Tracking Spending Helps Me Spend Money Wisely

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Tracking Spending Helps Me Spend Money Wisely

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My son came bouncing through the door on a Friday afternoon after school, excited to go with a friend to Super Night.  Super Night was a night of activities planned by a local church, including bowling, swimming, and basketball. 

The fun started at 9:00 p.m. and went until 6:00 the next morning.  He stuffed $18 of his own spending money into a tie string bag along with his swimming trunks and towel, and off he went to his friend's house. 

I was up and doing laundry at 6:30 the next morning when he stumbled through the door.  We talked briefly before he went into his room and collapsed into his bed.  I pulled his swimming trunks and towel out of the bag for the next load of laundry, and noticed there were a few crumpled bills at the bottom of the bag, along with some change.  

When he got up later that morning, he pulled the money out of the bag, counting the bills as he straightened them. 

"Dad, where's the rest of my money?" he asked. 

"I didn't touch it, son," I said, "I just took out your clothes to wash them." 

He insisted he should have more money left over.  He retraced his spending aloud, and again concluded there should have been more money left in the bag.  All of a sudden he wasn't sure if he had forgotten about a purchase or not. 

This is the story of a teenager losing track of a few bucks, not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.  It was a big deal to him, however, if for no other reason than the principle of remembering what happened to his money.  I could see it in his eyes-he felt frustrated and helpless that he could not figure it out. 

Have you had that feeling? 

During a recent budget discussion, Vonnie and I calculated the amount of funds we were going to allocate for entertainment for the weekend.  We took out cash and put it in an envelope to ensure we wouldn't overspend.  A few days later during our usual post-weekend discussion, we were sure that we hadn't come close to using all our funds because it felt like we hadn't done much of anything.  When we looked inside the envelope, there wasn't very much money left at all.  We tried to figure out what we had spent it on, but couldn't make it add up.  It was like a jigsaw puzzle that we just couldn't solve. Both my son and I could have learned something from tracking our spending. 

Through this experience, I learned that living within our means is one thing, but being wise with our money is quite another. 

The next weekend Vonnie and I created our spending plan again and took out cash; however, this time we wrote down in a little notebook every cent we spent and on what.  What we saw surprised us.  Eating out had again become a large portion of our spending.  We both agreed that was not how we wanted to utilize our money.   I would have rather had new running shoes than that trip to the steakhouse.  Vonnie would have rather colored her hair than bought those bottles of wine during the progressive wine sale.   

Tracking your spending tells you more than just where your money goes.  The information shows you in black and white whether you are using your funds the way you would like to, and helps you make spending decisions in the future. 

As I was folding laundry from the dryer that Saturday afternoon, three wadded up and very clean dollar bills fell out of a pair of swim trunks.  At least that mystery is solved. 

Hey, maybe I should check my pockets too.

Travis Pizel, debt management plan customer with leading provider of debt relief, CareOne Services, Inc. Travis Pizel

Travis is a contributing writer for the My Journey out of Debt and A Straight Talk on Debt blogs. He is also a very active member of the CareOne community forums. Travis is currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Management Plan (DMP). Travis candidly shares his personal journey to pay off his debt and the tips he's learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family in Minnesota. You can also read more from Travis on the Enemy of Debt blog, where he is a featured blogger. Compensated Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services.

To connect with Travis on Google+ click the following link; <a rel="author" target="_blank" href="">Travis Pizel</a>

You can follow Travis on Twitter @DebtChronicles

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  • Great post, Travis.  

    Once of the simplest, yet most effective way of keeping track of your spending is with just a pen & paper!

    All you need is a notepad. Write down your deposits, withdrawals and expenditures. You should categorize your spending into areas—mortgage, grocery/food, energy, water, car payment, cable, personal grooming, etc.—by assigning dollar amounts to each category. Your goal should be not to exceed the allotted amount budgeted to the specific area. You can also use your debt card (note I didn't say credit! :-)) & keep the receipts which can be used to log your expense.  Remember to shred the receipts after you're done.


  • Thanks so much for the suggestions, Toby!  All our monthly bills  are tracked in a multi-monthly budget document that we are constantly going over.  It's the weekend where we take out cash (and only spend cash) where we don't have a good handle on where the money goes.  We have to somehow balance the effect of only spending cash (forcing us to stay within our spending limit),  and still tracking what we spend our money on so we can ensure that we're being wise with our spending.  Pen and paper (and then maybe transferred to a spreadsheet?) seem like it did the trick!  Thanks for reading!

  • I do this so often! And every time I have to go through my little ritual of trying to figure out where it went. Such an avoidable waste of time, thanks for the reminder to just keep track!

  • Oh Great point, Lindsey - writing things down as you spend them does save time when at the end of the week (or whenever you do it) you're trying to figure out where your money goes.  I know I'd always forget something!  Thanks for your comment!

  • Travis, Toby, and Lindsey,

    Like in dieting it is very easy to forget what went where and how you spent that money or those calories. The main difference between the two is that  your wallet is much lighter and your jeans are much tighter if you don't spend either wisely. The task of taking out a pen and paper is easy, right? But journaling is something I find especially challenging. In today's age of technology I tell people to snap a picture with your smart phone (Hey, if you run out of room on your camera/smart phone there probably isn't enough money for it either). At the end of the day, week, month you can see exactly where your money went and like your staring yourself in the mirror exercise, you can face reality. Holy cow! I bought all this stuff?!! Also, you can use that moment when you snap to share with a friend/significant other and if you think it is too frivolous to share, maybe you won't buy it, or they can talk you into taking it back if it is.

    Anyway, as someone who has worked for weight watchers...writing it down helps. I am pretty certain that works with budgets of other kinds, too.

    As always, Travis, I truly enjoy your posts.

  • Taking a picture with the phone to review all the stuff we bought....WOW, I LOVE that idea Jenhoman - I'm going to try it, and just might write a blog post about how it goes.  What do you think?  Hopefully you'll see it and give it your thoughts!  Thanks much for your kind words....please keep coming back and reading!

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