Clark’s Cash Challenge: 5 steps to save more money in 30 days

Clark’s Cash Challenge: 5 steps to save more money in 30 days
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All year long,‘s Michael Timmermann is sharing quick and easy ways to save money as part of our Michael Saves series. Check in every Monday as he puts new and familiar savings strategies to the test. Sign up for our newsletter to have these stories delivered to your inbox!

If you’re trying to save more and spend less, budgeting with cash is a great way to manage your money.

Does it sound too old-fashioned to you? I tweaked the cash envelope system earlier this year to make it easier to follow in a digital world — and it has really helped me save a lot!

Now, I’m introducing Clark’s Cash Challenge to help anyone who wants to boost their savings rate.

RELATED: Save thousands in 2018 starting with just one $5 bill

How to save more money in 30 days with Clark’s Cash Challenge

Here’s how it works: I’m asking that you choose one flexible spending category (groceries, home improvement, entertainment, etc.) and stick to a cash-only budget for one month.

You don’t have to wait until the first of the month — just commit to 30 days of budgeting with cash in one category.

There are people who refuse to try cash-only budgets because they’ll miss out on credit card rewards. That’s true. But if budgeting with cash lowers your spending by 10%, that 2% cash back from your credit card isn’t so valuable.

Are you up for Clark’s Cash Challenge? There are just five simple steps and you can get started right away…

1. Identify your cash-only category and set goals 

Step one is to choose the single category that you’ll manage with cash for the next 30 days. You want to select a category where you think there’s room for improvement.


Here are some examples of variable expenses that may be good choices:

  • Groceries
  • Eating out
  • Clothing
  • Home improvement
  • Entertainment
  • Transportation
  • Hobbies
  • Personal care

I’ve selected groceries as my cash-only category, so I’ll be referring to that throughout the rest of this step-by-step guide.

Once you’ve chosen a category, set a budget and list goals for the challenge. How will you make the most of this opportunity and save more money? The act of switching from credit to cash is only a starting point.

For example, my goals to reduce grocery spending involve meal planning, trying a new supermarket and limiting store visits.

2. Go to the ATM! 

If you’re someone who puts most of your purchases on a credit card, you probably don’t have enough money in your wallet to set aside for Clark’s Cash Challenge — so you may need to head to the ATM.

Be honest with yourself: Only take out the amount of cash that you’ve budgeted for your cash-only category!

RELATED: Want free ATM withdrawals? Here are 5 ways to beat those pesky fees

3. Get an envelope and a storage box

When you get home from the bank, take the money that you got from the ATM and put it in an envelope with the name of your cash-only category written on the front of it.

I also like to use a plastic storage box for my receipts, but some people just stuff them inside the envelope with the cash.

Budgeting with cash essentials
Budgeting with cash essentials

SAVINGS TIP: Before I place my receipts into the box, I scan them using Ibotta, Fetch Rewards and Receipt Hog. They’re three apps that provide cash back for grocery store purchases.


RELATED: 11 apps that pay you to shop for groceries

4. Only carry the cash that you need

Let’s say you’re going to the store and you need to buy something in your cash-only category. Instead of taking your entire envelope with you, only remove the amount of cash that you’ll need for that purchase.

And it goes without saying that you don’t want to use a credit card for anything you buy in your cash-only category.

RELATED: Save 2 full paychecks in 2018 with this simple budgeting trick

5. Evaluate your results after 30 days 

After 30 days of budgeting with cash, you’ll hopefully have at least something left in your envelope if you set a realistic budget and remained focused on your goals.

If you use a budgeting app like, check the previous month’s spending in your category. Was it higher or lower?

Studies have shown that credit cards make us spend more, but a 30-day cash challenge like this can help you determine if that’s really true when it comes to your personal spending habits.

Good luck with the challenge and let us know in the comments if budgeting with cash works for you!

RELATED: How I saved an extra $1,000 with this simple receipt trick

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