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Stories of Hope: How Converting to Cash Saved Our Finances

Lisa emailed in the following testimonial which I found so encouraging:

About three years ago, my husband and I were in big financial trouble. We each carried a checkbook and a debit card that shared the same bank account. We would each make daily purchases using checks and debit.

Most of the time, the purchases were for small items such as coffee, gas, lunch, etc. We were never very good with keeping track of our money because we were always broke anyway and we felt like we were just robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Every week, we would go into the negative in the bank account because we would be out of money, yet we still needed to provide food for the family and put gas in the tanks. The NSF charges applied to our account multiplied with each and every purchase we made, sometimes even adding up to more than what our direct deposit checks would cover on payday.

This continued for several months and we found ourselves in a big black hole that we could not get ourselves out of. The total of the bank fees alone totaled to over $3,000 in a three month period. Needless to say, all of our bills got behind including our rent.

It was a huge mess and we were struggling to turn it around. We decided the only way to stop the bleeding was to close the bank account and stop using checks and debit cards all together. We have never used credit cards so that was not an issue.

We closed the checking account and opened a savings account. We made a written budget that included putting money away for an emergency fund and we started using cash only for everything.

Since then, we keep all our cash in the savings account and we have to go to the bank to make a withdraw each time we needed money. We have not turned back.

We continue to use cash only. I can look around my house and honestly tell you that everything in it is paid for completely with cash. Now, we never have to worry about a debit purchase not getting posted before a deposit.

If we need or want something, we save up for it and purchase it with cash. We bought a new stainless steel kitchen appliance package, a nice HDTV and TV stand, our sofa, our dining table, as well as our car — all paid in full with cash.

Using a cash system has taught me patience. I have to save money before I can buy anything, and I wait for the best deals to come around for things that I would have bought on impulse in the past! I now believe that even only one overdraft charge is one too many.

We all make mistakes and of course, our family’s mistakes got way out of control. We had to be honest with ourselves and be willing to make changes to better our lives according to the truths that we know. My husband and I have never been good with managing our money and therefore, we had to force ourselves to make drastic changes.

Now, we are working together in our finances. We are no longer slaves to the bank card. We assign each dollar that we make. It is freeing, not restricting.

We are debt free! There is help and there is always hope!

Lisa simply wants to share her lessons learned. She knows that many people are in the same boat as she was and are afraid to admit it. She believes it is nothing to be ashamed of, and that we can all comfortably live within our means if we just commit ourselves to putting the effort into it and it pays!

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  • whitney says:

    This is very impressive…but how did you pay bills that typically are paid by check and dropped in the mail?

    • Mary S. says:

      That was my thought as well. The last place I rented the landlord only accepted checks/money orders so that there is a record of every payment. I was actually not allowed to pay rent with cash. And although I could pay the utilities in cash I would have to do so in person at the office which would take a considerable amount of time every month.

    • Andrea Q says:

      Excellent question. I can’t imagine spending $1 or more every time I needed a money order. It seems like most electronic bill-pay services are debited from checking accounts.

      • Amanda says:

        I personally use a checking account, but given this situation, I think that paying $1 for a money order sounds like a smart idea. I’d prefer to pay a few dollars each month for money order than to pay hundreds of dollars each month in overdraft fees. I commend the author for facing up to the problem and taking drastic steps to change the situation.

    • Allison V. says:

      I pay all my bills online, except my rent, which must be in money order form anyhow. I don’t even have any checks!

  • Heather says:

    There are options to pay bills online which you could do through a savings or checking account. Also, most utility companies will accept a Money Order for payment – but of course you have to pay for the money order.

    An interesting perspective and I’m glad it has worked for you. Thanks for sharing.

    By paying with ATM cards and checks, we actually cut our expenses – but I enter every single transaction and go online daily to keep make sure my records are accurate – some extra work for sure. Although I have never not paid a monthly credit card bill, I did find that they can add up very quickly with just a few purchases here and there. So now I mostly use my ATM Debit card and that way the purchase is paid for on the spot and I don’t have to wait for a credit card statement that could be for more than I had realized.

  • My parents use the cash only system. For bills that cannot be paid in person, they purchase a money order. They spend about $1 per money order and get them at the post office. They haven’t had a checking account in over 30 years. They do have a savings account. They don’t use debit, either. But at least this way they do not incur banking fees.

  • Crystal says:

    For years I paid cash for everything. I didn’t even have a bank account. It really does work. The hardest part is making the time to drive here and there to pay the bills.

    My husbands work required a debit card, since he worked on the road. So when we got married, we got a joined account. I wish i could go back to cash. I currently live a block from the water department and it has to be the one bill I find it hardest to pay. Now, I only use debit, they only take cash or check.

    My husband lost his job in February and I am considering going back to cash.

  • Great work, Lisa! Thanks so much for sharing your story, and keep making such great choices for your family!

  • Stephanie says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Lisa! I always thought we couldn’t live without a checking account. I never thought of just having a savings account. That is something to look into 🙂

  • MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

    I have a hybrid method that we just began a few months ago and it is shocking how much we don’t spend now!

    We have things like the daycare, car insurance, life insurance, car payment and cell phone that come out of the checking. We also use the checking for gas (both of us have long commutes, and with gas prices as they are we just can’t live by “when it’s gone, it’s gone”…we need to get to work!) Everything else I created envelopes for and I just put the money in there. I hate spending cash! We have saved so much in such a short time. We each get some blow money (half of mine always goes on my Starbucks card…I’m not happy without my morning cup of brew) and I save the rest for things I need. Right now my goal is a new laptop. I’m saving cash and collecting Amazon gift certs from my surveys (they don’t charge shipping or tax!) and they carry Macbooks! I’m super excited about being able to do this since my first laptop took me 2 1/2 years to pay off!

    A lot of my inspiration for trying this new way of thinking and living came from Thanks Crystal for all the ways you inspire us!

  • Christy says:

    If you have no debit card and no credit card, can you make purchases on-line?

    • Chrys says:

      Could probably use paypal connected to savings account, or a prepaid visa gift card

    • Jenna says:

      Sometimes family and friends will happily help you out with this. I would pay the friend in cash and they would make the purchase online for me, then they put the money towards the bill when it came and they were not out anything as they had the accounts anyway so for the few online purchases I needed I just asked.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I enjoyed reading this story. Although we (luckily) never had an issue with overdraft charges, my husband and I stopped using our debit cards also (a couple years ago now). We both cash our paychecks, and I purchase money orders for the bills and then just use the rest of the cash as needed. While it does cost me $3 to cash my check (he gets his cashed for free), and I spend fifty cents on each money order; I believe it is one of our better married decisions. I truly feel like it has eased up on many financial disagreements that we could possibly get into, and that is something I’m very proud of.


  • Angie says:

    Great story…..I wanted to mention that our credit union does not charge for money orders. We seldom need one, but when we do, it doesn’t cost anything. Credit unions are a great money saver because they do not charge for a lot of services for which banks do charge.

  • Candy says:

    I have worked in Credit Union’s for almost 12 years. Most still have those nasty fees, even though they are usually lower than a bank’s. Everyone has to figure out what is in their best interest. I don’t have a problem with checking/debit, because we monitor it closely, and communicate with each other. For some people it is better to pay a 3 dollar check cashing fee, and a dollar for each money order. It sure beats an NSF or overdrawn fee of 25 or more!

  • Amy Wimberly says:

    We have lived by Dave Ramsey’s philosphy for 6 years now…we pay cash for everything…when we started living on a written budget 6 years ago we were 30k in debt and were just in our house 3 years…we are now debt free and paid off our house last Friday! I love his quote…”debt is normal be Wierd!” Dave Ramsey for President!

    • Amanda says:

      I apologize if I sound nosy; I am wondering what your actual get-out-of-debt plan was? I am in a bit of a mess myself, and have made it my goal to pay off credit cards. However, with not a lot of cash available after all bills are paid, how do you find the extra to pay things off? Long, long story, but I can’t seem to consolidate to a zero balance transfer card (ex-husband ruined credit, etc.). The minimum payments are killing me… I am trying to do the snowball effect, but still have to pay the minimums on the cards that I am NOT focusing on. Thanks for any tips you may have…

  • Tracy says:

    I set up two checking accts. One is for monthly bills only and the other is sort of like a cash acct. I do use a debit card with it. We use it for groceries, gas, gifts and anything else we need during the two weeks between pay checks. The bill acct gets paid twice a month with auto deposit and only enough for the bills which are paid through automatic bill pay. The cash acct is the same way..twice a month a certain amount gets deposited and when it is gone it is gone. This is the only system that works for me. I don’t like to carry around large amounts of cash for two weeks at a time.

  • Lori says:

    We also have followed most of Dave Ramsey’s ideas, however, I am not comfortable going shopping with envelopes of cash in my purse. We live about 60 miles away from the nearest city over 3,000 people and when I make that trip, I do ALOT of my shopping (especially with the current gas prices), which would require taking a large amount of cash with me. With three kids constantly digging in my purse, stopping at multiple stores and taking out my wallet, coupon holder, and shoving receipts back in, the chances of losing that cash is pretty good. And, if you have multiple envelopes (food, clothing, house necessities, personal neccessiteis) how do you pay at the checkout counter? I can’t imagine standing there trying to figure out how much money to take from each envelop or making multiple purchases. Also, because we live in a small town 60 miles from a large town, there are no gas stations open after 10 at night and if you want to run and fill up for the next day, you can’t do this without a debit or credit card. I am not at all comfortable traveling without some sort of backup…who knows when you might have a tire blowout or need to call a tow truck or need gas in the middle of no where (most towns have some station with the automatic pumps)? If you have only brought the necessary cash and have spent it, how will you pay this person? How do you make hotel reservations or shop online without a credit or debit card? Just questions my husband and I have always pondered (or disagreed on) about the envelop system. (We have never had any problems with our checking account and actually build in a “hidden” $1,000 that we don’t put in our register just in case we miscommunicate about what we spend.) One thing I do like about using debit or credit cards is that most stores can now use your card to look up a previous purchase if you have lost your receipt and need to return something (unfortunately, with 3 kids digging in my purse….this happens!)

  • Katie says:

    mm, sounds like my story. We got in a mess using debit cards – not because we didn’t have the money but our money was going way too quickly on the “boring stuff” and not on the “nice stuff”. It was hard to keep track of what we each spent so we were never sure of what our up-to-date balance was. I do the bulk shop now on a Friday with a debit card, deduct the shop from my budget for the week and take the remaining budget in cash. The remaining budget then buys fruit and veg and milk during the week. (I don’t buy fruit and veg from a supermarket because it is too expensive).

    We then have “other stuff” money which I withdraw in cash on a Saturday – this pays for the children’s tennis lessons, pocket money and ice creams etc (Nice stuff money).

    All our bills, mortgage and savings are deducted straight after my husband gets paid. Any extra I have left over from the food budget or the nice stuff budget gets given to my son for our holiday savings. He’s in charge of our holiday budget. He can decide to go without an ice cream etc and add the money instead to the holiday budget.

    I fought for years against using a cash only system but I believe it is the only way to successfully keep track of your money

  • Good for you! We just began a Cash Only System in January and so far it has been life changing for us. Taking away our debit & credit cards forced us to change the way we looked at money and each month we are now saving money instead of spending it!

    There are plenty excuses out there for people who feel like they can’t live without their debit card, but I promise you, it is doable! I grew up in a time before debit cards, so I know first hand that you don’t NEED them (even though they are sure nice to have).

    You will be amazed at how much money you spend just because pulling out that debit card is so convenient.

    We pull out cash once a month & keep our envelopes in the house in a designated spot. I don’t keep tons of cash on me, I plan ahead. Planning forces you to really think about where your money is going and forces you to spend it carefully.

    I encourage everyone to give it a try for one month & see what you think. It really can be life changing!

  • Jenna says:


    For some I agree debit cards are the best way to go to be safe. I have witnessed the type at the store her purse is open and she does not even realize it at the store (due to someone already digging thru her purse) However, you have to treat the debit card like a $100.00 bill that you are breaking! If you get this concept down then your money will last !

  • Jenna says:

    If you can’t get the concept down take one $100.00 bill and wrap it around your debit card for a little while and see how drastic that feels!

    In asnwer to the for those who only carry cash I have a spot in my wallet for the true emergency and when I had a flat last month at 11pm and had to call the tow truck (I went to my secret Zippered area and paid him.)

    It can be done and it can be done with the debit card whichever is best to be safe and spend your money wisely but it is up to the family to make the choices and they are all tough choices , this is what life is about !

  • laura says:

    while i think it’s GREAT that the cash system works for some, I do think that there’s great things to be said about using credit cards and interest-earning debit cards wisely. My husband and I keep a VERY tight budget pay put almost everything on our money-back credit card. We always make sure that we only spend what we have and only buy what we would if we were using cash instead. Then at the end of the month we transfer money from our interest-earning checking account (where the money has been making money for the month) and use it to pay our cash-back credit card. For us it’s a win-win and a great way to actually make a little extra money from our regular expenses. I know it’s not for everyone, but it works better for us than the cash system.

  • Cathe says:

    1. Use your budgeted amount of cash to buy a gas card at your favorite/most convenient gas station. Then you don’t have to into the store to pay or carry a lot of cash.

    2. We use two checks every month – rent and city water. A recent exception was when a grandchild is doing a fundraiser and we needed to mail a check. LOL We pay the internet/phone bill and the gas/electric bill online.

    3. We use one cash envelope to cover everything we might buy at Walmart or another grocery store – cleaning supplies, HBA, and food. We do use separate ones if we use Walmart’s auto services or buy clothing. Some of you must spend a LOT more money at the grocery store than I do, because I am not uncomfortable carrying that amount from my house to the store.

    4. We have a debit card and use it to cover unexpected things like a tow truck. Recently I used it when the dentist bill turned out to be more than the amount I expected and had the cash for. Then that money would have to be replaced, from the emergency fund.

    • Lori says:

      As I stated, we live about 60 miles away from the nearest town over 3,000 people. We do have a grocery store (expensive) in town and super Walmart so I can do a lot of the every day shopping there, but the once or twice a month I take the kids and venture to the city, I have to take advantage of being there (especially as gas prices keep going up and up). So, I sit down with the adds to Hyvee, Walgreens, CVS, Target, and my Walmart price comparison chart. I determine what I am going to buy where, sort my coupons, and make a plan. These usually include a trip to the mall for any clothes, shoes, gifts, etc we need. So, I would have to take my clothing, grocery, household, health and beauty, gifts envelopes with me. I buy a mixture of many of these things at Walmart, Target, Walgreens and would then have to check out multiple times or would have to stand at the checkout with my three kids and people behind me waiting and determine which money I needed to take from each envelope. I would have to take a large amount of money with me…for instance, last week I went to Walgreens and after coupons, etc spent $33, then I went to Hyvee and spent $90, went to Target and spent $50, and went to Walmart and spent over $250. Seems crazy, but I have a couple of birthdays coming up, my daughter’s birthday and birthday parties, bought a few things for the house that had been on my list for awhile, bought a few articles of clothing that the kids needed, bought a couple of craft supplies for the kids, and stocked up on about 2-3 weeks of groceries, household supplies, beauty, health, etc.(a family of five eats alot! We spend about $100 a month on milk alone.) That means I would have had to have over $500 in cash in my purse (had to get gas and buy lunch for the kids and I). Instead what I do is bring my receipts home and go through and categorize them, determining what I spent in each of my categories, my husband then inputs that into our budget (we have some online software we found) and that keeps us up to date and where we are in the categories and what we have left. I use many credit cards….I get 5% off at Target, I get many coupons and % of certificates from Kohls, Target, Old Navy, JCPenney, Children’s Place, and more that help us save quite a bit of money. We have a Discover card that gives us cash back and last year, we got almost $200 back. We pay off every credit card every month. We have our money in an interest bearing checking account, again making us a little money. I can track purchases using my checking account and purchase records online. When we make a hotel reservation (about once or twice a year) we can reserve a room, cancel it up to 24 hours before if we need to. I can shop online and take advantage of online deals and savings. I guess what I am saying is it so possible to use debit and credit cards, make them work for you, make some extra money, and not over spend. It takes the dedication that an envelope system uses and people can do it!

  • Mary says:

    We also took Dave Ramsey’s course I highly recommend it!
    We are a cash only family and have been for 4 years, we use the debit card for gas, and bills, we write a check to church for tithe, and we pay our bills online.
    As for carrying all that cash I bought a wallet from
    It has a place to put your cash and your debit cards. I divide my cash up in my wallet by category, I do carry all my cash, but I also carry my debit card. Hope that helps!

  • Laura says:

    I think it is wonderful that the cash system works so well for some, but as it has grown in popularity, I think it’s important to point out that it is possible to make responsible purchase decisions with a debit card.

    • Coletta says:

      or even with a credit card! My husband and I use our credit card for every purchase we make and we pay it off at the end of the month when the bill comes in. I really like being able to pay for my kiddos Christmas and school clothes with all of the “gift cards” we earn for making everyday purchases.

    • renee says:

      A study of credit card use at McDonald’s found that people spent 47% more when using credit instead of cash. And we also spend more using our debit cards – not as much as credit cards, but using a debit card is still not as painful as spending cash! Try it & see.

      • Sarah says:

        I’m sure it really is more “painful” to use cash instead of credit cards, but I wonder about those types of statistics. For someone like me, I only carry a small amount of cash at any given time – specifically for super small purchases that seem silly to pay with a credit card. I use a credit card for everything else (and pay it off every month). If a transaction is going to be more than $5 or $10, I usually use my card to save my cash for the really small transactions. So, naturally, the cash transactions are going to be much smaller in ratio to any credit card transactions. It seems like this could be the case with other people, too. Just wondering…

  • Amanda says:

    I think it is amazing that everyone is sharing their story about getting out of debt, but I wish (and I KNOW this is very personal) that the posters would include their actual plan that they used to get out of debt. I know every situation is different, so if various people posted plans (with actual dollar amounts), then us readers could take information from plans that apply to us. I am trying to get out of debt myself and could use all the help available. I get paid every two weeks. After I subtract out rent, car payment, daycare, credit card bills, phones/internet (not sure we can get any cheaper on this without giving these up, and my husband is not supportive of my getting out of debt plan, so not happening), water, power, etc., I generally have about (if I am lucky) $400 left for two weeks. Split that in half (for two weeks), that leaves $200 per week. About $50 will go to gas (each week), then that leaves $150 (each week) for food. We have a large family, so we usually spend at least $150 in food per week. So that leaves… $0. So, I keep reading about how people with NO money are getting out of major debt, but HOW??? Maybe if someone was willing to post their actual dollar amount plan, I could SEE how it’s done. See something that I am missing…

    I am trying to get out of debt myself (without the support of my husband, even though he is mainly responsible for the debt). My husband and I disagree completely on finances- he has the attitude that he is going to spend his money and have fun while he is here (I mean alive, because you never know when your time to go is). I have tried to explain to him that “living” is great, but you can’t “live” to the point that you are in debt up to your ears! Okay, so we don’t agree. I have separated our bank accounts so that I have more control over what I can pay off. But because we are living with two separate accounts, I am basically trying to pay half the living expenses and debt on “one” income. We have split up the bills, because even though they are mainly his, I know that as a married couple, they are “our” bills. Let’s ignore the fact that I am not sure how a relationship can work with such differing core values about EVERYTHING; that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

    Anyway, that is my situation. Not that I would wish an unsupportive spouse on anyone, but I am hoping that if anyone else is in the same situation, they can offer some insight as to what has helped them… Thank you.

    • Andrea Q says:

      There’s not a lot you can do if your husband isn’t on board. Perhaps you can eventually convince him to attend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

    • Shannon L says:

      I agree with Andrea Q. There isn’t much you can do if your husband isn’t supportive. I was in the same situation for many years with my husband. He would buy something simply because he wanted it, never giving a thought to whether we had the money. Then when we eventually ran out, he would run to his dad for grocery money, then take it to McDonalds. Now, thanks to God, he has a new attitude.

      Dave Ramsey suggests you make a list of your debts from least to greatest. Make minimum payments only on all of them except the lowest amount. The smallest one you will pay as much as you can until it is paid off. For example, if you pay an extra $10 on all your credit cards and you have 4 cards, then take that extra $40 and pay it to your lowest balance card. You can also make extra money by having a yardsale, extra job, etc. Then when it is paid off, take the money you were paying on the lowest and move to the next lowest balance. This is the snowball effect. The amount you are paying gets bigger with each bill you pay off. This is a very basic explaination. I would recommend you checking out The Total Money Makeover or Financial Peace.

      Keep trying to talk to your husband and hopefully he will come around.

    • Kristin says:

      I started to reply but it got too long but I had a couple suggestions if you wanna email me triscuit81@yahoo

    • Kate says:

      Absolutely, Andrea.

      We too are following the “Dave Ramsey” plan (which he freely states is not anything new, he’s just repackaged some tried and true advice!) If you are interested in hearing what my family has been doing to get out of debt (while only making about $22,000/year currently) that’s what I’ve been trying to document on my blog. It’s too long a plan to post here, but you are welcome to check it out and see if there is anything we have found that could help you!

      As for your husband, maybe he would agree to at least check out a class by Dave? Maybe you can try to explain to him that this is issue is too important to not try to at least understand one another’s view points, and going to a class is one way for you to present your side of the matter to him.
      It might even be helpful since it is a third party presenting the information. I definitely know how sour those conversations about controversial issues in a marriage can be, especially if there is history of butting heads an on issue. Anyway, it might help to get a fresh perspective. And maybe you can agree to hearing out his reasons in a non-confrontational way too.
      I would bet there is more going on than just the external issue of how money is handled in your household. Hopefully you can open up the door so your husband can express the heart issues behind his reluctance to pay off and stay out of debt.
      Anyway, I wish the best for you and and your family!

  • Shannon L says:


    Go to the library and check out The Total Money Makeover or Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey. It will give you a break down of what to do. If you want to invest the money, many churches teach a Financial Peace university. Go to to find one in your area.

  • Kristin says:

    Great story! Thanks for sharing!

  • Kate says:

    Wow. Great post. We have a similar story, only we were using credit cards. We’ve since gotten on a budget and implemented a cash envelope system. Way to go, Lisa, and make a dramatic (and probably initially painful) decision to turn things around! Very inspiring.

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