I will keep this article short and crisp. This article is more of a challenge than a lazy reading routine. It's an activity which will engage your mind and body to make you aware of your spending habits and the areas in which you overspend. It's a challenge to track down your expenses. At the same time, if you do it regularly, I promise in 2-3 months time you will be in a better position to forecast your expenses and take necessary actions.
What is the challenge after all?
The challenge is simply to write down your daily expenses to minutest details. For example, if you have made a visit to a local restaurant, make an entry into the expense sheet. Give a logical name to the entry so that when you see it later, you will be able to recognize the expense made.
Is there any specific pattern to follow?
Although there are already tons of available software, I maintain a very simple google spreadsheet. It consists of a main workbook containing one spreadsheet per month to track my monthly expenses. I am attaching here a spreadsheet that I use. You can use a notebook also. But I find the “spreadsheet way” to be more time effective and overall more efficient. I can copy a month’s expense format to other months and can just delete the not required entries. Also, editing is very easy with a spreadsheet as compared to maintaining a notebook.
What is the purpose of this exercise for 30 days?
It is scientifically proven that 95% of a person's life is operated by unconscious mind. Our actions to certain situations are almost automatic. When someone yells at us we have a definite pattern in which we react to this situation. This unconscious mind is not that bad. It's only because of unconscious mind that we are able to drive a car automatically. The unconscious mind registers events. The conscious mind delegates repeated tasks to unconscious mind so that it can do some other new challenging tasks. This registering of events with unconscious mind takes a little time. Similarly, your financial world or situation is also running in an auto-pilot mode. In order to make some changes to it you need to develop a way or habit that can give you clear image of our spending habits. And by using this image you can introspect our current financial situations and can help your unconscious mind to register healthy financial habits.
What are the benefits of doing this?
The other benefits of writing or tracking down your expenses are:-
- A 30 day challenge will give you ample time to form a new habit and you will get enough data to analyze your spending habits.
- I don't know how it will work on an individual basis, however, when I know I will have to write an expense in my spreadsheet, it makes me more mindful about what I am going to spend on. This has saved me from doing impulse spending.
- The insights that you will gain, how much I spent on what? may help curb few bad financial choices you are making in your life.
Who all should write down the expenses?
Anyone who wants to improve his or her financial situation no matter where he or she is right now.
While I was in deep debt, one of my family members advised me to track down my expenses. I looked out for a few software and finally settled for a basic spreadsheet which I prepared for myself. When I started writing entries I realized I was spending 10% of my salary on fuel. This expenditure was mainly to travel to and fro from office. I realized that if I keep traveling by car, how can I expect myself to be out of debt? However, there was a bigger reason to opt for public transport. Traveling by car increased my travel time due to peak hours traffic. So, I opted to travel by the Metro, thus helping me save on both time and money. This brought down my expenses on traveling by almost 75%.
Similar realizations came for expenses such as frequently eating out. I was spending 10% of my salary on this. This was turning out to be expensive for both my pocket and belly :) . These choices were not purely financial but were able to help me introspect other aspects of my life.
The next area in which I was overspending, about which I was ignorant, was money spent on clothing. I was spending about 15% of my salary on clothing, shoes and other stuff. Most of these spending were impulse-driven. I realized, during this period of my life that I was a little low on happiness index and I associated my happiness with buying stuff which were non-essential.
These were my personal realizations when I tracked my expenses. You will also be surprised by the amazing revelations it will bring. It will reveal your authentic self to you.
It's more than money Honey!!
The benefits associated of tracking down your expenses are more than purely financial. It was difficult to build this habit of tracking expenses every day for 5-10 minutes. I am successfully carrying out this exercise for almost 2 years with at least 98% accuracy. The benefits of tracking down were quite revealing. Few of them I have already shared: becoming aware of spending habits, associating happiness to buying clothes and eating very often outside that dampened my health and made me overweight.
Not only my financial situation improved because of cutting down expenses but also my self esteem and confidence. You will be surprised to see that it may even help to cut down on smoking, drinking and other non-essential spending. Once you will strengthen one of the body muscles, it will have a ripple effect and will help you improve other areas of your life. It's like spending time in gym to strengthen your muscles and the lasting effects of good health will spill in other areas of your life. Once your willpower becomes stronger, it touches everything.
The results of following all these were amazing in my life. By following this 5-10 minutes daily ritual I was able to pay off around 1.9 Million Indian rupees in debt. Not only this, I now have a 6 months of emergency fund. I am now currently working to build 2 years worth of emergency fund.
The whole exercise is again becoming mindful about your money and your life. The whole purpose of this exercise is to make you become mindful about your lifestyle. Otherwise we normally live in fragments. When you become mindful, you feel more connected to your life and to people who you love. As I said, the benefits are not purely financial; they are amazing. It's not about money, Honey!!