I recently shared on Instagram how I use gift cards to help me budget for fun things that allow me to treat myself on occasion. Things like gourmet coffee, favorite stores, and just fun money in general. Since that post was a big hit, I wanted to dive in a little deeper to share with you how to start using gift cards in your budget and how they can help you stick to your budget and not feel guilty when you splurge.
*This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a commission on recommendations at no cost to you.
The benefits of cash envelopes
Budgeting with cash envelopes is a very popular thing in the budget community. Using cash envelopes can be a great way to keep your spending organized and under control. They are especially helpful if you are just beginning to budget and struggle with over-spending.
How cash envelopes work is by organizing chunks of your budget into easy to access envelopes. Different categories might be:
- Out to eat
You keep all of these envelopes handy so if and when you need to spend from a certain category, you can pull from your budgeted amount of cash.
Having cash on hand is also beneficial because you become more aware of how much you’re actually spending. Swiping a debit card often makes people over-spend because they are not fully aware of how much they are spending.
Enter: gift cards
So what if instead of using cash envelopes, we made the switch to gift cards instead? While you could use a similar method, gift cards offer additional benefits that cash doesn’t:
- Fewer trips to the bank
- No lost money
- Easier to carry
- Free perks
As someone who was always nervous carrying large amounts of cash, I went back and forth trying to figure out a budgeting system that worked better than cash envelopes.
How to use gift cards
There are several ways that you can replace your cash envelope style budgeting with gift cards while still sticking to your same system.
Instead of designating cash, you will just arrange your budget funds to spread out across different gift cards. Some of the best gift cards to start with are:
- Your favorite restaurants
- Most-used stores
- Coffee shops
I personally discovered the benefits of using gift cards for budgeting when I downloaded the Starbucks app.
Gift card apps
I loved the discovery that the Starbucks app allowed you to use a virtual type gift card when you sign up for their rewards program. Through the app, you can preload a designated amount of money onto your “Starbucks card”.
By doing this you can more easily order your Starbucks ahead of time or pay with your phone when you purchase in-store.
You can also use this type of feature with the Dunkin Donuts rewards program in their app! In fact, a lot of places are hopping on board with adding rewards and pre-loaded cards to their apps! Here are 15 restaurant apps that can save you money.
Every month, on the Starbucks app, I pre-load $25. I do this because there is always a little temptation when I leave Target. Maybe a latte, a Pink Drink or some cake pops for the kids.
One month we spent a ton of money on Starbucks and I couldn’t help but feel guilty that we had. Then I realized the problem wasn’t that we had spent the money, the problem was that I hadn’t planned on spending the money.
So instead of feeling guilt for treating ourselves, we just plan to treat ourselves instead! Get my FREE Shop Talk eBook to help you spend smarter.
Earn free stuff
Another added benefit of using gift cards along with reward programs is that you can often save yourself additional money.
Discounted gift cards
For example, sometimes stores like Target or Costco will run discounted specials on gift cards. Often times you can purchase a $100 gift card at a discounted rate of say, $75!
With restaurant apps and reward programs, you can also earn freebies after a while. Depending on how often you use your rewards and how much you spend each month, you may be able to get free food or drinks once a month.
Skip the gift card
You might be thinking that this all sounds great, but that there is still a large chunk of your budget that this won’t work for. What about pet supplies, groceries, or gas? What if you don’t want to be limited to one store (or coffee shop’s) gift card?
That’s where the Cash App Cash Card comes in!
You can reload the Cash Card every month just like you would with an in-app gift card! Except you can use your Cash Card anywhere you want!
Personally, I choose to pre-load mine with my “fun money” for the month and I do the same for Tom.
That way, we each have our own designated spending amounts without having to carry cash or open separate accounts. Open a Cash Card and get $5 on me!
Another great benefit to using the gift card budgeting system is that you can get added bonuses during birthdays or Christmas.
If you frequently use gift cards for places like coffee shops, restaurants or clothing stores, request these gifts cards as stocking stuffers!
This can help you save a significant amount of money each month afterward!
How to earn extra gift cards
Another great way to save on your budget every month is to earn gift cards for free! My personal favorite way to do this is through iSay surveys!
When you take a few minutes to answer basic surgery questions, you can earn points to help you score free gift cards to some of your favorite places! This can be a fun way to pass downtime and still score yourself some freebies! Join iSay here!