Throwing out a headline like this one is pretty much blasphemy for a supposed “budgeting” site. If you know anything about us, we sing the original Queen B(udget) praises every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Did we just clickbait you? No, no, no. We’d never subject you to that… but you’ll never guess how much the next paragraph is going to shock you! (See what we did there?)
But I really do want to talk about what’s more important than budgeting. Umm, nothing, you may be thinking. And you’d be wrong. Yes, very wrong. Budgeting is at the very core of everything. But if we could choose between this thing I keep alluding to and budgeting, we’d choose the thing. And what is said thing?
Tracking your expenses. Tracking your expenses, more than anything else, will affect your spending behavior. And by tracking expenses, we mean actively recording your purchases and not just reviewing your bank statement on occasion. Now to be fair, Johnny and I believe that budgeting and expense tracking go hand in hand. To us, one is incomplete without the other. But many others choose to budget without actively tracking their expenses.
So why are we betting the whole kit and caboodle on expense tracking? Because there’s no faster way to learn and understand what’s happening with our money on a regular basis. It forces us to think about every dollar that leaves our pockets, every swipe of our plastic cards, every memorized rattling off of our credit card number to our favorite takeout place (just me?). And by recording each of those expenses, we’re forced to think about it. Otherwise, we’d rarely give our spending a second thought. Dropping $300 on new summer clothes on a whim doesn’t register in our brains unless we acknowledge that we just spent that amount. And we don’t acknowledge it unless we record the expense somewhere.
To put it in other words, we need to get emo with our money. Our spending needs to hurt. We need to feel it, and there’s no way to do that without tracking. When Johnny and I first started budgeting, our preferred method of expense tracking involved us recording every single spent cent in a rudimentary, ugly spreadsheet. While the method wasn’t the cleanest or most pretty, that one simple act made us more aware of our spending habits and budgeting shortcomings than anything else. And because I knew all expenses needed to be recorded, it made me actually look at prices before I put items in my grocery cart, something totally foreign to me (sad, I know). It made me think Is this really necessary? before I pulled the trigger on any impulsive purchase. In short, it made me aware, more aware than I’d ever been before, of whose hands our hard-earned dough was winding up in each month.
If you’re already saving more than you’d ever want to AND you don’t track your expenses, keep on doing what you’re doing. Ignore this post. BUT if you struggle with spending each month and you wonder how to cut down on your expenses, lend me your ear: start tracking your expenses yesterday! If you think you’re saving all that you can and that it’s never enough but you don’t track your spending, start tracking it. Just do it one month. That’s all it will take for you to become a believer. You will find places where you can save. And you might not like what you find. Cutting ties with the overpriced gourmet doughnut shop down the street
might be will be painful at first (just me again?). But the tradeoff is getting control of your money. And your life. And that sounds dramatic, but I’ma say it anyway because it’s the truth.
So what’s the one little-known trick you can do to take control of your life? (Another amazing click bait title, btw.) Start tracking your expenses. Try it. Just do.