Credit Cards vs. Cash Advice requested regarding envelope budgeting

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My wife and I charge virtually everything. This is done at my request for the three reasons familiar to us all -- rewards, float and ease of expense tracking.
The trouble is, we spend more than I like.  In part, this is due to the fact that using a credit card makes it easy to spend and forget.  My wife says she thinks she'd do better if she had a budget and a fixed amount of cash to spend, so that when she runs out of cash, she'll know that the spending is done.  I think this would be like what they call envelope budgeting,

I suppose that it can't hurt to try this, though living within a budget (or having a budget) is pretty foreign to me.  I'm more of a "hide the money" sort of fellow and impose scarcity on the family by maximizing contributions to retirement accounts, 529 accounts and recently, buying savings bonds with extra cash.  Some would say, if you can do all of that saving, why concern yourself with the spending?  Okay, maybe nobody on Fatwallet would say that.  But, in case people are wondering, I am forward thinking and recognize that one day I will be retired or unemployed, and curbing expenses may be necessary at that time.  Plus, of course, the less spent today, the more there will be to spend in the future (assuming investments don't fail or inflation does not run away from us.

Does anybody successfully use the envelope method of budgeting, and has anybody modified it so that they can still use credit cards?  I was thinking that maybe instead of taking cash out of the envelope for purchases, one could charge and put the receipt in the envelope and just stop stuffing it when the receipts add up to the budgeted amount.  That is obviously a lot more steps (need to save the receipt, put it in the right envelope, and do the addition) and therefore more prone to failure or lead to giving up.  Another alternative is to set the budget in mint so she can see the expenses and maybe categorize them every couple of days and track things that way.  That is also more complicated/less visual then simply having the envelopes to spend from, and seems less likely to result in follow through.  If anybody is doing any of this successfully, or has tried doing it and found it to be too difficult, I'd appreciate your thoughts.  And if you are using envelope budgeting do you just mark you own envelopes and spend from there or do you use any sort of program or system that goes along with it?

For what it is worth, if I could get the spending down I'd be grudgingly happy to forgo the credit card rewards.  I had a job scare this year that started with me almost taking a job at a 50% cut in pay, but ended in a promotion. While things seem to have worked out very well for us, it left me feeling a bit more insecure than usual. 


 

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I think use the envelop for clothes/toys, entertainment, and eating out, these are nice to have stuff and you can surviv... (more)

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I use Moola on my cell phone to track all my spending/balances. I have a set weekly budget, and when I buy something I put it into the app. So at anytime I know exactly how much liquid cash I have, and how much of my weekly budget I have spent. It only takes 10 seconds to add a new transaction so its very quick. Once or twice I week I go through my credit card account online and make sure all the charges line up, and nothing is missing. I have also caught a few times where the charges I was charged were a different amount on my credit card then I should have been, so this method helps keep track of that also.

I dont know how much your budget might be, but I didnt feel comfortable carrying around a few hundred dollars at all times with the envelope method.  I tried it once, and was always worried about losing the cash.  With a credit card at least I know if it gets lost I am not liable for any fraudulent charges.

My family did the envelope method for a while several years ago and it was pretty successful. After we'd felt that we'd gotten a handle on our spending, we went back to credit cards. That's one path to consider.

(Now that I think about it, maybe we should try it again...)

There are data to suggest that credit cards make you spend more -- even if you pay off the balance each month. There is something tangible (and painful) about spending cash.

I hate linking to sites such as these, but this is relatively well-written: https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-cards/credit-cards-make-y...

FWIW - I'm facing the same conundrum as yours. We spent way too much for my liking.

Starting 6 months ago - I have stopped app-o-rama's (made tracking almost impossible with so many cards) and started using the Fidelity visa card (Elan - 2%) for everything. At the end of the month - I spend an hour to download everything in a spreadsheet, categorize them, and see where the money is going.

On the very first month, we noticed that we were spending ~$700 in groceries and $1600-$2000 in eating out. After a little bit of soul-searching discussion with DW - we have now been able to keep the combined tab (grocery + eating out) below $1000 for 4 months. Adjustments included always carrying lunch for both of us (~$400 saved right there), cooking dinner instead of going out 3-4 nights a week etc. etc. Hopefully this will lead to a lifestyle/habit change after we continue this for a year or so.

As an interesting aside - after we stopped eating out at expensive places at a matter of regular habit, I now enjoy each meal out (hardly one or max two a month) that much more. I believe, in balance, our quality of life (if there was any way to measure "enjoyment") is actually higher now.

Other than this specific category, we also discovered that we don't really overspend on anything else - at least not to a degree that can lend itself to a significant amount of savings.

Once I am comfortable that we have changed our lifestyle/habit to be appropriately frugal - I hope to switch back to the app-o-rama bandwagon asap. They are too attractive not to!

The point is that I found no effective way to envelop budget. So I'm focusing on post-facto analysis instead. So far this is working fine for me. Perhaps this is something you may want to try as well!!

Is her spending confined to certain stores? Maybe you can buy gift cards to those stores each month/quarter/year and still get some of the benefits of using a CC.

BrianGa said:   Is her spending confined to certain stores? Maybe you can buy gift cards to those stores each month/quarter/year and still get some of the benefits of using a CC.
Doesn't seem like a good idea to me with all the recent threads about gift card scams. Just a thought.

FutureDilemma said:   
BrianGa said:   Is her spending confined to certain stores? Maybe you can buy gift cards to those stores each month/quarter/year and still get some of the benefits of using a CC.
Doesn't seem like a good idea to me with all the recent threads about gift card scams. Just a thought.


Second this!! I tried this last year. Not worth it for regular spending.

If you are planning a large amount of spending immediately at one place - then it s very much worth it. e.g. we had a disney trip a few years ago where we saved a lot by doing raise -> Target -> disney GC. I think I saved > $1000 by doing this.

However, when I tried doing the same with regular, monthly spending - the results were not that good. e.g. I got GC's from the usual online places for the restaurants we used to go with some regularity. A couple of months ago - we had a $50 GC declined at Olive Garden as zero balance. No help from the original merchant as it was > 100 days.

One such event and you are out a month's worth of savings.
 

I'm always surprised at things like this, but here's a story that makes it very relevant.

Jobs ago my boss complained his wife spent too much. He asked her to cut back, and she said "go make more". He took her credit cards and she got the stores to open private accounts. He took her checkbook and she went to the bank for cash withdrawals. The other side of this is that he would pickup takeout dinner 5 nights a week, and get 4 or 5 videos every weekend. I stared at him and said we went out to dinner once every few months and got 4 or so videos a year...

To OP, I'd suggest using Quicken to collect all your expenses and provide reporting that you and your wife review. I update every Saturday morning, and account for every penny (yes, penny). I know exactly where everything goes. We never spend more than we should, in fact we make do on a salary that I achieved in 1996 - everything after that went into the bank. It's called discipline. If two adults can't agree to control their spending, that's a big problem.

Let's start with the basics to understand. Current salary, Current spend, age, years to retirement, estimated spend in retirement, savings and how invested etc
Then we can decide whether you are going overboard or not, or even tackling the right problem

YNAB (you need a budget). It changed my life several years ago. I recommend the older version, YNAB4. There's a new version out as of this year but I can't recommend it for what you are doing. I charge everything like you and have many credit cards and checking accounts. It's very difficult to manage everything, but YNAB was absolutely my turning point.

YNAB is an envelope style, month to month zero based budget. This month's spending is from last month's earnings and this month's earnings will be budgeted for January's spending.

If you check it out, remember, avoid the New YNAB (in my opinion). I tried it for 6 months and just recently went back to my old version YNAB 4 and am still very happy with it.

https://purchase.youneedabudget.com (I have no interest in this company other than being a very satisfied customer).

We did the envelope system for years and it worked. But I wanted to make things a bit easier and avoid going to the bank/ATM to get cash.

I added a second checking account and now I have the money automatically transferred to the second account each week. The money we would have taken as cash. My wife has a debit card for the account. If she needs some actual cash she gets it from a store when making a purchase.

There has to be an app for that.

DavidScubadiver said:   My wife says she thinks she'd do better if she had a budget and a fixed amount of cash to spend, so that when she runs out of cash, she'll know that the spending is done.So any appearance of "extra" money is basically burning a hole in her pocket and she must spend it? Change her (and maybe your) attitude about spending -- (1) there's no such thing as "extra" money, and (2) don't buy things you don't need. It's not only wasteful in terms of money, but also in terms of natural resources used to produce those things, and they will probably end up in a garbage dump sooner than necessary.

I think of spending money in terms of hours I have to work in order to save that amount of money. For example, let's say I make $200K/yr ($100/hr) and after taxes, retirement contributions, health insurance, and all of my regular (budgeted) expenses I save $20K/yr ($10 saved per hour worked). To spend $200 from my savings I have to work 20 hours (=$200/($10/hr)). Is the thing I'm about to buy worth half a week of work? Of course this is mental gymnastics just like the envelope method and you have to completely ignore your $2MM+ nest egg, but I think it's powerful.

You can take this a step further by considering that there are only 2080 work hours in a year and ~40-50 work years in a life (less if you retire early). Every frivolous dollar spent just brings you closer to retirement and death. The (IMO underrated) movie In Time takes the concept of time as money to an interesting level .

It's hard to do that kind of method digitally. If you aren't using Mint or something like that, you need to start. It provided enough clarity that you can see how much you spent on restaurants this month, how much at WalMart all year, etc. Very eye opening. The reports aren't the best, but they are good enough. I have several years of data in there, and I can pretty easily see fluctuations over time.

Just do the envelopes. What you save in monthly spending is going to dwarf getting a couple percent back in rewards

ellory said:   Let's start with the basics to understand. Current salary, Current spend, age, years to retirement, estimated spend in retirement, savings and how invested etc
Then we can decide whether you are going overboard or not, or even tackling the right problem
You must've missed OP's millionaire series, ellory. IIRC, OP is 48, has $2MM+ nest egg, makes close to $260K/yr, maxes 401k ($18K + $25K as part of profit sharing plan) and Roths, puts > $20K/yr in a 529, but spends most of what's left (~$130K/yr) on a family of four (kids are 3 and 5). Per the most recent thread, a lot of that family spending is unnecessarily high, and it sounds like he wants to address it. It's not really an affordability issue.

scripta said:   
DavidScubadiver said:   My wife says she thinks she'd do better if she had a budget and a fixed amount of cash to spend, so that when she runs out of cash, she'll know that the spending is done.
So any appearance of "extra" money is basically burning a hole in her pocket and she must spend it? Change her (and maybe your) attitude about spending -- (1) there's no such thing as "extra" money, and (2) don't buy things you don't need. It's not only wasteful in terms of money, but also in terms of natural resources used to produce those things, and they will probably end up in a garbage dump sooner than necessary.

I think of spending money in terms of hours I have to work in order to save that amount of money. For example, let's say I make $200K/yr ($100/hr) and after taxes, retirement contributions, health insurance, and all of my regular (budgeted) expenses I save $20K/yr ($10 saved per hour worked). To spend $200 from my savings I have to work 20 hours (=$200/($10/hr)). Is the thing I'm about to buy worth half a week of work? Of course this is mental gymnastics just like the envelope method and you have to completely ignore your $2MM+ nest egg, but I think it's powerful.

You can take this a step further by considering that there are only 2080 work hours in a year and ~40-50 work years in a life (less if you retire early). Every frivolous dollar spent just brings you closer to retirement and death. The (IMO underrated) movie In Time takes the concept of time as money to an interesting level .

I've thought about this more than once.  Next time the wife wants to buy something frivolous, I'll ask her if it's worth the XX number of hours it'll take to pay for it.

FWIW, I also really enjoyed the movie In Time too.

One possibility would be to buy Visa/Mastercard/AMEX gift cards and place them in envelopes. It's a bit more of a pain as you'd have to keep track of the balances left on them, but buying them using a card like the Ink Plus would mean you'd still be able to take advantage of 5x categories. That would help offset the ~1-2% fee of each card, plus using the cash envelope method would hopefully mean you'd be saving more than that anyway in forgoing spending.

I'll second the suggestion to track spending by category in some fashion (we used quicken since it makes it very easy to get per category reports over any period of your choice). That'll help track down small trickles of spending adding up insidiously. And make you reflect on the "Wow. Did we really spend this much annually on ...?".

The other suggestion - coming from my own experience of financial insecurity - is to go the route of financial planning instead. Plan for life goals, both long-term (retirement, kids) and short-term (cars, vacations, etc), fit in contingencies (life/disability insurance, emergency funds), estimate conservatively potential returns on investments and from there determine the necessary saving levels to achieve those goals. Basically determining how much savings is enough. Save first to makes sure what's truly important to you gets done as planned. Then, what you do with the rest of your income becomes guilt-free - but can still be argued loudly over if you want since both spouses may not value a new 75" OLED SUHD 4k TV equally .

From there, what actually worked for us - until it became moot -, was out of the "disposable" money left after funding our financial plans, was to set personal allowances in separate accounts. This money was available for each of us to spend on whatever no-question-asked. For anything else where we'd need to use "common" money, we had to discuss every purchase over $50. Making the argument to the other spouse about why WE need this or that usually solved the dilemma before it even came up. Only issue with this plan is if the splurges come from common spending habits (say dining out, entertainment) in the first place in which case, it may not work well.

^^^ that won't work for OP. You also missed his millionaire series I mentioned earlier. He's doing fine in terms of planning, he just wants to reduce frivolous spending.

Handcuff her to a chair whenever he leaves the house?

Never understood his and her bank accounts nor spending no questions asked. Married 36 years...

A variation on the gift cards ideas is a reloadable prepaid card like Amex Serve.  You can create subaccounts for each person (each person gets their own card), and transfer money from your main account into the subaccounts.
A limitation of Serve is that it's Amex (not accepted everywhere), and it has limits on how much you can load per month or year.

(A lot of people on here got their Serve accounts shutdown due to loading with credit/gift cards and then doing bill pay, which didn't make Amex any money.  But if you're actually making purchases with the Serve card, you'd be using it more like it's intended.)

EradicateSpam said:   Never understood his and her bank accounts nor spending no questions asked. Married 36 years...Being married for 36 years is not like being a plumber for 36 years (well, maybe a little) -- your marriage experience doesn't apply to every married couple. A plumber's experience can (hopefully) cover every situation.

EradicateSpam said:   Never understood his and her bank accounts nor spending no questions asked. Married 36 years...
  Never married, not 36 yet.  I can't fathom a situation where I'd not be able to make a purchase based on solely my own authority.  I'm generally very miserly, though.  And if I did get married, I don't see why I wouldn't have at least some autonomous control over the assets I have spent all my time up to this point (before any relationship) earning and saving for future use.

scripta said:   
DavidScubadiver said:   My wife says she thinks she'd do better if she had a budget and a fixed amount of cash to spend, so that when she runs out of cash, she'll know that the spending is done.
So any appearance of "extra" money is basically burning a hole in her pocket and she must spend it? Change her (and maybe your) attitude about spending -- (1) there's no such thing as "extra" money, and (2) don't buy things you don't need. It's not only wasteful in terms of money, but also in terms of natural resources used to produce those things, and they will probably end up in a garbage dump sooner than necessary.

I think of spending money in terms of hours I have to work in order to save that amount of money. For example, let's say I make $200K/yr ($100/hr) and after taxes, retirement contributions, health insurance, and all of my regular (budgeted) expenses I save $20K/yr ($10 saved per hour worked). To spend $200 from my savings I have to work 20 hours (=$200/($10/hr)). Is the thing I'm about to buy worth half a week of work? Of course this is mental gymnastics just like the envelope method and you have to completely ignore your $2MM+ nest egg, but I think it's powerful.

You can take this a step further by considering that there are only 2080 work hours in a year and ~40-50 work years in a life (less if you retire early). Every frivolous dollar spent just brings you closer to retirement and death. The (IMO underrated) movie In Time takes the concept of time as money to an interesting level .

  I do not think it is so much the appearance of extra money as it is the appearance that nothing is being spent. I do not consider a dollar spent bringing me closer to retirement and death just as I do not consider not spending bringing me closer to retirement and immortality,

ryoung81 said:   It's hard to do that kind of method digitally. If you aren't using Mint or something like that, you need to start. It provided enough clarity that you can see how much you spent on restaurants this month, how much at WalMart all year, etc. Very eye opening. The reports aren't the best, but they are good enough. I have several years of data in there, and I can pretty easily see fluctuations over time.
  I know what I spend to the penny.  that is how I know I am spending more than I like.

DavidScubadiver said:   I do not think it is so much the appearance of extra money as it is the appearance that nothing is being spent.Does not compute. One shouldn't be spending money for the sake of spending money. If this is her (or your) mentality and it can't be fixed, then you need to create the appearance of spending money by transferring it out to another account at regular intervals.

scripta said:   
DavidScubadiver said:   I do not think it is so much the appearance of extra money as it is the appearance that nothing is being spent.
Does not compute. One shouldn't be spending money for the sake of spending money. If this is her (or your) mentality and it can't be fixed, then you need to create the appearance of spending money by transferring it out to another account at regular intervals.

  As I said, "'I'm more of a "hide the money" sort of fellow and impose scarcity on the family by maximizing contributions to retirement accounts, 529 accounts and recently, buying savings bonds with extra cash. "  I don't spend for the sake of spending.  I spend because I want to buy something to eat, for example.  But, I could spend less by bringing lunch work for example.  She might want to spend to get a pedicure.  Not for he sake of spending. Not really sure what you are talking about.

I removed some quotes earlier, so let me add them back to explain what I'm talking about:
DavidScubadiver said:   
scripta said:   
DavidScubadiver said:   
scripta said:   
DavidScubadiver said:   My wife says she thinks she'd do better if she had a budget and a fixed amount of cash to spend, so that when she runs out of cash, she'll know that the spending is done.
So any appearance of "extra" money is basically burning a hole in her pocket and she must spend it?

I do not think it is so much the appearance of extra money as it is the appearance that nothing is being spent.

Does not compute. One shouldn't be spending money for the sake of spending money. If this is her (or your) mentality and it can't be fixed, then you need to create the appearance of spending money by transferring it out to another account at regular intervals.

As I said, "'I'm more of a "hide the money" sort of fellow and impose scarcity on the family by maximizing contributions to retirement accounts, 529 accounts and recently, buying savings bonds with extra cash. " I don't spend for the sake of spending. I spend because I want to buy something to eat, for example. But, I could spend less by bringing lunch work for example. She might want to spend to get a pedicure. Not for he sake of spending. Not really sure what you are talking about.

From what your wife said and what you said I gather that she spends because it looks like there's money to be spent. And you're already countering it by imposing scarcity. If you want to further limit spending in certain categories, couldn't you just create more scarcity?

Either way I think you'd first need a budget that your wife would agree with.

One option - set up a separate bank account for DW and fund it with a fixed amount every month. Give her the ATM card and she can use it up to the balance of the account.

Avoids the hassle of gift cards, reloadables, etc. Just set it up and go. You forego the rewards for her spending, but as others have mentioned, will probably end up saving more in the end.

Just put me in control of your brokerage account(s) and spending problems no more!

TravelerMSY said:   Just do the envelopes. What you save in monthly spending is going to dwarf getting a couple percent back in rewards
I would do the envelopes, but maybe use $100 or $500 Visa or MCs - at least you'd have some method to track. 
No one has mentioned yet the lessons you can teach, generally speaking, with this approach. If you put $100 per month away in the 'Car Repair/Expenses' envelope, but notice that 'hey, there's a surplus here' and borrow from it for a more frivolous want (hair coloring, golf clubs, etc), there's the potential for it to come back and haunt  one's self. "The mechanic said it needs a new transmission, but strangely, there's only $12.17 in the car expenses envelope. I guess I/you will have to car pool for the next two months to save up for this mis-step".

I fully realize that at your (OP's) income level, that may be a rude shock to other family members to have to 'go without' because of poor choices (in my example), but it's not too late for the kids to learn.

Recently, a co-worker said she spent $500 at Under Armor for her 3 kids.  When I told this to my son, he looked shocked, and quickly went through a list of all the more permanent things he could have had (hunting rifle, go-kart, etc) instead of certain logo'd set of clothing that he'd quickly outgrow.  Needless to say, I'm proud  of how he thinks.

 

Thanks everybody.
I am going to try out using an app called Wally, and we'll only budget ourselves for eating out at this point because that is one of the larger expenses we have that I think ought to be trimmed. The goal is to limit ourselves to $270 a month for eating out of the house. The true goal is just to appreciate how much we spend by tracking it ourselves instead of having the tracking on autopilot and never really paying attention to it.

My problem is not the usual one of saving enough for an expense, unexpected or not. If the car needs a new transmission and the house needs a new roof and the pipes freeze and it happens all on the same day, I can take care of that. For years, I've basically let that fact distract me from being as disciplined as I would like to be on the spending front. My wife is not the problem -- she lived perfectly fine earning $60,000 a year and was debt free before we met. However, now she never sees the credit card bill, isn't responsible for paying for it and doesn't track anything and I see that together we just spend too much. I'm hoping the app will help us get back on track. Once we get used to it maybe we'll budget for another expense.

scripta said:   From what your wife said and what you said I gather that she spends because it looks like there's money to be spent. And you're already countering it by imposing scarcity. If you want to further limit spending in certain categories, couldn't you just create more scarcity?

Either way I think you'd first need a budget that your wife would agree with.

I thought she only spends $166/month on this crap???  https://www.fatwallet.com/forums/finance/1511549?showmessage=195...  
DavidScubadiver said:   I know what I spend to the penny.  that is how I know I am spending more than I like.
I just started tracking every penny I spend in mid-October, and my system seems to be working adequately for a little over two months now.  I do it using only receipts and a spreadsheet and my memory, but I'm single and I don't have to track anyone else's spending on top of my own.  I also have free time available at work to pay attention to updating the spreadsheet on a regular basis.

We all would probably like to reduce our spending if possible, but the main reason I started doing it was to have an accurate way to personalize my own tracking system for my gains/losses related to investing relative to my overall net worth.

If your own spending bothers you, fix that first before trying to change DW.

Does she work, BTW?

You are talking about personal care at $166 a month. I'm talking about eating out of the house which comes closer to $500-$600. For the personal care we are going to reduce that by doing more in-house massages. I may not be a professional, but that just means I don't have to act like one when giving a massage.

The answer to your question, it now seems, is simply to eat out less frequently. Alternatively, eat at less expensive places

Your previous thread actually played a key role in motivating me to start tracking my own spending. The numbers you were talking about over the summer made me realize I probably spend more than your wife. I don't bother with pedicures, but I go to the chiropractor 1-3 visits a month and occasionally I get a one hour massage while I'm there. I also eat out quite a bit, and my monthly housing expense has more than doubled since I sold my condo November 2015 and I now rent.

I think someone should start a thread for the specific purpose of creating an adequate and acceptable monthly H&B budget.

DTASFAB said:   The answer to your question, it now seems, is simply to eat out less frequently. Alternatively, eat at less expensive places

Your previous thread actually played a key role in motivating me to start tracking my own spending. The numbers you were talking about over the summer made me realize I probably spend more than your wife. I don't bother with pedicures, but I go to the chiropractor 1-3 visits a month and occasionally I get a one hour massage while I'm there. I also eat out quite a bit, and my monthly housing expense has more than doubled since I sold my condo November 2015 and I now rent.

I think someone should start a thread for the specific purpose of creating an adequate and acceptable monthly H&B budget.

  I am not at all sure you read my question, but I am glad my previous thread inspired you to look into things.  The Chiropractor is a huge expense on my end. As were medical co-pays.  For 2017 I am changing from a premier insurance plan to an HMO.  I think that is going to save a huge amount of money. Spent over $2,000 in co-pays in 2016.  Curious to see how the HMO works out.  I'll save a bunch on the premium as well, so even if I wind up going out of pocket somewhere for some reason we should still save in the end.
 

Skipping 24 Messages...
I think use the envelop for clothes/toys, entertainment, and eating out, these are nice to have stuff and you can survive without them if you run out of money.

Groceries (to include everyday stuff like toilet paper), utility bills, house payment, car payment, fuel, those should be automatically charged to credit card or checking account cause these are essential items that would be pretty consistent month to month.

This is what I plan to start doing because we eat out a lot and spend on frivolous stuff.



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