How I Saved Money By Avoiding Cash Registers For One Whole Year

Woman with percentage discount signs

It’s no wonder the majority of Canadians find it hard to save money. Just about everywhere we go, we’re encouraged to spend. Everything is designed for you to “BUY! BUY! BUY!” and those four magical letters S-A-L-E suck us into purchasing stuff we really don’t need. There’s no end to the sales tactics either: free gift with purchase, 30% off, buy 2 get 1 free, cashback, loyalty points, air miles, limited time… Pull out your wallet and hand over your money! And what about the incessant stream of emails trying to sell you something? It’s pretty overwhelming.

As someone who has spent many hours learning how to properly handle money, I’m often helping others curb their spending and save money too. It seems like the most obvious way to cut back on spending is to avoid the places that encourage it most. That is, every venue with a cash register.

Right now you’re probably wondering how that’s even possible. You might be racking your brain thinking of every place you frequent and how to get around using a cash register.

Well, in an experiment to curb my own spending and see what was possible, I challenged myself to avoid cash registers for one whole year. And WOW. Did it ever work!!!

I saved on average $300 – $400 each month (around $3,000 for one year) and it went straight to my savings where it sits earning interest!

Here’s how I avoided cash registers for one whole year:


Grocery shopping is unavoidable; we have to eat. So I hired someone to grocery shop for me. Giving them a list of only what I needed made sure I wasn’t filling up my trolley with impulse buys. It also meant I shopped less frequently, because I’d plan out meals for the week and do one weekly shop instead of every few nights.

Tip: Ever gone grocery shopping when hungry? You always end up with extra stuff you don’t need. Avoid this by hiring someone or do your grocery shopping online (on a full stomach!). The delivery fee will be a fraction of what you would have spent on impulse purchases. Shopping online allows you to keep track of your spending with the on screen shopping total – instead of getting a nasty $$ surprise at the in-store check out!

grocery store



This one was actually easier than I expected. I firmly told my children that I wasn’t stepping foot in any place with a cash register, and to not ask. The biggest benefit of this was spending quality time outdoors with the kids. Instead of hanging out at a mall, we’d be out in nature hiking, snowshoeing, tobogganing, camping, or cycling.

Tip: You will run into situations with kids where they are invited to parties at restaurants or play centres, for example. If you have a good support network, ask your partner or friend to take them if you want to be strict with your own no-cash-registers challenge.

family snowshoeing


For one whole year, I did not buy a single new item of clothing. If I was sick of seeing the same clothing in my wardrobe, I’d call my girlfriends over for a clothing swap. Everyone brings a bag of clothes, shoes and accessories they no longer want, and swaps for other items. My rule was if I hadn’t worn an item in 12 months, it was going to the clothing swap.

Clothing swap bonus: your wardrobe gets decluttered and leftover items are donated to charity. I’m willing to bet you have at least five items of clothing that you haven’t worn in several years. Even that’s enough to call a swap.

Tip: It comes down to a simple mind shift: Do you actually need new clothing? Or do you just want it? The phrase “retail therapy” has become a terrible excuse for getting into debt. And what kind of ‘therapy’ makes you break out in a sweat when your credit card statement arrives each month?!

mall escalator


My husband and I are mega foodies, so meeting our friends at nice restaurants was a pretty big aspect of our social life. Instead of going out, we hosted dinner parties, potlucks and games nights. They were so fun! We saw our friends just as often, so there was no compromise on our social life.

Bonus: Staying in means saving money on a babysitter too!


I thought holidays and birthdays would be tricky. February was my first hurdle with my husband Brent’s birthday. I cooked him dinner and planned a movie night at home, and he loved it! That month I planned out everyone else’s birthday presents for the year and become DIY craft queen. I also discovered how precious giving someone your time is. It’s FREE and it feels so good spending quality time with someone you love, making them dinner, or taking care of their chores for their birthday.

Tip: Get creative! Make your own cards, use recycled and decorated paper to wrap gifts, or fill mason jars with ingredients to make anything from chai tea, cookies, salsas and more.


Vacations took a little more planning than before. Not having all of your home conveniences means you really have to think ahead. Road trips for example require serious snack-prep. The last thing you want are hangry kids!

Tip: Stay with family and friends, or suggest a house swap if you have friends in another town.


Gas was purchased at the pump. True, it’s a sort of cash register, but it’s not like the one inside that’s laced with temptation at every angle.

Tip: If you want to go one step further and save money faster, ditch the car for a bike. It’s amazing how lazy we get when we have access to a car. Even walking three blocks to the corner store seems like too much effort when there’s a car that could glide you there in moments.


Monthly Challenges

I tried to do something new every month. January was my goal/rule setting month and working out how I was going to change my habits but still get all my necessities. February I spent making gifts. In March I tackled my closet and held a clothing swap. And so on.

By month three, I’d gotten the hang of avoiding cash registers. I replaced old habits with new ones, and realized I actually didn’t need much beyond the necessities (food, transport etc.).

The Power of Asking

If I thought I needed something, I would either wait 24 hours, or ask around if someone had a spare. At one point I needed a new toothbrush. I mentioned it to my mom who happened to have a bunch of free samples from the dentist. Problem solved! I’d also put a call out on Facebook and within minutes I had what I needed. Other things I’d pick up at yard sales or markets where I was limited to the amount of cash I had in my wallet that day.

Ignoring the Critics

When I explained the experiment to our friends most we’re supportive, though we got a fair share of “Seriously? But why? How?” I listened to the criticism but didn’t take it on board, because at the end of the day, I knew I’d be closer to my retirement goals and that had absolutely nothing to do with anyone else!

I’m Happy Because…

For anyone inspired by this challenge, an excellent first step is to change your thinking from “I’ll be happy when I have…” to “I am happy because…”. As author Maddy Malhotra says: “If you aren’t happy for what you already have, then what makes you think you will be happy with more?”

Think you could avoid cash registers for one whole year? I’d love to hear how you go and what struggles you overcome!

But if this challenge is a little too extreme for you, you can still save money and get the heck out of Debtsville by learning how to create a budget (and sticking to it!).

Signature Financial’s founder and owner Nadia La Russa is a serial entrepreneur and former money stress-case. Wife to one and mother of five, Nadia sleeps soundly at night knowing her receipts are filed chronologically and her family finances are in order. If you have any questions, email her at


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