My Two Cents: Weaning Myself Off ATMs

Do you ever feel like you spend an inordinate amount of time standing in front of an ATM? I used to feel the exact same way. I’d take out cash in small increments, spend it on Lord knows what, run out, and then go back for more without thinking. I won’t lie—there were nights, especially when alcohol was involved, where I’d sometimes go for cash twice. Then I’d look at my statement online, and notice that $40 plus $40 plus $80 plus $40 kind of adds up to a lot. Very quickly, my paycheck began dwindling much faster than it should have been. Then I had a random conversation with my parents where they were telling me about The Good Old Days, when once the bank closed, if you didn’t have money—too bad, you just had to figure it out. You didn’t have constant access to your money. And what I think is a brilliant idea was born. What if I went to the ATM once—only once—a week and pretended at all other times that cash was not a four-digit pin code away.

So now, every Monday on my way to work, I stop by the bank and take out $180. (And yes, I recognize that this is a lot. When I lived in North Carolina, I would never have needed that much. But New York is one darn expensive place. Perhaps your number will be smaller.) That is all the cash I am able to get. If I run out on Sunday, too bad—I just have to make do. And if I run out on Saturday night—well, I never have because the thought is just that terrible.

This system has a few distinct benefits:

  • I save at least $20-$30 a month on random ATM fees because I’m only going to my home bank.
  • I am much less likely to spend money on stupid things. When cash is a limited resource, you think twice about buying a $2 Vitamin Water, or a $4 magazine, or ordering food for $16 when you could just as easily make something at home. And forget impulse purchases at H&M and other seductively inexpensive stores.
  • I’m not at an ATM at 1 a.m. while tipsy, which just sounds like a good idea.
  • During the early part of the week, my wallet is like a steal trap. It actually pains me to spend money knowing that there are five or six more days to make my nest egg last.
  • If I’ve been good during the week and make it through the weekend with cash still left, I get to reward myself. I’m a New York City girl, so this reward is often a cab home on Friday or Saturday night, which is a big deal because the subway back to Brooklyn can take forever late at night. Or if I pass a bookstore on Sunday, I can treat myself to something.
  • I know exactly how much petty cash I spend in a month—$720. This makes crafting a master budget for myself much, much easier than when money dripped out of my account like a faucet.

Combining this cash method with only using credit cards for essentials, like groceries and my subway pass, has pretty much revolutionized my financial life. I’ve been using this system for a year and now find my savings creeping up instead of down.

Do you have any money-saving, budget-making, or other financial tips you want to share with The Frisky? Email {encode=”[email protected]” title=”us!”}

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