In our monthly series, GIVING UP, newsroom staffers deprive themselves of a beloved habit and track how it went. In April, Fashion and Lifestyle Editor Jamie Feldman, 28, gave up using credit cards.
I like to shop. A lot.
What are you giving up? I tried giving up my credit cards for a month and using cash instead. I started off the month writing down all of my expenses and cash withdrawals. Started is the operative word here.
What made you decide to give it up? I am a born and raised New Yorker, and going out to dinner is deeply rooted in my social life. When high schoolers in the suburbs were having house parties to get away from their parents, we were meeting at restaurants to get away from ours.
That habit followed me into adulthood. So did a deeply-rooted love for shopping (when I was a 9-year-old at summer camp and my mom came for Visiting Day I told her I wanted to “smell the mall”). I also now live in Brooklyn, which makes ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft all too convenient. Finally, there’s the fact that credit cards make me feel like I have way, way more money than I actually do.
I rely much too heavily on my credit cards. I have racked up a small amount of debt from buying rounds of shots at the bar and basically just breathing while living in an obscenely overpriced city.
How did your friends and family react? Everyone laughed at the idea and thought it was pretty silly. (Sorry to my mom if she’s reading this. She was one of the only ones who thought this experiment was a great idea.)
My loved ones know that I use my credit card to rack up air mileage and am one of those people that never has cash on them. To be fair, when I do carry cash, I’m pretty convinced an evil New York City fairy dips into my pockets and takes it as soon as I step foot outside.
Did you do any research before you started? No, and I probably should have. In my mind, I was going to take out a certain amount of cash each day, spend it according to a budget and replenish until I hit my budget. Then at that point I would stop spending for the week. Ha!
I did, however, meet with a friend in the beginning of the month who is a financial advisor. She told me that it’s easy to budget, and I have to decide what is most important to me to spend money on in a month.
Did you slip up? So. Many. Times. I slipped up on day one while I was with the editor who assigned me this story (hi, Lindsay Holmes). I made her turn the other way as I swiped to pay for a cab on our way to a party.
It got to the point where I even cheated the system, and just had friends pay for things and charge me for them on Venmo. I always knew I relied on my cards, but this was a real eye-opener.
It was also during this month that I realized I might have too many friends, many of whom happen to be getting married this year. And what goes great with planning travel and paying off expenses for weddings? You guessed it, credit cards.
One of the many weddings I have this year.
When did you first feel deprived? I wouldn’t say I was deprived, but I noticed something jarring on day one. I went to dinner with a friend and it happened to be a cash only place. We spent $50 on dinner and I had planned on going to a party afterward. I couldn’t handle the thought of spending almost $100 on a random Tuesday night, and realized how easy the amount of money is to ignore when you’re just swiping a tiny plastic card.
There were far fewer oyster happy hours in the cards for me during my month with no credit cards.
Any awkward social encounters? No awkwardness, but definitely a bit more work. I’m used to splitting things up with a bunch of people for a given activity or meal, but when you’re the only one paying cash it takes more effort when the bill gets to the table.
Notice any changes to your mood? I struggle with my financial habits and the consequences they have on my life regularly. I am constantly spending too much money simply by living in New York City, despite the fact that I bring my lunch every day and try to be aware of the things I am buying. Not being able to get something at the swipe of a card made the fact that I am living way outside my means more noticeable ― and that was a little upsetting.
Changes to your productivity? I wouldn’t say there were changes in my productivity, but perhaps changes in my priorities. I did a whole lot of walking in lieu of taking cabs. I sucked it up and took the subway even when I had a lot of packages or it was later in the evening. I also spent time with friends doing free or cheap things, like walking over the Brooklyn Bridge or having people over for dinner.
Changes to your relationships? Definitely not. I am lucky to have a great group of friends who are in the same boat as me when it comes to worrying about finances. If we’re all feeling like we have been overdoing it, we all chill out for a while. Trying to use cash exclusively made me feel that way more often, but it didn’t change my relationships.
What does an expert say about doing this? Is there any benefit? Kimmie Greene, a consumer finance expert at Mint, told me exactly what I already knew.
“For some, credit cards can make big purchases ― like an impromptu vacation or designer shoes ― seem more accessible,” she said. “And for those with a big credit limit, it can be tempting to spend more than you can afford to pay off. Even if you carry only a small balance each month, that could eventually snowball into bigger debt. By paying with cash or a debit card, you buy only what you can afford to buy.”
Green also said ditching credit cards for a certain amount of time can give you a fresh perspective on your finances. This can help you figure out what you need versus what you want, and help establish better habits in the long term.
“You may also become adamant about paying down debt and using your credit card wisely, such as only charging what you can pay back right away, or keeping balances low,” she said.
Perhaps I should have tried shopping here?
Would you do it again? Absolutely not. But I did learn a lot about my spending habits, and have at least made it a priority to have cash on me at all times from now on. The challenge made me more aware of the things I am spending money on without realizing it, and I have definitely made small changes in my behavior to help budget better and spend less.