The most challenging part of making money work for you is actually keeping track of your spending. We live in a world that screams to make things easy, but the truth is that when things are too easy, we get lazy, we stop paying attention, and we lose track.
It’s losing track that is the problem. Keeping track of your spending is the first step of getting back in control of your finances.
I’ve heard you say Dave that once a person begins to use a budget they feel like they get a raise. That’s absolutely true.
But why is that?
It’s because of the fact that when we don’t know where we are spending our money, we stop really having a sense of how much we have spent or how much we have left. The budget is, of course, the means of telling money where to go.
Keeping track of your spending is knowing where it went.
What’s the easiest way to do that? Obviously, people will want to rush to something like their smartphone, but you don’t have to use an app. Actually, I think to start with there are powerful reasons to use a less techy way of keeping track of your spending: simply writing it down.
Why do that? Why would I think physically writing makes a difference?
Because our brains are wired by our physical actions. Why do pro basketball players still practice layups? The physical action wires the brain. Why do pro football players still practice blocking? Wouldn’t you think that by that level they would have figured out how to block?
No. It hasn’t got a thing to do with whether they can think about an action and take it. It’s about developing memory – a muscle memory – and simply being able to do the practiced skill quickly and on demand – without having to think about it.
When you start keeping track of your spending by writing it down, you are rewiring your brain. You are practicing how to be money wise.
Keeping Track of Your Spending: 3 Simple Ways to Succeed
- Write it down on the envelope you keep your cash in. Yes, you might not be doing that if you are new to the Dave Ramsey method of getting out of debt and building wealth. Envelopes are a key part of getting control. We restarted using a cash-based envelope system in 2017. The first thing we do when we spend something from our grocery envelopes to write down the dollar value. Just write down the amount spent on the envelope itself and do it at the point of the purchase.
- Keep a small notepad – a physical notepad . Keep it handy and write down what you spend. We did this in our first years of marriage (I wrote about that here). We used a notepad with Mickey Mouse on it and when we would spend even 50 cents we would ask ourselves “Did you put it in Mickey?” The point is this: the discipline of keeping track of our spending is made easier by having something small, easily accessed, and doing it. Writing it down at the point of the purchase is the preferable method. Be sure to write down debit card transactions too.
- Keep receipts and write it down on a notepad at the end of the day. This one depends on keeping receipts. You’ll need a daily discipline to actually write the expenses down. The key here will be to actually ask for and keep a receipt for every transaction. Most stores will offer you a receipt for every purchase. Keep them, and then write down your expenses daily. A word of caution: This one requires a bit more discipline – you have to pay attention to the receipt itself. Tip: start adding a spending category to each receipt – one word is enough. Later on, this will help you develop your budget.
Dave, you’ve done so much to help us get back on track with our finances. This discipline that you speak of starts with actually knowing where your money is going. It seems simple. And it is, but it is also powerful. Keeping track of your spending got us on the right track.