Johnny and I both have an affinity for to-do lists. Surprise, surprise. His are often found in different areas of our home, atop various counters or desks. They’re scribbled on tiny sticky notes with even tinier handwriting. Mine are found in my planner or notebook, with jumbled notes flowing into each other in organized chaos. We can’t live without our precious to-do lists. They keep us on track during the day, helping us prioritize the most important items to get done. When we think of something else to do, it inevitably gets added to the list and finds its place in our lineup. It’s something we do almost every single day. And perhaps many of you are the same. There’s just something about getting our to-do’s down on paper that makes us feel in control.
But what on earth does this have to do with budgeting? Oh. Okay, so that’s how it’s gonna be. Welp, it just so happens that it has a lot to do with budgeting. Or it could, if you’re looking for a new way to make your budget work. (Aren’t we all??)
We all know that it’s those pesky day-to-day expenses that make or break our budgets. A little extra expense here or there doesn’t feel like much, but then suddenly we’re at the end of the month, and we and our budget are broke. So here’s a little fool-proof trick to get your budget back on track: make a spending to-do list at the start of each day (or the night bef0re, if that’s how you roll).
Here’s how it works: At the start (or end) of the day, around the same time you’d make a normal to-do list, make yourself a list of everything you expect to buy that day. Do you need groceries? Makeup? An oil change? Are you going out for lunch? And next to each item on your list, guesstimate how much you plan to spend on the item(s). Doing this can help cut down on those impulse purchases we all find ourselves making from time to time. The spending to-do list can also help in visualizing what the day will look like in terms of expenses. So when a potential expense pops up that wasn’t on the list, little mental alarm bells and red flags can raise the alert in your brain. Maybe it gets added to a “to buy later” list. I know I have items that I’ll think of buying but then realize they’d probably fit better in the following month’s budget.
At the end of the day, you can review your to-do list as you enter that day’s expenses into your budget tracker (whether it be an app, spreadsheet, notebook, etc.). How did it go? Did you spend more or less than you were expecting? What unexpected expenses came up? And where might you need to cut back the following day?
Budgeting isn’t a math game. It’s a mental game. And hopefully if you fill your arsenal with enough financial mind games, you and budgeting can make things work. And let’s be honest, for the nerds among us (all of us?), having another to-do list to get to check off isn’t the worst thing.
What are some daily mental tricks you use to keep those pesky day-to-day expenses in line?