Journaling Your Spending: Worth It?

When it comes to organizing our lives, we have increasingly moved to doing it all online. Our diaries are linked to our e-mail to automatically put appointments in, any type of reservation can be made online and loaded into the calendar, our social calls or through social media and our finances are managed through online banking and other financial tracker apps. Our organization is online. And that’s great. Right? Well, according to one of the latest trends in Japan, we might not be liking this online management as much as we initially thought. Nor might it be the most effective. In Japan the kakeibo is trending. Now we both don’t know how to pronounce that, so let’s just call it a budgeting journal, which is luckily its translation. Yes, we are going back to pen and paper!

If you want to get on top of your finances, you need to track them. This is just a fact. We constantly misremember how much, and how often we have spent. That’s not in itself a problem, until it is. Now what most people currently do is check their apps. Your banking app can easily tell you what your balance is and it shows you what you have spent where at what time (sort of). Check this really quickly and move on. You don’t have to put in much effort. But as a result, the numbers you have just seen aren’t that salient, and quite likely, you’ll quickly forget them as well. You might remember your balance, but not the individual expenditures that got you to that surprisingly low number. To better recollect individual expenses you could also collect all your receipts, but that’s not really sustainable on an ecological nor personal life level. Just collect receipts for a month and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll have amassed boxes full of them! It’s just messy and without much order, yet it’s order we want! The best way to go about it is to note it down somewhere. One space dedicated to just your own finances. Maybe something like a notebook or a journal as they are portable and organized. A budgeting journal maybe?

See, you very intuitively arrive at the conclusion of the kakeibo. But not only is it intuitive, it’s effective. When we sit down after a long day and go through our online banking app or our receipts for the day (whichever you prefer) and have to write it all down, what we do is we relive the pain of paying. Yes, we again experience the negative feelings associated with spending money, but they are now no longer mediated by the immediate gratification of the purchase itself. Especially not if you buy something that is immediately consumable such as a coffee or lunch. Those types of purchases are not likely to give you any gratification hours after the fact. Suddenly, all the coffees you’ve bought on impulse and meals out you’ve had no longer seem like such a good idea. After the fact, they seem more like a drag than a treat. Instead of joy, we just feel the pain of having had to pay for them again. Yikes. So with regards to reliving the pain of paying, this journal has got it on lock. But it’s not just that. This article nicely explains how kakeibo splits spending from keeping track of spending. Because as it is, they are quite muddled. A lot of what we spend is done online, and it is done very quickly. We also try to keep track of it mostly online, which again, can be done very quickly. The kakeibo is almost a mindfulness exercise to the extent that it slows down this process.

Now just writing down your expenditure for the month will give you an overview of where your money is going. If you want to save more, or simply change your financial behaviour, you are going to have to go a level deeper. If you are committing to kakeibo-ing, you are going to have to sit down at the start of each month (tip: at the start of each month doesn’t mean the first day of each month, it’s more likely meaning the day you get paid, so the start of your financial month). You are going to set up goals. No behaviour ever got changed successfully with a clear goal in mind. Write down how much comes in, track how much comes out. If there are goals you want to save for, write them down and plan for them. Do make sure you write things down in such a way that you enable saving. Kakeibo promotes a mindset that doesn’t focus on cutting back or cutting things out. “If saving is all about what we can’t do and can’t have, it’s a chore, and we’ll likely quit. If it becomes about budgeting meticulously so we cando and canhave what we really want, it becomes a much more inviting prospect. Amen.

Now you’ve got your income, you know your fixed expenditure (rent, tuition, insurance etc.) and you have your goals. Track everything, write it down and divide it into categories to get really rigorous. The division into categories is a feature a lot of financial tracker apps are currently promoting to death. Now that you know where all the money is going you have determine whether you are okay with this. What can you live without, what can’t you live without? And adjust accordingly. Make sure to do this every month, and gradually rather than in bulk. To cut out all of your spending on non-necessities in one go will make you feel depleted quite instantaneously. This depletion will make you more likely to succumb to temptation, making it likely to backfire. So cut things down and out gradually. With this gradual transition also comes the monthly review. At the end of every (financial) month, you do have to review your progress. What went well? What went wrong? What needs to be improved? Did the cutting out/down of spending help or harm your financial goals? And adjust accordingly. And of course, it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t recommend you this: use cash and stay away from spending on cards or mobile devices. If you’re counting on the pain of paying to help you save money, use it to its full extent!

I don’t think the kakeibo is a novel or revolutionairy idea at all, but I think moving away from tracking all our spending online is a good idea, given that so much of our spending happens online. I’m not a great fan of mindfulness either, but to become more mindful of your spending really can’t hurt, especially not as our spending is so quick and so thoughtless these days. Slowing the process can be very beneficial. Setting financial goals and breaking them into gradual steps is a behavioural change idea that has long been promoted within behavioural science, so I’m all for that. Overall, I’m with the kakeibo.

Happy journaling!

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©2018 by Merle van den Akker