Money

After 2 months on a 'cash diet,' here's what happened when I started using a credit card again

For the first eight weeks of 2017, I ditched my credit card and went on a "cash diet."

The challenge, which allowed me $60 a week for discretionary expenses, happened to end during a pre-planned trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I was still cash dieting for the first day of my trip, but then I was set loose to spend freely over the next three days.

Here's what happened when I touched my credit card for the first time after a two-month hiatus.

I didn't go on a spending bender

I couldn't help but wonder if the cash diet would backfire. Would I spend like a maniac as soon as I had my hands on my credit card? Would I undo all of my savings from the past two months?

Luckily, I didn't go crazy. I actually still had cash leftover, so I didn't even use my credit card for my first post-cash diet purchase, a Bloody Mary.

When I was saving, I built momentum, challenging myself to save even more than the last week or month. So while I had the freedom to wear out my credit card in New Orleans, I didn't necessarily want to.

When I did spend, I didn't feel as guilty about it

While I didn't spend recklessly in the Big Easy, I certainly enjoyed myself and had my fair share of gumbo and $8 cocktails. Over the four days, I spent $237 — not including plane tickets, which I bought in October, or lodging, since I stayed with a friend.

Sure, that averages out to $60 a day, which was my entire weekly budget on the cash diet, but it included at least two meals and a couple drinks a day, traveling to and from the airport, and a hostess gift. The damage could have been much worse.

And whenever I swiped my credit card, I didn't feel as guilty about it, for a couple of reasons:

  1. I had saved a ton of money over the past two months: More than $1,000.
  2. After two months of saying "no" to brunches, concerts, dinners, and happy hours with my friends and coworkers, I realized that having a good time with friends and building relationships is what makes life worth living. While it's important to be aware of the social pressure to spend money, it's just as important to me to spend on experiences that will make me happy.

It's been less than a week since I returned to normalcy in New York City, but I think the same changes I saw in myself in New Orleans will be in evidence here, too. I don't plan on binge shopping, nor do I have any desire to. I'll definitely be more aware of where my money goes — scrutinizing purchases and carefully tracking my spending is now habit — but I won't hesitate to say "yes" to social activities that come with a price tag, either.

And, if I'm ever feeling the need to cut back in a big way again, I know what to do: Ditch the plastic and head straight to the ATM.

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