My Spiral Bound Conscience

by Joey Shanley

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For a newbie tightwad like me, I wish it were discipline alone that helped me curb my spending. I wish I had the ability to say "no" to random coffees and lunches with friends all by myself. But, I confess, I needed help. A lot of help. I had tried everything from carrying only a limited amount of cash on me to an envelope system of budgeting. But I always ran out of money and I always ended up using (and sometimes over-using) my check card.

Spending only came under control once I got serious about logging every single purchase that I made. Enter my spending log. My little green notebook. My spiral bound conscience sits deep inside my bag at work or on my desk at home. When I carry it with me, every time I make a purchase, I log how much I spent in the notebook to the penny. Whether I have used my ATM, a credit card or cash, it doesn't matter. It all goes into my log.

I track my spending as vigorously as I can. However, there are times when I am out with friends at night or during the weekend and I don't have my notebook on me. I don't fret too much because I am now in the practice of keeping my receipts and sitting down with my notebook as soon as I step into my apartment and logging each purchase. Again, if I have misplaced a receipt, I log into my online bank account and jot down any purchases that didn't initially make it into the green memo book.

I thought this would be a terrifying activity. I thought I would grow bored or disillusioned with tracking every penny that fled my pocket. However, the exact opposite happened. For the first time in years, I have become excited about saving money. I have actually become excited by the thought of not spending.

If you log your purchases and your expenses for any amount of time, you will find that it turns into a fun yet intellectually involved game: You vs. your money. Every time you pull out that notebook to jot down a purchase, you actually think and re-think whether you really need the latte, the hamburger, or even the haircut. I have become that fanatical with trying to save a dollar wherever I can.

At the end of the month, I open up an Excel spreadsheet and group my purchases into the five general budgetary areas. I deftly scrutinize my spending to see how much money was frivolously spent on items that I should have scrimped on (like how much money I spent on lunches out when I knew I had food at home).

I recommend that everyone track their spending, regardless of your income level. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I have control over my money instead of my money having control over me.

Joey Shanley writes "Molly's Brother On A Budget," an online journal devoted to helping him, and others, get their spending under control.

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