One of the principles of the Dave Ramsey plan is to have a set budget. You also use cash envelopes to make sure you only spend what you have set aside in that category. For more information see: Financial Peace University.
We tried the envelope method, but it never worked for us. It was too time intensive. You had to go to the bank, get out cash in the right denominations, then split them up into the envelopes. Then when ever you wanted to spend something you would take money from that envelope (putting the change back in). We ended up not having that envelope with us, when we were out and about. Granted, you should plan for purchases, but it doesn't always work that way. You may not remember that you have to get a gallon of milk, until you are at work. To have to go back home to get the money, is a pain. I know I am oversimplifying it, but it just did not work for us.
So after trial and error and research, we have found a way that is working for us. It also took me getting a part time job, to give us extra cash to put into savings and be able to "afford" extras. But, here is what we have done.
Instead of envelopes, we have created different accounts.
For savings, we now use an online account, that we cannot get access to immediately. We both have money direct deposited from our checks to go into that account. We never see it and we never touch it. We are using it for long term savings projects. First one is getting into a house. Once we do that, we will save for a car for Hubby. Then a vacation, etc. It is a savings account for those long term goals, that you do not want to piddle away with "emergency" gallon's of milk that you should have budgeted for in the first place.
We now each have pre-paid debit cards for our fun money. We each get a set amount from each of our paychecks, deposited onto the pre-paid card. This money we can do anything we want with. If we want to buy gifts for each other, the other one won't see the balance from it or what was spent.
We also now use a pre-paid gas card for all of our gas purchases. What was happening, was that the money I would give to hubby for "gas and fun" would get mingled up. He would not make it the two weeks needed. By having two separate cards, he now know, this one is for gas this one is for fun. I would also have my fun money going toward groceries and gas, and not keeping track of when I spent something on myself. Now we have a dedicated card, that also gets us a discount on gas. (We use a Walmart Gift Card. It gives us $.03 off each gallon and is easily reloaded when I buy groceries).
Our main account, where Hubby's check goes is dedicated to bill paying, rent, etc. His gas and fun funds, come from when he gets paid. Since I work most Friday's, I just reload the cards on my break. The rest is used for bills and if there is money left over, it is left to grow and build our bank balance. We also have a savings account linked to that account, so if after all bills are paid, we move all but $100 out of checking into savings. This savings account is our "emergency" fund for things like blown tires, etc.
My checks are deposited into a different bank. I use this account to fund my gas and fun accounts. It is also used for all groceries and eating out. If I work less then, our food budget is less. I have to make do with what we have. But if I can keep our food budget below what I have, then I can move the remaining amount into the savings account linked to it and we use that for things like clothes, etc.
I know it may seem complicated, but it really is working for us. We are saving money. Sticking to a budget and we don't feel guilty going to a movie, or buying a book, when it is our own "fun" money.
By having most of our money direct deposited into separate accounts, we don't have to think about it. The money is there and when it is gone it is gone. We don't carry around the debit card associated with the "Bills" account. That way we always have the money to pay bills and rent. We only carry our gas, fun and grocery cards. I know if I am at the movies, I pull out the fun card. If I am buying gas, I pull out the gas card, same thing with groceries. So it is like having an envelope, only electronically.
I know they say there is an emotional response to using cash. You tend to spend less. But in our cases, it seems like it would escape through our fingers. This way both hubby and I are aware of what money is for what purpose. So far it is working.
Some other hints and tips:
I do most of my shopping at Walmart (since I work there). I recently started using the American Express Blue-bird card. When you use the savings catcher and get money back, you can have it refunded back to your Blue-Bird card. I use this card as my "snacks" card while at work. I budget a certain amount for the two weeks of lunches and snacks and when it is gone it is gone. I get daily updates on balances.
For personal fun money,we use a Simple card. It allows you to set goals and "set aside" money that is not available to spend until you reach that goal. For those of us trying to reach goals, but find it hard, this might be a good option for you.
Prepaid gas cards. Most gas stations offer a prepaid gas card. You load money on it and are able to pay at the pump. For those of you wanting to budget your gas without using cash and having to go inside every time (it is hard to lug kids inside to pay cash), this is a great option. Walmart allows you to use your Walmart gift cards at the gas station associated with it. Ours is a Murphy station, but you need to look into what your's is. You can write with a sharpie on the card GAS, so you know not to use it for anything else at Walmart. You have to plan a little bit more with this one, since you will not always be near the Walmart gas station. That is when a Gas Station pre-paid card, might be a better option.
Get to know your bank/credit union. Credit unions have more options when it comes to things like loans. You are a member, not a customer and with that you have benefits. But I have also found that my personal bank is very personable and works with me.
I hope this post helps those of you not wanting to work on a strictly cash basis.