Debit Card Budgeting Methods

Budgeting Methods Using Debit Cards

Introduction Of Budgeting Methods Using Debit Cards

Check and debit card budgeting methods are refinements of the Budgeting Cash Envelope System.  When I say “refinements” in this case, I don’t mean that a cash based budgeting system cannot work or be an effective budgeting method for some people, because it absolutely can.  However, cash based budgeting systems do have some notable shortcomings which I discuss in more detail below, and the use of checks and/or a debit card is intended to shore up those weaknesses while still maintaining the integrity of the budget process.  As a means to illustrate how checking and debit card budgeting methods work, assume that your financial situation for the month is as follows.

What this illustration shows is that after you pay all of your bills, you have $1,000 left to cover your day-to-day living expenses for the month.  It’s important to clarify before going any further that there are distinct advantages and disadvantages of making payments with checks, debit cards, and cash, and to learn about that in more detail you can see the article, “Comparing Paying with Cash, Checks and Debit Cards.”  However, for purposes of this budget-related article, I am going to treat the use of checks and debit cards as essentially the same, because both payment methods draw funds directly from your checking account each time you make a purchase.

The Advantages Of A Debit Card Vs. Cash Based Budgeting Methods

Budgeting Methods Card SecurityThere are distinct advantages to managing your budget with checks and/or a debit card as opposed to cash.

  1. Convenience and flexibility – If all you have is cash and you’re out and about then you’re your spending is limited to the money you have in your purse or wallet.  However, if you’ve got a debit card or a checkbook then you have immediate access to all of the money in your budget (which is $1,000 in our example).
  2. Security – If your checkbook or debit card is lost or stolen there are steps you can take to limit your risk of loss, but if cash is lost or stolen then it’s likely gone forever.
  3. Better record keeping – When you make purchases with cash you only have your receipt from the transaction, and in some cases you may have no receipt at all (paying a babysitter, for example).  On the other hand, when you pay with a check or debit card you not only have the receipt from the transaction, but you have other records as well (entries on your bank statement or, in the case of checks, check carbons).

The Disadvantages Of A Debit Card Vs. Cash Based Budgeting Methods

While there are certainly advantages to managing your budget with checks and/or a debit card, there are drawbacks as well.

1. Discipline – While I don’t pretend to know all of the psychological reasons why, people tend to take spending cash more seriously than writing checks or handing over a debit card.  SomehowBudgeting Methods Debit Card Vs Cash spending cash “hurts” more, or makes the cost of a transaction more “real.”  As a result, some people have an easier time respecting and staying within their budget using a cash based budgeting method as opposed to a check/debit card based budgeting methods.

2. Math Errors – If you make a math error in tracking your budget while using a checking or debit card money budgeting method there is a real possibility you could overspend, thinking you have more money in your account than you actually do.  With a cash based system it’s unlikely you’ll go long thinking you have more money than you do.  For example, you might think you have $100 of cash left, but if you open your purse or wallet and you only have $60 then that’s it – you’ve only got $60.  Granted you may not be able to remember where the missing $40 went (which can be frustrating), but after counting the money in your hands there will be no doubt how much you have to work (which can provide a sense of certainty).

“Remember Time Is Money.  Simplifying Your Budget Will Give You A Better Chance Of Sticking With It!”

Debit Card Budgeting Methods Receipts3. Losing Receipts – When using debit cards in particular, it’s not difficult at all to lose track of a receipt, and thus forget to account for it in your budget.  For example, if you get gas with a debit card and fail to take the receipt then it’s very likely you’ll forget to deduct the purchase from your budget.  As with math errors, if you miss recording a transaction such as this then you’ll think you have more money to spend than you actually do, which will put you in danger of blowing your budget.

4. More Complex Record-Keeping – While it’s true that using checks and debit cards technically provides you with better record-keeping, it also makes your record-keeping more complex.  Think about it, if you convert the remaining $1,000 in your account for day-to-day living expenses into cash then you will have very few transactions to account for on your bank statement when you balance your checkbook.  On the other hand, each check and debit card transaction will hit your bank statement, and all of those transactions can be difficult to reconcile unless you’re diligent and organized.

Combining The Debit Card and Cash Based Budgeting Methods

It’s important to note that the check/debit card method of budgeting and the use of cash basis budgeting are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, you can combine the two methods in a myriad of ways, and doing so can provide you with a lot of flexibility and can be tremendously effective.  To illustrate, in our example you have $1,000 to manage your day-to-day expenses for the month.  That being the case, you might elect to take $100 in cash to spend on miscellaneous things over the course of the month, leaving $900 in your account to cover checking and debit card transactions.  Thus, as you go through the month, you have the flexibility to pay for things with a check, debit card, or cash as you see fit.  Again, that’s just an example.

There are almost limitless ways you can combine checking and debit card based budgeting with cash based budgeting to manage your finances.  The important thing is to develop a system that meets your needs, that you’re comfortable with, and that best enables you to live within your means.

Related article “Cash Budgeting Method Explained

Budgeting Cash Envelope System Done Right

The Budgeting Cash Envelope System

How The Budgeting Cash Envelope System Works

The budgeting cash envelope budgeting system is a refinement of the All Cash Budgeting Method.  In other words, instead of paying for everything with cash, the basic philosophy of the budgeting cash envelope system is pay bills using a checking account, but to use cash to pay for everything else.  Here is an illustration of how it works.

What this illustration shows is that you used checks to pay all of your bills, and then you converted the remaining $1,000 of your paycheck in cash.  So what are you going to do with all of that cash?  How do you properly manage it?  That’s where the envelope system comes in.  What it means is splitting up your cash and putting it in separate envelopes, with each envelope representing the amount of money you can spend within a certain time period or on a certain category of expense.

Budgeting Cash Envelope System Split CashAnd how do you decide how to split up your cash?  Of course it should be according to your needs, preferences, goals and personality.  It’s also vitally important that you split up your cash in a way that works best for you, with “working best” being defined as the system you’re most likely to follow to live within your means (which in this example means not spending more than your $1,000 of cash until your next paycheck).  With that flexibility in mind, there are 4 main schools of thought on how to split up your cash when applying the budgeting cash envelope system.

Method #1 – Divide You Cash Into Time Periods “Weekly Method”

Assuming there were 4 weeks in a month, if you wanted to divide your cash into time periods then you would put $250 in 4 separate envelopes labeled “Week 1” through “Week 4”. This budgeting cash envelope system would then use the $250 for week 1 to make all of your day-to-day purchase: groceries, gas, entertainment, etc.  If you elect to use this “Weekly Method” then you need to understand that spending needs for different weeks could be quite different.  For example, one week might be heavy on groceries, and another might be heavy on gas or other expenses.  Either way, if you maintain your discipline then the idea is that the week-to-week highs and the lows should average out.

But what if you happen to have a week that requires heavy spending for one reason or another?  While not ideal, you would either drastically cut your spending or, if necessary, you would borrow cash from the next week’s envelope to make it through.  On the flip side, what if you had a week with exceptionally light spending?  Rather than go out and blow the money, I would suggest putting in an additional envelope marked “Extra.”  That way you’ll have an additional source of cash to draw from if another week’s spending runs high.  Finally, if you end the month with any cash remaining then you’re in the enviable position of having extra money that you can either save or spend.

Method #2 – Divide Your Cash Into Categories of Spending “Category Method”

Budgeting Cash Envelope SystemAnother budgeting cash envelope system is an alternative to the Weekly Method of organizing your cash envelopes, you could use the “Category Method.”  You do this by creating separate envelopes for groceries, gas, fun/entertainment, savings and any other categories that make sense to you.  As you go through the month you draw cash from the appropriate envelope depending on what you’re spending money on.  If run out of money in a particular envelope then ideally you shouldn’t spend any more money on that category.  However, if it’s urgent (you need gas so that you can get to work) then you can take some cash from another envelope where you might have some extra (such as groceries, but now you might have to forego the chips and ice cream you wanted).

The upside of the Category Method is that it’s easier to predict how much money you’ll spend on various categories of expenses than it is to figure out how much you’ll spend in a given week.  For example, it’s much easier to estimate how much cash you’ll need for gas in total than it is to determine how much cash you might need for week 3 as opposed to week 4.  On the other hand, the Category Method can be difficult to apply in practice.

“Using Cash Into Categories Of Spending Takes Time To Get Use To, But It Is A Great Budgeting Cash Envelope System!”

To illustrate, say you’re going to the movies, but you’ve got to get some gas on the way, and you’re going to pick up some milk on the way home.  How are you going to handle that in the context of the Category Method?  Are you going to take your “Gas,” “Groceries,” and “Fun” envelops with you, and then pay for each with separate money?  Or are you going to take what you estimate what you need from each envelope and carry a combined amount of cash.  Do you know what category the cash that might already in your purse or wallet belongs to?  In which envelope(s) will you put any change you might have left over, or will it just stay in your purse or wallet?

In summary, while the Category Method is conceptually sound, it can be difficult to develop and perfect a system that will keep your cash in various categories segregated.  If this budgeting cash envelope system doesn’t sound right for you we have the lump sum method.

Method #3 – The “Lump Sum” Method

Cash Envelope System Lump Sum MethodYou might not want all of cash to be henpecked into specific categories of spending or artificially short time-frames.  In other words, forget all this envelope stuff.  The philosophy behind the Lump Sum Method is that you just want to know flat out how much money you have $800, how long it needs to last 1 month, and then be left alone to manage it as needed.

The appeal of the Lump Sum Method is that it conveys a sense of freedom “Wow, I have $1,000 of cash to spend however I want.”.  On the other hand, the Lump Sum can convey a false sense of freedom that can get you into financial trouble.  For example, let’s say that even if you’re very, very careful with your cash, essentially $700 will be needed over the course of the month for the very basics, such as food and gas.

If you lose sight of that and go out and the beginning of the month and blow $400 on “fun” just because you started out the month with big wad of cash, you’ll end up running out of money before the end of the month…even if you do nothing else fun or that you want to do (because you’ll only have $600 left, or $1,000 less $400, when you really need $700 at a bare minimum to cover real necessities such as groceries and transportation)!

My Observations Of The Budgeting Cash Envelope System Called The “Lump Sum” Method

In summary, my observation is that the Lump Sum Method can work very well with people that are highly disciplined with their money.  By “highly disciplined” I mean “stand at attention for 3 hours in the rain without moving a muscle” type of disciplined.  This budgeting cash envelop system is by far the most discipline of all methods that have been covered. On the other hand, if you have a single impulsive bone in your body when it comes to purchases “Hey, I wasn’t really looking to buy anything, but that seems like a good deal!”, then I would proceed very carefully before adopting the Lump Sum Method.

Method #4 – Combining The Budgeting Cash Envelope System Methods

In using the budgeting cash envelope system there’s no reason why you have to exclusively use any one of the above methods.  Instead, you can combine them any way you see fit according preferences, personality and goals.  For example, in thinking about how to split up your $1,000 you might decide to put $600 in an envelope marked “Groceries & Gas” and then divide the remaining $400 in 4 separate envelopes of $100 for weeks 1-4.  That way you have money set aside that’s dedicated to necessities, and you have an extra $100 each week to take care of everything else.  Again, that’s just an example; there’s no end to the combinations you can come up with in using the budgeting cash envelope system to meet your own customized needs and circumstances.

7 Effective Budgeting Strategies

7 Effective Budgeting Strategies

For effective budgeting strategies, it’s important to understand the difference between budgeting principles and budgeting methods.  When talking about budgeting principles I am referring to the underlying reasoning and rationale behind effective budgeting.  The principles aspect has to do with the “why” behind approaches to budgeting.  Effective principles of budgeting do not change over time, just as principles of mathematics do not change over time.  After all, no matter how much the technology around budgeting advances, $3 less $2 will always equal $1.

When talking about budgeting methods I am referred to the “how” in terms of the tools, systems, and resources one employs to apply budgeting principles.  But budgeting methods also has to do with various systems of budgeting one chooses to use to manage their money.  The budgeting methods are as follows: the all-cash budgeting method, the envelope system, as well as check, debit card, and credit card budgeting methods.  What this means is one person may track their budget using a pencil, paper, and their checkbook.  Another may do so using credit cards and the latest integrated cloud-based personal finance software.

You can also take advantage of our budget calculator, which will assist you in creating a monthly budget.  Yet despite the use of vastly different budgeting methods, each of these individuals could be equally proficient in applying principles of effective budgeting strategies.  And what are these budgeting principles I’m referring to?

7 Effective Budgeting Strategies

  1. A budget needs to tie to how much money you actually have in the bank.  It does no good if you’re budget says you have $100 to get through the month, but in reality your checking account is Effective Budgeting Strategies Monthly Budgetoverdrawn $200.
  2. A budget needs to be realistic.  Your estimated income and expenses need to be as close an approximation as possible to your actual income and planned spending.
  3. A budget should cover a specific period of time.  Monthly budgets are best in most cases, but other budget periods (such as annual budgets) can also work if they more logically track your income and expenses.
  4. You should be able to update your budget quickly and easily.  While this may sound like mere convenience, it’s important because if you find your budgeting method to be excessively cumbersome there is a danger you could stop doing it altogether.
  5. A budget is a vital communication tool, so it should be intuitive and easy to understand.  Specifically, you should be able to clearly tell where your money is coming from, and where it’s going.
  6. A budget’s format should be flexible.  This will allow you to easily modify it as your preferences and circumstances change over time.
  7. You have to be committed to and respect your budget.  If you’ve budgeted $40 for entertainment and you spend $400 then you’re wasting your time.

This is okay, because as long as you follow effective principles of budgeting there are many different budgeting methods to choose from. Having effective budgeting strategies will allow you to better manage your finance to meet you financial goals.  As long as you incorporate the principles outlined above, you can employ the budgeting method that best reflects your own personality, preferences, priorities, and circumstances.