Vanishing Cash Mystery



Yesterday I reported that despite tracking every cent of my spending for a whole month, I could not account for ten dollars and twenty cents. That is a minuscule part of my monthly spending, but it still bugs me. There was a time when I couldn’t account for $50-100 a month and I just wrote it off as “Cash.” I clamped down, and now I only have $2 or $3 a month of unexplained spending. I am not beating myself up over the $10.20, but I thought I would post about how I got to this point.

I collect receipts. I have mixed feelings about it, because they are printed on evil thermal paper. I find if I refuse a receipt, it is usually printed anyway and thrown out by the cashier. So I would rather take them. If I’m out shopping and don’t get a receipt, I jot down a note and put it in my wallet.  If I buy stuff on my way home, I try to remember it until I get in. About twice a week, I enter my receipts and notes into my budgeting software, and check for accuracy. Once a month, I reconcile the bank accounts, and pay off the credit card bill in full. The system should be air-tight, but life isn’t like that!

The biggest problem is cash spending in places that don’t give receipts. I could control this by writing everything down, but I usually miss a few purchases and assume I’ll remember later.



Some of the places and occasions that cause my cash to vanish are:

  • Farmer’s markets
  • Flea markets
  • Craft fairs
  • Coffee shops
  • Corner stores
  • Snacks and souvenirs at concerts and plays
  • Parking meters
  • Bridge and highway tolls
  • Leaving $1 and $2 coins in the car for parking and tolls
  • Collections at work for departure gifts and the like
  • Fundraisers at work – sponsoring a Fun Run, buying flower bulbs, buying raffle tickets
  • Fundraisers at the front door – Girl Guide cookies, donations for school trips and sports teams
  • Seasonal charity purchases – daffodils for the Cancer Society in April; poppy lapel pins for the Veterans in November
  • Admissions to museums, sport centres, etc.
  • Tips

On the other hand, some of my cash leaks no longer exist:

  • I don’t buy magazines and newspapers any more
  • As a library staff member, I don’t have to pay library fines
  • There are no DVD rental stores any more
  • With no kids at home, I am no longer shelling out money for school trips, school supplies, bus fares, etc.
  • No one ever asks if they can borrow money from me

And these ones are very rare:

  • Alcohol – my parents give me homemade wine!
  • Postage and courier fees – because I hardly ever use the postal service
  • Dry cleaning and tailoring fees  – because I buy in such a way as to avoid these


When my money counting is “off,” I have to think about where my cash actually is:

  • I have a separate envelope for the Entertainment Fund
  • I have a jar where I throw all coins under 25 cents
  • I have some coin rolling tubes where I put loonies and toonies ($1 and $2 coins) if they are weighing down my purse too much!
  • Last week I set aside a $1 bill for my 12-year-old nephew, because they were phased out in 1987 and he’s probably never seen one
  • I have small amounts of UK and US cash left over from vacations
  • When I go for a walk, I slip a $20 bill into my phone case for emergencies
  • But I never find money in my coat pockets or under the sofa cushions!

So here’s how far I got with my search for that missing $10.20. Because of the $1 set aside for my nephew, the amount is actually $9.20. And $9.20 is the exact cost of a $7.99 purchase with our 15% sales tax on top (rounded up, because we don’t have pennies any more). I have absolutely no idea what I bought for that $8, but here’s what $8 can buy where I live:



  • Expensive magazine or nail polish
  • Cheap CD, DVD, wine or earrings
  • Kitchen ware, like a travel mug
  • Hardware, such as light bulbs or batteries
  • Drugstore items, like vitamins or sunscreen
  • Grocery store brand cat food
  • An automatic car wash
  • A little collectible toy at the comic shop
  • A package of socks

I didn’t buy any of those things, so it remains a mystery. Aargh!

How do your little bits of cash get frittered away?


Happily, I remembered what I spent the $9.20 on. I am embarrassed to report that it was two of these:

Cinnamon buns!

Cinnamon buns!


  1. Since starting university I also decided to keep close track of my money and where it’s spent. However, after a summer trial run where I wasn’t able to keep track as closely as I had wanted, I decided to keep my budgeted money in my chequing account, and then use my savings account for ‘fun money’, which I don’t keep track of. And since I also have a jar for small change, I always take cash out of my savings account, and then reimburse it from my chequing account when I purchase a ‘budgeted’ thing with cash; that way, the coins that go into my jar (or that vanish) are taken out of my ‘fun money’ instead of screwing up my budget.

    • I like your system – that makes sense! I must say, any vanishing cash doesn’t prevent me from paying bills. It just stops my accounts from balancing! My comfort level for “unaccounted for” cash is less than $5!

      • I don’t like having “unaccounted for” money, but at the same time I’m not disciplined enough (or motivated enough) to keep track of every penny, so I just keep track of the money that matters!

  2. We have that huge coin tin, and then steal from it on weekends to get coffees. I know I ‘lose’ money on the fundraising Caramello Koalas at work all the time! But like you, I don’t buy magazines, or nail polish. And I’ve yet to pay a fine for the library, which is nice (I must get back to reading the latest borrowing though… before it’s late!) Being so exacting, I’m not surprised this is getting to you a little!

    • You’ve given me an idea – I could just keep $10 or $20 in coins at hand and never have to account for it – put it in my spending software as “misc” and top it up once a month. I bet if I did, I would suddenly remember where every cent of it went, LOL!

  3. I’m finding it hard keeping track of what I spend at the markets, so sometimes I estimate that. That’s awesome that you don’t have to pay fines – maybe I need a library job 🙂

  4. I have the same process with receipts. I take them and use them to track all of my spending, but I feel bad about it. I know their so bad for the environment! I’m hoping more and more retailers will move to emailed receipts over time.

  5. I’m still guilty of magazines and coffees, so that’s usually where my excess goes. I have had instances where that wasn’t the case though. A couple years ago when I was counting every penny I lost $5. I had just taken my cans and bottles to the depot, I know they gave all of my money, and yet when I got to my next destination $5 was missing. To this day I still don’t know where it went :s

    • So you know how it feels! Very irritating. I don’t believe I accidentally dropped $9.20 on the ground or received the wrong change, so I must have spent it on something.

  6. Fiona

    It would be wonderful to have such good accounting practices! I’m definitely not at that point yet. We list any cash taken as “personal spending” and provided that amount stays within the budget, we don’t ever track what exactly it is spent on. I am forever ‘losing’ $10 here and there.

    The only real way for me to keep track is to avoid cash whenever possible. I try to use a debit card even for small purchases now, so it shows up on the bank statement.

    • I suppose the reason I started tracking such small amounts of money is that I wanted to know the TOTAL amount I spent on food and entertainment. I thought that if I were always forgetting the $2 I spent on take-out coffee or $4 for milk at the corner store, I wouldn’t have a true picture of my spending. I know a few people who say they only spend $100 a week on groceries, but they don’t count the snacks at the hockey rink, the daily Starbucks, the haul from the Saturday farmer’s market, and so on.

  7. I’m always about £5-£10 out every month and I think it goes in my sealed pot! I figure we’re both doing ok! 🙂

  8. Jodi

    I have a similar process. I purchase 90% on a no fee credit card (which I pay off monthly, so no interest),even small purchases. I collect my receipts and once a week enter them into the computer. At the end of the month, when I pay off the card, I verify each amount with my tracking file. I also account for the 10% spent in cash against my cash withdrawals for the month.
    I really understand how the $10 can bother you, as I would want my file to balance too.

  9. You don’t have pennies any more?! How is that possible? And I’m shocked by the 15% sales tax! I hope that means you pay less for other government fees.

    And to actually comment on the topic at hand, we so rarely use cash that we haven’t lost money for a while. But it was usually to minor purchases, like the ones you’ve mentioned. Maybe add a money tracking app to your phone so you can document purchases on the go?

    • That’s a good idea, Amanda, I will give that a try! The deal with pennies is, all debit and credit transactions are still charged down to the cent. But if you pay cash, the amount is rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents. So a $4.22 purchase would be $4.20 and a $4.23 purchase would be $4.25. This system came into effect last February and we’re all used to it now. As for the 15% tax lowering our other govt fees..hahaha! I live in an underpopulated area where taxes and fees are high.

  10. I am racking my brain to think where you can have spent the $9.20 although I have no idea how much that is in English! So here are my ideas – food and drink, car stuff – parking, car wash, unexpected last minute card and gift, extra groceries, an entrance fee to something, a charitable donation, a small item of clothing, toiletries or cleaning, stationery or postage, hobbies or computer items, window cleaning, lawn cutting, plants or flowers, phone top-up, medicines, loan to hubby – well anything jogging your memory yet???
    PS – I obviously need to work in a Library too if you can avoid those late item charges!!

    • As you know I use budgeting software so I looked at my entire list of categories so see if any would jog my memory. No luck. Either I had some extra snacks I forgot about, or maybe bought something for the car or for the office? Our library volunteers are fines-free, too!

    • Hi Viv, I thought you would like to know that I remembered what I spent the $9.20 on. One day I went to the mall by myself (which I hardly ever do) and brought home two premium cinnamon buns! No receipt, of course, and it is something I rarely do, so I forgot all about it!

  11. Lisa

    As I mentioned in your last post, having a balance in my ‘unaccounted cash’ column drives me insane, and I often never figure out where it has went. I blame it on my husband’s less exacting nature than mine (although I should give him credit for tracking his spending for me for years when it is not really his thing). I likely lose my share at the Farmer’s Market, spur of the moment donations and parking tolls.

  12. Ginger R

    I like receipts. Thirty years ago hubby and I put ourselves on an allowance of x dollars a week spending money. DH would always max his out early. I would ask him where he was spending his money and he kept saying it just goes. Anticipating my question – he began bringing home receipts and writing a note about where he spent his money. (It was usually spent on necessities – hair cut, milk, etc.) But, it became a long time habit and made us both much more aware of our spending. Back then – I tracked everything in MS Money and he loved knowing where our money was going. We had a family meeting at the beginning of the year to budget extras needed for the year. (Daughter’s prom. Remodeling the bathroom.) Daughter is now as conscientious with money in her own family. I remember telling hubby and daughter – we could have anything we wanted – if we planned for it. Happily – we are debt free with a healthy savings account and nice retirements. And – each of us can tell you how much money we have in our pockets.

    • You have a great success story! I still use MS Money. I can only hope that our kid (age 20) will someday be so conscientious. Meanwhile we are debt free too. A long way off from retirement, but at least it’s part of the savings plan. I always know how much money I have on hand too (except when it comes to stray cinnamon buns, apparently).

  13. Ginger R

    When we were planning for retirement – hubby had such a “block” about it. I was projecting future expenses and eligibility for retirements, etc. Hubby said he was only going to live to age 63. In frustration I told him I would budget him to age 63 and after 63…he was on his own! We have the occasional slip of unaccounted spending – but it’s usually within our comfort zone. And, it does bug us too…racking our brain to figure out where! I’ve been following your blog for a couple of months – I found it while I was purging clothes and googled “how much clothes do I need”. I actually began an inventory of our clothes. We already have a fairly thorough inventory of our home and hubby’s humongous collection of tools. (He’s a wood worker.) And, we do a walk-thru video inventory annually. Yes….I’m a list maker too. Mother always told me “without your lists you’d be listless”. LOL!

    • Ha ha! It would never do to be listless!

      Thanks for following the blog. I have had too many commitments on the weekends to completely finish my home inventory, but it is winding down.

      My wardrobe has stayed mostly the same since Spring; I have just replaced a few things.

      My spouse isn’t much for retirement planning either. He says he will have to work forever so why bother thinking about retirement!

  14. I had that trouble this week, I thought I had a $20 in my purse but it was only a $10. I could have sworn it should have been $20?

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