ability to track everything spent with cash. I was careful to collect my receipts and record transactions in Quicken within a few days.

The use of cash was not the only aspect of my spending that resulted in a month with low expenses. I spent a week with my family in California, and I had very few expenses during that time. Without working during this week of vacation, I did not purchase my lunch every day, nor did I need groceries for other meals. I also had no restaurant expenses during that time.

With an entire week of practically no expenses, I can’t completely call the experiment a success. I left a few recurring expenses, such as a monthly charitable contribution and my cable television payment, on the credit card. It would have been a hassle to change my settings. In these cases with set expenses, there is no opportunity for me to automatically spend less just by using a check or a debit card rather than a credit card.

Since November was mostly inconclusive, I will continue this experiment through the end of the year. December should be a month with more expenses, particularly due to holiday gift giving.

Updated May 26, 2009 and originally published December 1, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar lulugal

I run my finances with the rewards credit card like you do. I treat the credit card like cash…by paying it before I get hit with interest and I love gaining cash back.

I used to work at a bank and got so disgusted by some of the dirty cash I got that I try not to touch cash now if I can.

Good luck on the cash experiment.

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avatar J.D.

Flexo, I’m doing a similar experiment. I started it by chance, really, in early October. I’ve basically given myself an “adult allowance” of $200/month. I have been, well, shocked by how successful this has been. I’m one of those who has always discounted the “cash only” advocates, but I’m thinking about making this permanent. I’m much more conscious of my spending.

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avatar Tagi

I’ve been tempted to try this credit card-free experiment as well. I, too, use cash rewards credit cards and look forward to my ‘cash back bonus’, but have heard that the mere use of credit cards causes one to overspend in the first place, thus eliminating the ‘bonus’ received from such cards. Are you using cash only, or are you using a debit card? Do you think the reduction in spending is associated with the hassle of carrying and using cash, or if it is a mental thing that works for a debit card linked directly to a checking account?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,535 (Platinum)

J.D.: I’m quite surprised with my lack of spending in November, but I can’t say with surety that it was fully due to my cash-only policy. It can’t hurt to extend the experiment into December; maybe the gift-giving season will put this to the test.

Tagi: There are some things I have to use a debit card. My girlfriend’s Christmas gift, for example. Any situation that calls for an online purchase I’ll use my debit card.

I can’t be positive, but for me, a debit card linked to a checking account is a cross between using a credit card and writing a check. There is no “cash” changing hands — that’s probably the biggest demotivation for spending — but there’s the knowledge that I have to have the money to cover it.

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avatar kitty

It doesn’t seem conclusive to me. BTW – I spent a lot less this November than last year, and I continued using credit cards. In fact I spend very little. Why? The economy is terrible, I lost over 100K (probably 150K by now…) in my investments’ value, and while my company is doing OK (for now), my fear for my job is a whole lot stronger. I simply don’t have any desire to go shopping this month, either online or to stores.

There are a lot of changes in the economy this November to make it difficult to attribute any reduction to spending to simply changing from cards to cash.

“I can’t be positive, but for me, a debit card linked to a checking account is a cross between using a credit card and writing a check.”
How is it different from a credit card with auto-pay of full balance set up? You still to have money on your checking albeit on a specific date.

No experiments for me. I am perfectly satisfied with my spending habits and the amount of money I have left every month after expenses. I don’t need to reduce spending.

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avatar Writer's Coin

I’m really excited to see what happens for the rest of the year, although the holidays might skew your results too. But I’m jazzed you did this so that’s great. I talked the talk but never actually walked the walk. You are my idol.

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avatar Andrew Chilton

I think I’m always going to be a plastic person since I just don’t like carrying cash. In fact, I find it really easy to leave cash in my wallet (currently I have $1.60 in there and has been the same for about a week). I guess I should try this at some stage just to see the other side of the fence.

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avatar Sarah

I’m trying the cash rewards thing too with Chase. Bad record keeping on my part kept things touch and go for a while, but I’m on track again. My Chase rewards card is linked to my checking account, and I transfer money weekly to keep my debt down instead of waiting for the statement. I find that I’m in better control of myself by keeping the cash and credit as close to each other as possible.

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