How to Adapt the Cash Only System & Stick to a Clothing Budget

Using PayPal to manage my penchant for shopping

Budgeting and financial goals have increasingly become more of a priority for me. And when I look at my lifestyle and where I spend the most of my money, although not impossible, there aren't many areas to cut back in. The only money I spend on beauty and hygiene is when I have to repurchase something I've run out of. My grocery budget is pretty modest and what I eat on a daily basis doesn't vary a lot (I am a food robot). I, for the most part, only spend money eating or drinking out on the weekends and in social settings. So that leaves clothing. It's routinely an area where I spend a lot and without a lot of premeditation.

I've been noodling with how to best approach this for a few months now. Should it be a no-new ban, where I can only shop second hand for three months, six months, a whole year? Or maybe I should not allow myself to buy any clothing for a set amount of time. I finally settled on a strict monthly clothing budget.

Because it's so easy for me to spend $82 here, $37 dollars there, it quickly adds up and it's hard for me to feel accountable until the end of the month. I've tried tracking every transaction I make throughout the month, but that gets tiring and by the time I do all the auditing at the end of the month, all that money's already been spent.

I thought the best way to do this was to give myself an allotted amount of money to spend on clothing for the entire month, and to subtract from that with each purchase, so when I hit zero, that was it. But I knew that if I was just keeping track of the purchase made on my debit card, it'd be easy to lose track or start being very, very lenient with the budget.

Pulling out and only using cash for clothing wouldn't work because the majority of my shopping is done online. And then it just came to me one day like one of Raven's visions: PayPal.

So here's how it works:

  • At the beginning of every month, I will move $100 into my PayPal balance and that's all the money I can spend on clothing for the month.
  • If an online retailer doesn't take PayPal, I'll go in and subtract that amount and transfer it into my bank.
  • What I don't spend that month will stay in the balance and roll over to the next month.
  • So, if something I want is over $100, I have to save up for it over multiple months.

It's only been a week, but I can already feel the benefits of having these boundaries. I knew I wanted to buy that Loewe puzzle bag knockoff, which was $60.63 with tax and like a $3 discount. That left me with $39.37. There were two things in the Aritzia sale that I wanted, a pair of faux leather mittens and a black crop top that I could wear leisurely and working out. But I could only afford to get one or the other.

After much hemming and hawing, I decided that the mittens were beautiful but now that I'm working from home for the time being, I don't need to keep my hands warm during a long commute. I have one other high neck black tank that I love wearing around the house and during yoga and ballet, and it would be nice to have a second one on hand for when the other is in the wash. $36.33. That leaves me with $3.04 for the month of January.

This has forced me to be discerning and make decisions about what I buy and whether I really do need that thing right now. If anything, it at least makes me do a doubletake and think about purchases for a second. I'm already contemplating what my February purchase will be. Hm, do I sense a series coming?

*Edit: I felt I had to add that between the two days of me writing this post and coming back to edit it before publishing, I messed up and went over my budget without even realizing it until afterward.

I'm going on a snowy hike this weekend and was thinking that I didn't have any warm bottoms. Leggings aren't enough, and all of my jeans are too tight to put a pair of leggings underneath them. So I ended up finding two pairs of sporty sweatpants in the Goodwill. $15.39. If you've been following along, that puts me at -$12.35. Oops.

I swear I still think this is a good idea though.*

Diana Le

Diana Le

Diana is the co-creator and Editor-in-Chief of Oatmeal Cardigan. She works as a copywriter by day and moonlights as a texting guru by night.