Wednesday, April 25

Works for Me: Budgeting with Gift Cards

A special thanks to my friend Dawn who inspired this idea.

Adam and I have been fighting with our budget for about as long as we've been married. The problem is, the numbers will work on paper, but in real life we find it much harder to be disciplined about how much we're spending--especially when we use our debit card.

I've tried the cash envelope method (all the cash you are budgeted to spend for groceries or gas in an envelope and when the cash is gone, you're done buying) but that really didn't work well for me. I kept borrowing and lending cash back and forth between envelopes and I never knew quite what to do with all the coins.

But then I was at dinner with Dawn earlier this week and she talked about her Starbucks card that she would reload at the beginning of every month to keep track of her coffee habit. Suddenly it occurred to me that many places have gift cards, in fact, all of my regular grocery/gas/baby/etc. stores offer gift cards. What if, instead of messing with coins and envelopes, I just went to the store at the beginning of every month and bought a gift card in the amount of my monthly budget?

I should qualify this tip with the notice that I haven't actually tried it yet, so I only think it would work in theory, but I liked the idea so much I thought I'd share now rather than a few months from now. I will definitely update in a few months with a review of how it's been going.

UPDATE: It didn't work for me! Here's the post explaining why.

For more tips and advice visit Rocks in my Dryer.


  1. Wow - that is a really great idea! I might try it, too. Thanks. :)

  2. I like this idea! :) I had actually had a similar thought because we are going to put one of our little guys at a private school that participates in the Scrip program (which involves buying gift cards).

  3. I've thought about doing that especially for groceries. You can also purchase one-time use credit cards for almost any amount, which are great for vacations, and especially for ordering things online that require a credit card, when you don't have one.

  4. Very creative idea. What a good way to keep your budget in check. I'll look forward to hearing how it works.

    PS - Thanks for letting me know you can get Jane's salt at Amazon. Don't know why I never thought of that - DUH! ;)


  5. I think this is a great idea. Please post how it works for you. I think I will give it a try myself. I don't buy things like starbucks, but it would certainly help us at places like Walmart or Lowes.

  6. This idea has tons of potential. Please keep us posted on how it works in real life. The only drawback would be if you truly run out of money for, say...groceries. I would hate to see you eating from the Shell station for a week!

  7. Thanks to everyone for visiting.
    MommaBlogger, that's a great thought about the pre-paid credit cards. I've thought about those for gifts, but not for travel. Excellent idea!

    Nancy, I just about fell off my chair when I read your comment! Thank you for adding a little laughter to my day.

  8. I love this idea - have to try that in May!!!


  9. I LOVE this idea! I already "budget" my Starbucks spend by using a card, but the voucher idea is great.

    I use the cash budget option, and it works for me. Envelopes were a nightmare though, I have now carry 2 wallets, one for the groceries budget, one for my personal budget which makes it easier. I've even been keeping the receipts and tracking my spend so if I do go over, we can see where and how we could have been smarter.

  10. We´ve done something like this when planning for a vacation. We go online and check out what restaurants are in the area where we are going to stay and then try to buy a few gift cards to our favorites especially when or has a discount offered. Having some of our vacation meals prepaid helps make the trip more manageable financially.

  11. Great budgeting idea! I may have to try this myself! Thank you for the comment on my WFMW post -- I agree that the reason it could be easier to by for my son is because he does not have the curves and body type which needs to be "flattered" which I do.

  12. The cash envelope system didn't work for us either. We have gone back to using our credit card and then paying it off each month. At least we are earning points for our next Disney trip!!

    I do like this idea, though. I may have to give it a try. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Love this idea! Thanks for sharing.

  14. That is a GREAT idea!! Take it a step farther: CVS has just plain old VISA gift cards. You can use them anywhere. That way you won't be limited to just one store for groceries.


  15. Hmm. That's a great concept. I thought about doing that whenever I receive gift money--just put it into a specific store gift card so I don't spend it on paying bills and filling up the tank.


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