smart spending

5 low-tech ways to manage cash

Highlights
  • Some people swear by the envelope system.
  • "I find when I have cash, I tend to spend it quicker."
  • "It's absolutely foolish to shop without a price book."

Quicken. Microsoft Money. Intuit. There are plenty of high-tech ways to manage your money and help you track and cut spending. But if you can't master, won't use or are too frugal to buy the high-tech solutions, pick up a pencil and start saving and budgeting now with these low-tech options.

Low-tech budgeting
  1. Write it down.
  2. Save receipts.
  3. Cut expenses.
  4. Cash or not?
  5. Comparison shop.

Write it down

Most budgeting gurus advise their followers to track spending for several months. You can get a notebook just to record spending or write down expenses in a planner you already use.

"That's probably the best low-tech way," says Nathan McGee, who writes a cost-cutting blog, Nates2Cents. "It can be eye-opening. 'I'm spending so much on groceries' or 'I spent $150 last week eating out for lunch.' Just having an awareness of where your money is going helps you control spending."

Savings: McGee and his wife save $500 per month.

Expert evaluation: Good idea. "I have to track my spending," says The Debt Diva Clarky Davis. "That is key to your whole budget and spending plan."

After tracking her spending, Davis realized many of her regular bills came due at the same time each month. "I spent one paycheck paying all my bills, even dipping into savings," she says. "Then the next check, I had all this money that I was spending on other (nonessential) things instead of paying back savings."

She recommends contacting your sources of regular bills, such as credit card and utility companies, to see if you can adjust due dates to make sure they are spread throughout the month.

Not ready to write it down? Save receipts

Keeping receipts also works as a backup for any purchases you forget to write down. McGee carries a small bag in his pocket for receipts and lays them out when he gets home.

"You could get a bright orange box or anything that's prominent or noticeable and put it within the typical pathway you're going to follow when you get home," McGee says.

But you have to stay on top of it, or you'll be overwhelmed. "Some people put off going through the receipts until later, and it really piles up," McGee says. "Then they have three months of stuff they haven't really dealt with, and they have to play catch-up. It gets really discouraging."

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Expert evaluation: "Saving receipts is a huge help," says Davis, who saves her receipts in January and July as a spending checkup.

Now, cut expenses

Some people swear by the envelope system, especially for groceries, dining out, clothes and other easily controllable expenses. You budget the amount you'll spend in each category for the month and put that much cash in an envelope. When the money in an envelope runs out, you're finished spending on that category.

Joanna and Josh Burgess began using the envelope system soon after they got married in 2006. They started with a physical box with envelopes labeled "grocery"; "eating out/entertainment"; "miscellaneous," for irregular household expenses; "allowance," for the money each could spend; and "credit card." "Gas" was a virtual envelope that stayed in the checking account.

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