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Bills, bills, bills: lessons from living on a cash diet 

How I adapted the cash diet to avoid social over-spending.


The cash diet is a familiar term for those of us who are fans of the Can-con reality show Till Debt Do Us Part. It's a mainstay on the show as a way to wean over-spenders off plastic. Once you have your monthly budget broken down into major categories—such as rent, groceries and transport—and an amount assigned to each, you make a monthly visit to the ATM, withdraw the amount for each category and put each in separate labelled envelopes (or jars, or piggy banks—whatever works). Then you put your credit and debit cards on ice, and spend only from your envelopes for the month.

While it's easy to get carried away swiping your Visa, watching the cash in your envelopes gradually disappear should ideally make you think twice about splurging on that diamond-encrusted fedora. When that cash is gone, it's gone.Until next month, at least.

I always liked the idea of the cash diet in theory, but in practice, I couldn't get into carrying around all this cash. I feared side-eye from the Sobeys cashier when I pulled out mad stacks to pay for my groceries, or misplacing my purse full of envelopes. Also, I find it really convenient to be able to easily keep track of what I buy with plastic via my credit card statement. So after a few short weeks of the full cash diet, I adapted it to focus on the one area where I tend to get carried away and overspend—restaurants, bars, cafes and shows. In other words, fun.

I set a weekly budget for fun and every Thursday, withdraw that amount. I put all expenses other than fun on my credit card, and pay it off at the end of the month. But it's cash-only when it comes to going out. Essentially, my wallet becomes the sole envelope for this simplified cash diet, and so all meals out, after-work beers, afternoon espressos or concert tickets must come from this fund. If I have a particularly social weekend, that might make for an empty envelope come Monday, and I wait until Thursday to replenish the fun-fund.

And the added bonus of this cash diet is that I always have bills on hand for those cash-only situations, like the bridge, cover charges or farmers' markets.

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