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The Ultimate Guide to Using a Cash Envelope Budget

There are many types of budgets you can try.  A quick Google search will show you lots of options – including the cash envelope budget.  If you say it will not work for you, it means you did not try doing it the right way.

cash envelope budget system

Whether you are getting out of debt or not, you can probably use some help in making sure you control your spending. Contrary to what many people say, the best way to do this is to use cash.  If you are trying to get out of debt, this is the next step you need to follow!  The cash envelope system is an important step to your debt paydown plan.

Ask many financial experts such as Dave Ramsey or Clark Howard and they will agree that using cash is an important factor in controlling your spending. And it is not a system only for people trying to get out of debt, but everyone as it really makes you think more about your spending.

If you are just learning about budgeting, you will want to check out our page — How to Budget. There, you will learn everything you want to know about budgets and budgeting.

 

HOW TO USE THE CASH ENVELOPE SYSTEM

WHY A CASH BUDGET?

Cash is King!!  I say this all of the time because I genuinely believe this.  When I bring up using cash, the first rebuttal I get is “If I have cash, I spend it far too easily.”  Sorry, I don’t buy it.  The main reason that people fail on a cash budget is a lack of tracking what they spend and assigning it a task.

The truth is that when you use cash, you spend more wisely. Click To Tweet

When you have only $200 for groceries, and you also know that your cash must last for two weeks.  It forces you to think twice before you buy that extra item.  A cash budget never lets you overspend because once the money is gone – it’s gone.

 

CASH ENVELOPE CATEGORIES

Getting started using the envelope system for budgeting is pretty simple.  To begin, look at your budget.  The following are cash envelope categories you should consider using:

  • Groceries
  • Clothing
  • Dining Out
  • Hair Cuts/ Beauty
  • Doctor Visits
  • Random Spending (which is your spend as you want – only if you can afford it)
  • Medicine
  • Doctor/Dentist Visits

You will notice that I didn’t include gasoline on my list.  The reason I didn’t is that most people won’t overspend at the pump.  Most of us just fill up our tanks and go about our merry way.  You also don’t drive around and burn fuel or decide to fuel up because your neighbor did.  It is on your budget but is not one you where you will overspend. Not only that, it is usually much more convenient to pay at the pump.

 

PRINTABLE CASH ENVELOPE TEMPLATE

When it comes to using the cash envelope system, you can purchase one such as that sold by Dave Ramsey or you can just use the envelopes in your desk drawer.  I’ve even got a cash envelope template you can use as well (purchase HERE for $2.99).

 

HOW MUCH CASH DO I NEED?

Once you have your categories, you have to determine how much cash you need for each group.  You will figure the amount based on your pay period.

For example, if payday is every two weeks, take the total monthly grocery budgeted amount and divide it by 2.  You will then know how much money you will need for each of the two pay periods for that month.  It is important you have a budget that works (including using budget printables as needed).

Next, review, each category you will use cash for and figure up the amount you will need.  Once you have done that, you will also want to figure out how many of each denomination of bill you will need.  List the total amount, by denomination, on a piece of paper.  Take that, along with a check from your account for the amount, to the bank.  You will make a withdrawal and then split up the cash into each envelope.

 

HOW TO USE THE CASH ENVELOPE WALLET

Sometimes, it is easier to understand something if you can see it in action.  Follow this simple cash budget example to see how it works.

 

START WITH YOUR REGULAR BUDGET

Let’s say you bring home $2,500 per month. You have completed your written budget and have items such as your mortgage, utilities, food, dining out, debts and other expenses.  Most of your expenses are paid with a check or electronic transfer. Those are not the categories to consider for your cash budget.  Instead, look at those items that you don’t pay for all at once, but rather over time.

These are the items that will work best if you use cash.  In this case, you will include groceries, clothing, random spending, doctor visits and dining out.  (We don’t include fuel because there is never a chance you will overspend on fuel).

In this example, we will only use cash for these items:

MONTHLY BUDGET

Groceries – $500
Clothing – $100
Random Spending – $80
Doctor – $50
Dining Out – $100

DETERMINE HOW MUCH CASH YOU NEED PER PAYCHECK

As you can see, the budget above is based on your monthly income.  Since you are paid every two weeks, that means your take-home pay is $1,250 twice a month.  You only need enough money to cover half of each of these categories.  Your spending for each will look like this for each pay period:

MONTHLY BUDGET DIVIDED FOR BI-WEEKLY PAY

Groceries – $250
Clothing – $50
Random Spending – $40
Doctor – $25
Dining Out – $50
Total cash needed:  $415 per pay period

Now that you see what you have budgeted to spend on each category each pay period, you need to determine how many bills of each denomination you will need to get from the bank.

 

KNOWING HOW MUCH CASH YOU NEED FOR A CASH SYSTEM

Using the same cash budget example above, here is how you will do that:

Groceries – $250 —- 3 $50 bills, 5 $20 bills
Clothing – $50 — 2 $20 bills, 1 $10 bill
Random spending – $40 —- 2 $20 bills
Doctor – $25 —- 1 $20 bill, 1 $5 bill
Dining Out – $50 —- 2 $20 bills, 1 $10 bill

You need to get this cash from the bank.  You can’t use the ATM as it will spit out only $20s and $10s and will not give you the correct number of bills.  Make a note to hand to the teller that shows how to break down the cash:

3 $50 bills
12 $20 bills
2 $10 bills
1 $5 bill

Write a check for $415, payable to “CASH” and take it, along with your slip of paper to your bank.  The teller will cash the check and give you the bills you need.

 

FILL YOUR CASH ENVELOPES

When you get home with your cash, it is time to add it to each envelope.  Find the one for each category listed above.  Pull the cash from the bank envelope and split it into each envelope, per the list above.  Add the amount of the deposit to the front of the envelope, adding to any amounts that may be left from the prior pay period.

 

USING THE CASH ENVELOPE SYSTEM

Once you have your cash and your envelopes, it is time to put them to work.  The only – and I mean only – way that this will work is if you track every. Single. Transaction.  I am not joking.  Doing this can help you stay on track, and you also have to account for everything you spend.

For example, shop as usual at the grocery store.  If your total is $20.17, you will pay with the cash from your groceries envelope.  Place any cash you get back into the envelope and then deduct your purchase from the balance.  So, if you had $100 and spent $20.17, the new total cash you have left will be $79.83.

The printable cash envelope template above includes lines on the envelope, so you have a place to track your balance.  If you use your own, add it to the outside or keep a slip of paper inside.

Make sure you track every purchase. You can always see how much money you have left and where it was spent.  It helps you monitor your spending at a glance.  Once the cash is gone  – you are done spending money.

 

HOW TO USE A CASH SYSTEM WHEN SHOPPING ONLINE

So, what if you don’t shop in the store, but rather, make purchases online, how would that work with a cash budget?  Can you even do that?  Yes, you can.  You just have to handle it a little differently.

The first option is to leave some of the money you normally get in cash, in your account.  For example, if you spend $100 every paycheck through online purchases, get $100 less in cash.  You can still account for it by using cashless envelopes instead.  That way, you still monitor your spending and don’t blow your budget.

The other option is to still get all of the cash you normally need.  Then, if you buy something online, head to the bank and re-deposit that back into your account.  You still get the full benefit of using cash and seeing the money come out of your envelopes.

You still can use cash when you shop online, you just have to make some adjustments.

 

WHY THE CASH ENVELOPE SYSTEM WORKS

The reason why the cash envelope system works is pretty simple.  Accountability.

When you have to make yourself accountable for your spending, you are taking control.  It also will help you spend less.  If you only have $100 to spend on dining out over the next two weeks, you think twice about ordering take out three days in a row. When the money is gone – you are done spending!!!

It isn’t entirely about cash.  It is learning self-control.  That is the one thing everyone will gain in going through this process.  It enforces this way of thinking.  You will quickly learn to love using cash, and you will feel more in control of your finances.

Cash also has more emotion attached to it. You don’t think about the consequences of a purchase when you swipe a card.  However, handing over that cold, hard cash sometimes hurts.  You do think about each purchase a bit more.

We’ve been doing this for so long that I don’t know how to shop without my envelopes!   It is routine, and it helps us always know, in a matter of minutes, how much money we have available for the things we need.

Cash Envelope budget

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