Gift Card Granny Challenges Ashley Grimaldo to Live Off Discount Gift Cards

How are you doing with January's well-toasted resolution to tighten your budget? I'd love to scream megaphone-style that my pennies are accounted for and I have no doubt about our bank account numbers, but I'd be an even bigger phony than I already am. My get-back-on-financial-track resolution completely tanked about three weeks ago and I'm back to my old habits of spending whatever, whenever, until my sweet Hubs kindly informs me that we're out of money and to "please stop shopping". 

I've looked long and hard into the mirror and realized that I'm my biggest financial woe. And the biggest flaw in all of it is my inability to stick with a plan.

As a stay-at-home-mom of two and a half children, I think about money quite a bit. Or about saving more of it, to be more exact. The problem is I stink at it. And I've been a bit of a liar about my spending habits, especially among fellow moms. Here's what I know to be absolutely true about how I use our resources each month (even though I'd rather not admit it): 

  • Money comes in plastic and swipes through a machine. I tell myself I keep a mental tally of what I'm spending on credit cards, but it's always off by 30% (in excess, of course).
  • I prominently display my super couponing books on the look-at-how-well-read-I-am bookshelf, have browsed them all at least one and don't apply a single thing. In fact I can't stand those snits that spend $2.78 on a cartload of groceries and laugh at me on TV.
  • As a family, we've started eating a minimal amount of processed food--almost no dairy, sugar, gluten or anything else you can purchase with a coupon. Real, straight-from-the-ground food costs a ton more than a bag of pasta. Truth, not excuse.
  • I perceive bargain hunting as exciting as a root canal so I don't do it.
  • Gift cards are my absolute favorite presents to receive, especially ones that come in clever holders. I hoard them, take them out to admire their shininess, and even tuck them in at night. My precious!

Because I'm rarely honest with myself about what I truly spend, and can't make a cash envelope system work to save my life, I'm opting for a dangerously awesome solution that just may keep our family on track.

Live off gift cards for an entire month.

That means every variable purchase in our budget will use a shiny faux-credit card. So I'll buy clothing, food, gas, yard supplies, online purchases, caffeinated beverages and diapers using discount gift cards.

What's the point?

There are four, so, since I used to teach junior high kids, here they are in outline form in order of increasing importance:

1. Buying gift cards ahead of time will force me to plan my purchases and where I intend to buy them. This is a fancy way to trick myself into bargain hunting without being aware of it, especially for larger purchases.

2. When the gift card runs out, we starve. I hate to see starving children. It would stink if my kids ran out of food. Big motivation to stay on track.

3. I'm much more thrifty with my gift cards than I am with MasterCard. I'm banking on that alone helping us reign in spending.

4. I can actually save money buying and using gift cards--not just talk about it during playdates, but actually save cash at the end of the month. Here's how buying other peoples unwanted gift cards runs and why it works:

  • Let's say Annie gets a $50 gift card to Motherhood Maternity from Aunt Mildred. But she's not pregnant, just a little hefty after her Caribbean cruise.
  • Annie sells her gift card for $40 cash and avoids her aunt for several months.
  • Since I get pregnant when Hubs gives me a high-five, I snatch that $50 gift card for $45, saving me 10% on my next purchase (which I'll need very soon, since I'm at 16 weeks right now).
  • If I can save 10% or more on all my purchases without having to clip coupons or eat highly processed food, life quickly gets cheap and easy.

Ready or not, here I go with the Gift Card Challenge! Staying on my financial track is all in the cards. We're conquering finances one plastic rectangle at a time.


- Ashley