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4 Smart Money Moves That Never Worked For Me

finding your own way to manage money

For those seeking great money management skills, there are several tried and true methods that seem to work. Whether struggling to pay off debt, saving for a big expense, or building wealth, following the successful ways of thousands of people has to equal success, right? Maybe, but here are four smart money moves that never worked for me.

Cash Envelope System

The cash envelope system is pretty simple. Take the amount of money you have to spend in a month and divvy it up into envelopes marked for specific purposes: $400 for groceries, $100 for gas, $25 for household supplies, etc. Once the envelope is empty, you’re done spending for the month. This method is great for people who tend to overspend. I would certainly be mindful of what goes in my shopping cart if there was a chance I wouldn’t have enough to cover the final tally.

I certainly used to overspend, but using cash probably wouldn’t have helped. One, if I do have cash, it’s been known to go missing. Whether it gets dropped from my hot mess of a wallet or whether I spend it on something I can’t remember, giving me cash is almost as bad as flushing it down the toilet.

Two, since we’ve gotten hooked on taking epic trips on the cheap, I might cry if I had to give up credit card reward points. Just this month, we’ve earned 150,000 points for paying our quarterly taxes, rental property insurance, and car insurance premiums. Those points will easily be worth a few thousand dollars in travel.

When we were in the midst of paying off our credit card debt, we didn’t use credit cards at all but did use a debit card for just about everything. I know using cash works for many people, just not for me.

Keeping 3 Months of Expenses in an Emergency Fund

I am a strong believer in emergency funds. People should have some sort of savings before attempting to pay off debt or pursue any sort of investments, and generally, experts say to save three months worth of living expenses. For us, though, 3 months doesn’t seem like enough. After having almost no savings for the longest time, it feels very reassuring to know that we have enough money in the bank to cover whatever comes our way.

Leaving lots of money in an account earning almost no interest is probably not the smartest move, and we have pared down our cash reserves into some investments over the past year, but if I have to work another year or two for the peace of mind our large emergency fund brings, that’s OK. It’s a good problem to have!

DIY Car Repair

We have a good friend who does all of his own car maintenance. When I see how much it costs for a repair at the shop versus how much he pays for parts only, it almost makes me want to go send Jim to auto mechanic school. I know there are tons of YouTube videos that could probably teach us how to do routine maintenance and basic repairs that would save thousands of dollars over the long haul.

The problem is that Jim and I would both rather have our toenails pulled out that work on cars. While we do lots of stuff around the house, we just can’t get into DIY car repair. Heck, if I’m being completely honest, I would probably pay extra if there was a full service gas station to pump my gas and wash the windshield.

Canceling a Gym Membership

I could easily save an extra $40 per month if I cancelled my rec center membership and stopped going to exercise classes. I know how to do all the stuff from the class on my own. We have weights, exercise DVD’s, and even a stationary bike at our house.

The two biggest reasons I use the gym to work out are for social interaction and so I can exercise without distraction. I’ve been working out with the same group of people for years, and I’d miss them if I quit. Also, when I do work out at home, there is always an interruption.

Whether it’s the dog, the child, or the fact that I forgot to put a load of laundry in the dryer, it’s hard to get a solid hour in without something popping up. When I go to the gym, that’s my time when no one is able to ask anything of me. Maybe that’s selfish, but I know I’d be sad if I cancelled my gym membership to save money.

Now that we’ve established that there are at least four things we do that go against tried and true best financial practices, I will say that there are lots of things we do right.

  • We track our spending.
  • We spend mindfully, even if part of it is on car maintenance and exercise that we could do at home.
  • We avoid consumer debt.
  • We max out our retirement plans and HSA to reduce taxable income.
  • We are building wealth with rental properties.

The take home point today is that you don’t have to follow every piece of advice because it worked for someone else, but you also can’t blow off every money skill by using the excuse that it just doesn’t work for you. Start with the basics.

  • Track Spending. If you don’t want to do it yourself, try Personal Capital for free!
  • Spend less than you earn. Either buy less stuff or make more money.
  • Pay off and stay out of debt.
  • Start building wealth.

It really is that simple. The hard part is figuring out what works and doesn’t work once you have the basics down. Never beat yourself up if all the smart money moves don’t always work for you either.

Is there a proven money rule that you just can’t follow? Would Dave Ramsey love or hate you?





About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I tried to use a cash envelope system, but I still failed. I understand that you can’t afford to cancel your gym membership, it’s important that you have a time for yourself.

  2. Yeah, I have no desire to haul around a bunch of envelopes with cash in them. It sounds totally impractical to me, although I understand why some people need to do it for their own sake.

  3. I know for certain Dave Ramsey would hate us, lol. We used to be sold out to the cash envelope system, and we still do it for some things but since we use credit cards for so much it makes it a little more difficult. We don’t do our own car repairs either because we’d have to pay the mechanic more money to fix my screw-ups, lol.

  4. I know what you mean about losing the cash. Sometimes I feel like my purse is a black hole where cash is concerned, so I try to just use one credit card that gets paid off monthly (and has a good reward system). Much easier for tracking my expenses.

  5. Well like I wrote about today and like your gym, spending money on my health is a huge priority, so my food budget compared to someone else’s is huge. But I also rarely eat out, and travel is not as big of a priority to me as it is to someone else. So I guess Dave would be happy about that. And three months is not enough for me either, especially as a freelancer!

  6. Ha! Dave Ramsey would absolutely hate me because I believe in credit cards and I actually believe in using debt strategically. I always love the idea of the cash envelope system and frequently tell clients they should adopt it; however, I have never been good at it. I am just better off being more mindful of my money and naturally spending less than worrying about exactly what’s in the envelope.

  7. The cash envelope system is something that would never work for me. I love my credit card rewards points!

  8. I’ve never tried the envelope system. While we do have planned spending on certain expenses, what happens if you put $200 in the electricity envelope and the when the bill comes it is $225? And if I’ve spend the money in my grocery envelope and we run out of milk with a week to go, I’m not going to go without out milk for a whole week. Budgets are good but there needs to be flexibility.

  9. I can relate to all four of these things. We have an emergency fund, but I can’t help but invest instead of build a larger cash reserve. I feel comfortable having a small emergency fund in the bank while investing and having some $ in my business account. Overall I know my assets are liquid enough that I don’t feel the need to have a 6-12 month emergency fund as some will recommend.

    And the cash envelope system will go out of style over the next decade I think as even more expenses are paid electronically.

    • I agree that cash is becoming obsolete. It’s too easy for employees to take and too easy for anyone to lose. At least if I lose my wallet, I can cancel all my cards and not be held responsible for any charges I don’t make.

  10. Great post! The point you got to at the end is really key. Not every strategy works for every person, but if you aren’t willing to try any strategies or every strategy “fails” you… You are the problem!

    I have to admit I have never even attempted the cash envelope system. Overspending is not really a problem for us, I hate dealing with cash, and I have to admit I recently LOST a large-denomination bill! It fell out of my pocket (why wasn’t it in my wallet yet?!)!

  11. We’re completely in the same boat of not meshing well with the conventional wisdom! We even fail at line item budgeting. But, we thrive with a pay-ourselves-first strategy, an 8-month emergency fund, and a general approach of conscious spending. Though we DO plan to learn more about car maintenance after we retire! But for now, we still take the car to the shop for everything.

    • I would love to think we’ll get better at auto repair, but I think mechanic bills might be one expense we’ll just have to accept.

  12. I definitely utilize credit cards. I don’t consider them bad, but a great tool when used properly and not to extend one’s lifestyle. I pay for boot camp and have paid for a personal trainer in the past. Health is a core value to me and I don’t mind making the investment (it’s also important that I also use them. Paying for a gym and never going is a waste, even if you can afford it). We are not big DIY people. I admire people who have the skill set and passion, but neither Chris or I do. And yes, I am a BIG believer in emergency funds and I think 3 months is the minimum amount one should have. 3 months seems like a long time, but if you lost your job and are fully dependent on it, than 3 months fly by.

  13. I completely agree about the cash envelope system. I’ve never had a problem with credit card debt, I love the convenience of using credit cards, and I love my rewards. I can certainly understand the merits of cash only system, but it’s just not for me.

  14. The envelop system hates me because I have tried it for many times but it simply did not work for me despite the fact that I was willing to do it. This strategy may work for other but honestly not for me.

  15. The cash envelope system seems so antiquated – like something my great grandma would do! I guess I shouldn’t be so judgmental since, if this method helps some be more financially responsible, then it is a good thing. Talk about a hassle though.

  16. Though a majority of strategies don’t work for me, I love having all the options at my disposal and testing them all out to find what does. Zero sum budgeting has become my saving grace.

  17. I just started the cash envelope system for couple of months after moving out from my parents and works well.

  18. I completely agree with you on the biggest emergency fund. There are so many circumstances that go into deciding how much cash you should keep that a blanket statement on the subject just isn’t sufficient. We are at 4-5 right now and would like to get it to 6.

  19. I enjoyed the advice and how you delivered it in this post. It is about learning what works for you and implementing it in your money life. All the things that do work as you mentioned are really big wins. Good luck in your journey.

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