If you’ve hung out with me in the past few months you’ve probably seen me pull out a pen and make a few random notes after buying a drink or slice of pizza. Since November 20th, I’ve kept track of every penny I’ve spent.
Whenever I spend cash, I take a second and jot down the amount and, sometimes, the type of item purchased. (Note the piece of cardstock which tucks halfway into a pocket of my wallet. I cut the cardstock to the perfect size so I can spin it around and use the bottom half when the top part is fully covered.)
After getting home and checking email, I open Excel and transfer that information into a spreadsheet in which I also list a category for the spending. (That $2.16 was for jute twin purchased at the hardware store. I couldn’t find twine at Pathmark or Target. How in the world do the people in my neighborhood recycle their paper goods?)
Every two or three days I copy the cash spent information into Microsoft Money. (Today was a splurge on lunch day as I had a burrito, chips and salsa at Chipotle.)
I know all the recording seems like too many steps with high redundancy, but I’ve found it’s a system that works for me.
The important thing I’ve realized during the past six months of trying to get control of my finances is that using a system that works for me has been key. Is it really that important I note every quarter I spend on a newspaper? Of course not! I’m compelled to do so, though. It’s a rigid little system of organization and I like watching all of it come together at the end of each week or the end of each month. Comparing the dollars I’ve spent versus my ideal budget is an oddly fun exercise that reminds me I’m trying to save a little money (even if it’s for my next trip to Atlantic City).
One of the personal finance websites I’ve been reading since late 2006 wrote about this topic (keeping track of your money – not blowing it at the casino) recently.
Honestly, adding a few personal finance websites to my rss reader has been a huge plus in helping turn around my spending and saving habits. I peruse almost two dozen feeds at the moment and I admit I’m overdoing it by about twenty. Three or four years ago I surfed the web looking for a good blog about personal finance and couldn’t really find anything. The growth in personal finance information and commentary over the past few years has been pretty amazing. If it’s something you’re at all interested in, in addition to Get Rich Slowly, check out The Simple Dollar or Lazy Man and Money. It sounds like I’m totally shilling for these personal finance blogs. I guess I sort of am but the topic is one I’ve been thinking about over the last half year and it’s a topic I wish I’d been paying more attention to since I started drawing a paycheck at fifteen.