First a note about the length of this post:
I had wanted to keep it short & provide a document on the DIY page, but the idea of looking at your money may be too frightening to let you click on a link. So I’m putting it all here. Lean back a bit and just keep reading.
Let’s turn to a natural follow-on from your Workday Routine: your income & outgo. This should be monitored every week, fortnight, or applicable pay period with a budget, forecast, financial plan – whatever you like to call it. However, I’m going to be very presumptuous and suggest you first practice a skill that’s way below budgeting ;-)
This skill is an old one called, ‘Counting’. I didn’t know that when I used to diligently record every cent earned or spent in a small cash book, when I first started working. I still have that book, and feel proud of it. Growing up in a poor household where every threepence mattered, it was the only financial management tool I’d ever seen, and it worked wonders with managing my early pay packets. I learnt its name from a book* a few years back.
If you’re familiar with Counting, I invite you to do a fresh round. Or, if your money is doing just fine, thanks, this tool can be used for easily overdone habits like eating, drinking or television watching. Adjust the column headings to suit.
Looking at Money
Start by purchasing a ready-ruled, 6-Column Money Book from a stationery store. You could make your own, but the repeated ruling-up might be enough to put you off. Don’t take the chance. If you can’t find a Money Book with 6 columns, look for a Cash-, Day- or Counter-Book with some of the ruling done for you. (Your diary might have similar pages in the back.)
Head the columns like this:
Start by entering the current balance of your working account. This is the everyday one you use for the routine costs of living. Then record everything you spend your money on each day, no matter how trivial, with the amount next to it. If you have a reasonable income, round the amounts to whole dollars -- up for expenses, down for income. If you are on a shoestring, don’t round. Include the cents. Later, you’ll see how being able to redirect even 50c a week can turn the tide for you.
You could keep track electronically, but it’s not as instructive. It’s better if you write it longhand in a book. That makes each transaction concrete and highly visible against other income/outgo. Use a 4-colour pen & code the entries to suit yourself. The very way you write some entries may itself be revealing.
It should look something like this:
If you’re missing a record, estimate the amount. Enter these as part of your daily Dusk Check-in while the transactions are fresh in your mind. When you get to the bottom, calculate the balance and carry it forward to the next page.
Keep Counting for a whole month.
The Category column is important for this exercise, but keep it broad. The object is to get a visual on your actual priorities as evidenced by your money movements. E.g., you may think that Health is a priority, yet the word ‘Take-aways’ keeps cropping up in the Category column. Or you may want to take a holiday, but there’s no ‘Savings’ category. Try to carry on as normal this month, even if you can see part-way through that things have to change. It’ll help more for now if the Counter reflects what really happens for the whole month.
The exercise is not yet about how to ‘plug up the leaks’. It’s about watching the money move in and out of your wallet or bank account, then stepping back to take an honest look at where the leaks and dams are, so you can do something about the right ones.
Don’t worry if it’s embarrassing. You can shred it later. If you can bear to keep it after the month, it’ll make wonderful reading in five years’ time.
Expect the first couple of pages to be messy while you oil your old mental-maths wheels and find the pen that’s just to your liking. In all seriousness, the exercise shakes out some cobwebs at first. Let it do so without guilt or justifying.
Start Counting, and I’ll post Part 2 soon
so you’ll know what to do when it comes time to Look!
* Cameron, J. & Bryan, M., 1992. Money Drunk, Money Sober: 90 days to financial freedom. New York, Random House.
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