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Oops! It happened again!


By this point we all know my love-hate relationship with the money envelope system.

Well I am so fed up right now I think I might be over it….

At the beginning of the month I withdrew money and carefully stuffed each envelope. It’s still early in the month so I KNOW I have only made 3 transactions so far (1 from the “eating out” envelope and 2 from the “groceries” envelope).

Well this morning, for whatever reason, I was counting my money and….

….I’m $40 short in my groceries envelope!!!!


Remember this happened last month, too, but I chalked it up to me forgetting a quick grocery store run. But this time we’re not even a week into the month so I can remember every purchase I’ve made and I KNOW 100% I did not spend that $40.

I know my husband wouldn’t “steal” from our envelopes, but I called him anyway, fingers crossed and hoping that he had needed to “borrow” a little cash (since that’s the only thing that would explain it).

No such luck. Husband hasn’t touched the envelopes and was somewhat offended I would even suggest he had “borrowed” from our family’s money.

Soooo, I’m pretty sure I lost it.

I know for sure that the envelope originally had the correct amount of money. I even counted after my first grocery store trip and everything was accurate.

But this most recent trip was at Walmart. Remember how I use my money envelope for holding coupons, too? I remember distinctly 2 separate times when I had paused to dig through my envelope and make sure I had a coupon for the item I wanted to put in the cart. I must have somehow dropped money at one of those times. That is the ONLY thing I can think of to explain where this money has disappeared.

Regardless, I am pissed. I’m pissed at myself, at the stupid envelopes, and at the world. I know it sounds childish, but I’m really, really upset. $40 amounts to basically half of a week’s worth of groceries. That’s a significant amount of money right now.

So I’m calling it quits. I’m done with the envelopes. The whole purpose is defeated if I keep loosing money.

Update:  I wrote this on Thursday morning and on Thursday afternoon I found the “lost” $40. Turns out…I’m an idiot and had written the wrong amount for my Walmart receipt so the numbers didn’t match up when I was balancing the envelope because I was “off” by $40. 

Sorry for cursing you, world! Also – I stand by the fact that the envelope system (at least in its paper format) may not be for me. Some readers had suggested mint.com and various apps that could be used. Perhaps that will work better for me. I’ll continue on the rest of the month with the paper envelopes but this will be the last month, for sure. Clearly I am too irresponsible dumb to have so much cash on me!



  • Reply TPol |

    Ashley don’t be so hard on yourself. Take a deep breath. Following every penny you spend is a tough job. I couldn’t do it for very long whenever I tried it. I also never had the stamina to do the envelope system. I use my credit card which I religiously pay in full, extensively for every purchase. I know this may not be for everyone s.o, why don’t you use the debit card and write down every purchase at the end of the day? You may use just one envelope to collect receipts. I check my credit card purchases online on a daily basis and that is how I keep things under control.

    You have been doing a fine job so far and the key to success is sustainable behaviour change.

    • Reply Ashley |

      I used to always ONLY use debit and I think that’s the system I’ll return to. The problem was I would overspend because I wasn’t always 100% on top of how much money I had left in “X” category. But I am certainly more cognizant of my spending now, and I still track everything. The benefit of the debit card is that I can always go online and know exactly how much I have spent. There’s never anything forgotten (because I ONLY use debit, not cash), and even if I don’t record it immediately, I can always go back and check the next day (or whenever I’m updating our budget). I think the money envelopes have succeeded in making me more aware of and in-tune with our budget and spending, but clearly this system just isn’t “right” for me….which is okay since everyone is different! But I do think its been helpful in forcing me to be REALLY aware of our budget and spending so hopefully that will continue even after the envelopes are gone.

  • Reply Susan |

    When you say you “withdrew money and put it in the envelopes”, are you withdrawing the entire month’s worth of money? So you had $380 in the envelope to start?

    I know this means more envelopes … buy why don’t you have an at home set of envelopes with the big amounts of money in them. Then, have a second, smaller set of envelopes to take with you, and only take say, $150 at a time. I only have one child and I cannot imagine the stress of having so much cash in my purse plus trying to keep focused while shopping with all of his jabbering away.

    I worry that with a debit card, you will immediately overspend.

    OR, take a calculator with you and tally up the amounts as you put things into your cart. You would have to know ahead of time how much you are allowed to spend to stay in budget.

    • Reply Shoeaholicnomore |

      I agree with this! I take all money out of the ATM at the start of the month, but I only carry about 1/2 of it (for each category) with me until I get close to running out. Then I get the second half out and put it in my purse too. That way if something crazy did happen, ie robbery, loosing the envelopes, etc, I’d only have lost 1/2 the money at the most.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Yes – I had the full amount of money with me. Last month (when I first tried the envelopes) I had initially tried to only put 1 week’s worth of money in the envelope at a time, but that quickly became too confusing (since there was money that would “roll over” for some envelopes, plus it made having correct change more challenging).

      My plan is to return to using debt (after this month is over – i’m going to finish up this month with the envelopes), but BEFORE I go grocery shopping (or eat out, etc.) I’ll check the budget so I know exactly how much I have to spend. I already know rough estimates (approx $85-$90 for groceries per week), and I keep a little tally on my grocery list as I put items in the cart so I know how much I’m spending before getting to the register.

      You’re right that, in the past, that had led to overspending but the envelopes have forced me to be so much more aware of my spending habits that I’m hoping the “awareness” will remain even after the envelopes are gone. Time will tell!

  • Reply Stephanie |

    We use the “envelope” system, but digitally. I use Mint to budget our money for the month, funding our “envelopes.” I have the program roll the balance over to the next month. We both have the Mint app on our phones, so we can immediately log in and see how much we have left to spend for the month. Carrying around cash in envelopes never worked for me, and it became impossible to have envelopes for larger categories where I might have a couple hundred bucks in the envelope but rarely spend from that envelope. So, this is the system we use now. Every time I log into mint it automatically updates the purchases made on our debit or credit cards, and allows me to categorize them.

  • Reply Sarah |

    Oh, that’s too bad, Ashley! I have lost cash at places like garage sales, and it always makes me so mad. I once found an unmarked envelope in a snowbank with $50 cash and coupons. I know that was someone’s weekly grocery money.

    Cash can still be avoided with a little discipline. Out of habit, I still add things up as I shop and use my debit card to pay for groceries. I’m still pretty strict about our grocery budget, even though we have no debt. I’ve been burned a couple times with lost cash and no more!

  • Reply CanadianKate |

    1. Glad you found the money.
    2. You are neither dumb nor irresponsible. You are learning how to do this so you will make mistakes along the way. You were tenacious enough to find the mistake, smart enough to come up likely scenarios and responsible enough to not simply give up.
    3. Now you have to make a decision. Can you try for one more month and see if you develop the habit? You found benefits to the system last month. If not, please seriously consider an e-envelop system of some sort.

    Balancing cash has two advantages: first you find out how much you are frittering away and secondly you discover when money goes missing. In my case, it was always either $10 or $20 and it was my young son taking money from my wallet. At that time, it was easy to believe I was losing track of $10 but $20 was too much for me to spend at places that don’t give receipts so I was alerted reasonably quickly (probably 3 – 4 weeks after it started.) If I hadn’t balanced my cash regularly, I would not have been aware of what he was doing and the behaviour might have become harder to break.

  • Reply Alexandria |

    I don’t like using actual paper money – too inconvenient, too easy to lose, etc. We’ve always used a virtual envelope system of sorts. There are certainly many ways to get to the same end in a way that works better for you. Good Luck!

  • Reply Silvia |

    I’m in love with You Need a Budget (YNAB)- similar concept as the envelop system. It’s an upfront cost but well worth it. Remember it get better. Good luck.

  • Reply Julene |

    Another option would be to keep your coupons in a separate envelope and always keep the cash ones inside your purse, bringing them out only to pay for the purchase. One test you could use too if you decide to go back to debit would be to tell yourself that if you stop tracking your purchases and go over your budget amount, your punishment is an all cash envelope for that category the next month. Not perfect but just an idea!

  • Reply Mary |

    Don’t be so hard on yourself! Changing our habits takes a little bit of time.

    As for the envelope system, the reason is works is that it helps us spend less money. If I recall, DR said we spend 14% less on groceries using the envelope system. I think he’s right…I know that when I use the debit card, I was almost always spending exactly 14% over! When I switched to the envelope system, I was better.

    I guess when I read the post, two things stuck out at me….first I wondered if you were carrying a purse (most women who don’t carry purses are always losing their money, or the license or forgetting their medical card or something, lol) and second why you were putting coupons in a money envelope. It seemed more like an organizational issue than the fact that the envelopes weren’t working per se. Here’s what I’d do….create a list in order of errands, take a list before you leave the house of what you want to get at Walmart. Attach (staple) any coupons to that list. Put these items in your errand bag (you leave the errand bag in your car when you get to your destination…it’s only to hold your to do list, shopping list and for receipts which you’ll file when you get home). Put one week’s worth of grocery money in your wallet. I usually put one week’s worth of grocery money in the zippered portion of my wallet and I keep my fast food spending money in the dollar section (that way, if I want fast food, I just look to see if I have money…nothing to record on any envelope). I’d keep all of your other envelopes in the zippered portion of your purse. There is typically a zippered portion in the purse. I like keeping the envelopes there because it’s not in the main section or in the wallet so in the event of a robbery, lol, where they ask for your wallet, they don’t get all of your money. Also, if I were creating the list for Walmart like you mentioned, I would know ahead of time how much I am spending and exactly what I’d be buying. When I go into Walmart, I know ahead of time of the items I am buying and the dollar limit that I am spending at that store so as not to go over budget. Coupons are stapled to the list.

    I am also a little perplexed as to why you are always “balancing” the envelopes. For the grocery money, take out one week’s worth and that’s it. No balancing required. I also think it might help to try to do all of your grocery shopping at one store if possible. That would eliminate a lot of the balancing out of the envelope.

    Hope this helps. You are doing great. I’d give the cash system another month.

  • Reply Felicity |

    I’m another vote for using Mint.com as a digital envelope. I know it doesn’t have the benefit of the emotional pain of spending cash, but Mint.com has been working for me for almost 5 years. I’m just in the habit of logging in every day or every other day to categorize me spending. I have the app on my phone so I always know how much money I have left. I usually do a little mental accounting for purchases that I know haven’t posted yet.

  • Reply Cyndi |

    I use a women’s wallet with a snap enclosure on top , it has 4 divided sections , a checkbook register fits in , I wrote with a sharpie marker , grocery, misc , gas, and kids/animals at the top of each section , those are my cash sections and everything else in the budget is check or direct debit , it works very well for us and coupons also fit in

  • Reply Abgurl |

    No no keep using the envelope system BUT when going to the grocery store or where ever you will need to pay, keep the money separate in your purse or wallet aka not with you coupons

  • Reply Theresa |

    I know there are people who swear by the physical envelope system, but it doesn’t work for me. I do not like having that much cash in hand. Instead we use our debit card for everything and then I download or type the information in an excel workbook. Our budget is kept in the same workbook, so I’m able to use a pivot table and vlookups to quickly see where we are with our budget. I’ve got a difference and percent completion that allows us to always keep track of where we are in the month. For instance, after the first week we should be at 25% completion for the month. I then email the workbook to myself and my husband after each update so we can reference from our phone as needed. Maybe this would work for you?

So, what do you think ?