Thinking Inside the “Little White Receipt Box”

by Sarah Baughman on 18 January 2008 5 comments
Photo: Receipt Box

It’s no fun getting to the end of the month, thinking you’ve been frugal, only to find an exceptionally monstrous credit card bill or disturbingly meager checking account balance waiting to throw you off. My husband and I were getting sick of muttering “Huh?!” or worse as we watched our money float inexplicably away.

It didn’t help that we had about a jillion ways to spend money. We could use one of two credit cards, write a check, withdraw cash, use our automatic debit card… and we soon found that while I relied on my credit cards, my husband was debiting away, leaving me with an inflated sense of what was in our account and him with a deflated sense of what was on our cards. It was all very confusing.

We immediately took stock of the situation and made a few organizational changes. I didn’t want to give up the credit cards, because the two I have come with such great financial rewards, and he didn’t want to give up the debiting, because it produced such immediate “feedback” on what we had in our account. So, we agreed:
• Our Mastercard, which we got specifically because of its great rebates on gas and other auto-related purchases, will now only be used for gas and car repairs.
• Our Discover Card, which we got specifically because of its travel rebates, will be used only for recurring bill debits (such as the cell phone bill and my monthly orthodontist bill), as well as major purchases, which we will always discuss prior to initiating.
• We will primarily use our debit card for purchases and check the account balance online frequently prior to using. (For us, withdrawing cash felt like pouring water into a cracked cup—dollars would fly out here and there as if drawn by magnetic force—and it’s almost always just as easy to use a debit card or write a check)

Our most important change, however, came in the form of a little white box—our “Little White Receipt Box.” It sits conveniently atop our shoe rack; we see it the minute we walk in the door. We have begun saving all of our receipts, from a gallon of milk on up, and sorting through the box at the end of each week to assess our spending and make sure we stay on track. I went to a school play last night and wrote a little receipt for myself—actually, it was just a scrawled reminder “School Play--$2”—and dropped it in the box. Might sound silly, but after a couple weeks of buying $2 or $3 lunches or Gatorades and not communicating about them, $40 would all of a sudden be gone and we’d be scratching our heads. Once you have to write it down, you’ll probably end up packing PB & J instead.

Anyway, jotted on the top of the box are reminders about recurring monthly debits we’re responsible for on each card or account. Seeing the reminders every day helps us remain mindful of what life really costs—“Oh yeah, I’m still paying off my student loans. Maybe I’ll ditch that latte this week.”

More significantly, the “Little White Receipt Box” has given us a sense of responsibility, probably similar to that dieters experience when they have to write down everything they eat. We know the other person will see our purchase, so we think a little harder before we buy. We also see exactly where the money goes, dollar by dollar, avoiding any sense of mystery and also encouraging us to spend wisely. Thinking inside this box might not be creative, but it sure is easy on the wallet.

Tagged: Budgeting
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Guest's picture
Lynne

I've been trying to get in control of my finances for years, with some notable successes. However, the single most effective thing I've done to date was writing down every penny that goes in and out of my life (read about in Your Money or Your Life-great book). I haven't changed anything about my spending the last few months, and yet gone are the "surprise" overdraft fees, gone are the "oops I forgot my gym membership came out on the 15th, just like it has for the last 8 months...." Keeping that level of detailed track of my spending and income has thrust my financial situation into gritty reality, and it's made a huge difference. All because I have a little 99cent notebook in my purse.

Great post

Guest's picture
Lucille

There are some great ideas in that we will probably implement only in our electronic forms of tracking things we both have access to.
Lynne, Ironically my gym membership overdrafted our account this month also. It usually comes out right at the first of the month so I automatically assumed it already was taken out around the time our push bill pays go out on the first. It didn't post until the 8th and put us lower than I thought. I do wish they would let me set up and automated pay on my end but they insist on doing automatic billing from their end.

We keep every single receipt and it really is a wake up call to your spending. It was what got us off the restaurant habit years ago. We started seeing just how much of our income was flying away on eating out. I could never get anyone to hand write receipts for cash payments but my hubby is good about getting a store receipt for just about everything paid with cash.

The receipt collecting also has changed our buying habits into trying to consolidate our purchasing more. We try to get our grocery purchases onto fewer receipts so there is less to track. That also is a motivation to spend less on other things because t makes finances that hard to track.

We also live in a no income tax state so we can take a credit for our sales tax on our federal taxes. Since they tax groceries we frequently spend quite a bit on state taxes we will never get a state refund on and it does take a huge chunk off of our federal taxes.

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Rob in Madrid

I simply moved to a cash only basis. Once a month a transfer over enough money to last the month, put that in my "cash" account and then work really hard not to spend it all. While I may not get cash back rewards I'm not rewarding the CC company with extra purchases.

Guest's picture

It all still boils down to proper financial management. I know it may sound cliche, but it's always best to avoid overspending. As much as possible, stick with the necessities. Never mind the brand.

Guest's picture

Might just have to try this one! I find myself blowing through money (sushi, Subway, whatever), so I'd love to have to face myself at the end of each week.

Thanks for sharing! :)