A Week on a Cash Diet

The Cash Diet is the ultimate financial reset program. Consider it the juice diet of the financial world. It’s not entirely sustainable over the long-term, but it really helps you focus and recalibrate in the moment. For those who say, “I always spend more when I just have cash in my wallet.” Think of it this way: you’re recognizing how much you normally spend because you see the cash dwindle down in your wallet in real time.

 

Personally, I was in need of a reset. The summer had been quite pricey with trips galore. Instead of doing my standard cash diet, I decided to double-down by doing a money diary in addition to only paying in cash. Here’s a peek into my spending habits for the week of Monday, August 21 to Sunday, August 27.

 

MONDAY

 

The week of a cash diet started with a total fail, but in my defense, I needed to get home! I landed in New York City at 6 am after a red-eye flight from Portland. There was about $35 in cash left in my wallet, which wouldn’t be enough to take a cab home. Plus, a cab home from JFK usually runs around $50+, so I did a quick price comparison with Uber, which would cost $42.31. After some delightful conversation with the driver, I also added a $3 tip. Cost: $45.31.

 

I showered and collapsed into bed for a couple hours until Peach (my boyfriend) woke up me up around 12:30, to prevent me from screwing up my internal clock too much. We didn’t have much food in the house, which we promptly used an excuse to go get bagels. One coconut bagel with strawberry cream cheese and one whole wheat with jalapeño asiago cream cheese totaled $8.40 and I tossed the extra twenty cents in the tip jar. Cost: $9 in cash.

 

TOTAL: $54.31

 

TUESDAY

 

Time to catch up on work after my five-day trip to Portland. I walked the dog and grabbed a large coffee from my favorite neighborhood bakery for $1.50. I used a $10 bill to pay for the coffee and received a $5 bill back with my change, which I then had to put into my savings box.

 

Let’s pause for a moment so I can explain.

 

I’m always looking for quirky new money trends with which to experiment. One article I read back in June suggested coupling the cash diet with an increased savings rate by putting every $5 bill you receive in change into a shoebox. While I don’t strictly adhere to the cash diet on a weekly basis, I do use a decent amount of cash in my day-to-day life. I decided to see how much I would really save if I started to set aside all my $5 bills. Turns out I added an extra $145 to my savings in just two months.

 

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Tuesday also saw another use of the credit card. I bought my $32 metrocard on my credit card. New York offers balance protection and will provide some refunds if your metrocard is ever lost or stolen. However, you have to buy it with a credit, debit or ATM card in order for this refund to get tracked. Cost: $32 on credit card.

 

I attended Deepak Chopra’s release event for his new book of poems and songs entitled Home: Where Everyone Is Welcome. But I scored a free ticket from a friend. Cost: $0.

 

TOTAL: $33.50 spent + $5 saved

 

WEDNESDAY

 

Alright, I’m not giving up…but I do use both a credit card and then Venmo again, but for good reasons!

 

The day started with a business lunch in Manhattan with another personal finance author. A business meeting does mean the lunch is tax deductible! Therefore, I needed to put it on my business credit card. Cost: $40.39.

 

I grabbed an iced chai latte on the way home. Cost: $5.

 

Peach and I hit the grocery store for meals and to prep for visitors. Peach paid for the groceries on his credit card and I sent my portion of the bill to him via Venmo per his preference. Cost: $55.

 

To keep on the errands track, it was time to do laundry. Like many New Yorkers, I have to go to a coin-operated laundromat. I do indulge in drop-off service during busy weeks, but I handled it by myself this week. One load in a large washing machine and two loads in regular sized machines cost $7.50. Then two dryers cost an additional $3.50. Cost: $11.

 

Peach and I were craving a sweet treat and bought a cookie to split. Cost: $3.

 

TOTAL: $114.39         

 

THURSDAY

 

Peach’s brother and sister-in-law arrived for a three-day trip. I had a work event, but met up with them afterwards to hit up some bars in the East Village. I still hadn’t eaten dinner by 9:30, so I snagged a quick slice of pizza. Cost: $3.

 

We then went to McSorley’s Old Ale House, one of my favorite place to take visitors. We all had beers, split fries and cheese & crackers. Peach paid the bill when I went to the bathroom, so I sent him my share via Venmo. Cost: $16.50.

 

TOTAL: $19.50

 

FRIDAY

 

I took the day off so we could show our visitors around. Peach and I always enjoy bringing people to parts of New York often left off tourists’ itineraries, so we headed to Flushing, Queens – home of the most authentic Chinatown in New York. We ate our way through the neighborhood, starting with rolled ice cream from 10 Degrees Below. Cost: $8.60.

 

Next we headed to the New World Mall Food Court, but this isn’t your suburbs mall food court. Some of the best and authentic Chinese food in New York can be found there (which I say as someone who spent years living in Shanghai). Our visitors picked up the tab though!

 

I grabbed an ice latte on the way home. Cost: $5.

 

That night we went on a bar crawl around Astoria, Queens (where Peach and I live). Two beers, two dirty pickle martinis, shared fries and tip set me back $50.

 

$5 also went into the savings box that night.

 

TOTAL: $63.60 spent + $5 saved

 

SATURDAY

 

Our visitors went to a Broadway play and explored Manhattan, while Peach and I lounged around at home. The four of us ended up having a chill night in, just playing games and drinking the alcohol we’d already had at home.

 

TOTAL: $0

 

SUNDAY

 

We had to show our visitors the New York City brunch scene before they left. We took them to a local joint that specializes in Louisiana style Southern comfort food. Cost: $29.

 

Then I went to catch up my friend Hannah who lives in the neighborhood. She and I often play it frugal by taking long walks in the neighborhood. We grabbed some smoothies and walked for two miles while catching up on our weeks. Cost: $7.

 

At the end of our walk, Hannah needed to grab some wine for cooking and I decided to grab a bottle too (not for cooking). Cost: $9.14.

 

Purchasing the wine happened to be a fortuitous move as Peach proposed that evening!

 

TOTAL COST: $45.14  

 

THE FINAL TOTAL IS IN…

 

$330.44 – Spent (Yikes! That’s a bit steeper than I’d like).

$10 – put into cash savings

 

While a cash diet is incredibly useful tool, it’s always better if you couple it with writing down what you’re spending on too. That way you can reflect on your purchases and see how often you’re spending on something you don’t truly value. While this week wasn’t indicative of my normal spending habits, it’s still helpful to see how easily I (and anyone else) can say, “whatever, we have visitors” or any similar excuse for spending more than normal.

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