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:
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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