When you’re trying to figure out where your money’s going, your first step should be to create a budget. However, setting a budget is only one piece of the puzzle.


The strange problems with a budget is that if you have money left over, you tend to spend it indiscriminately. Suddenly you’re not only wondering where your money went but you’re looking at your budget and worried if you still have the money you thought you had to pay all your bills.

It’s pretty easy to get into trouble. I’m not one of those people who will tell you that you need to stop spending $3 for a cup of coffee, but I am one of those people who will tell you that if you’re someone who buys multiple cups of coffee daily, or even one every day of the week, that all those purchases add up. If you get to Thursday and you don’t have enough money for lunch for the next two days, or gas money for your car, because you pumped it into 10 cups of coffee, you have no one to blame but yourself.

What to do? If you have the stomach for it you need to try to track your spending. In the article I linked to I gave 4 recommendations on how to do it; I’m going to give you 4 more now.

1. Carry a little booklet with you and every single purchase you make, whether it’s a penny, a dollar or more, write it down in the book. A good thing to use might be one of those 3×5 spiral bound ruled index card books. I carry one around to put notes in, but it would work well for this because all you’d have to do is flip the pages when looking back at what you’ve been doing with your money.

See it as a project for a week or two, just to get started. Then after that week or two take a look back at your purchases, add it all up, and see how you’ve been spending your money.

2. Download the app for your bank or credit card and look at it a couple of times a week. If you’re someone who uses either a debit or credit card for most of your purchases then this is a smart way to go. Even if you don’t pay off your credit card monthly you’re still creating debt if you’re spending more money than you’re paying off. The app for your debit card would work as well as using the 3×5 cards unless you’re using cash, a recommendation from the previous article.

3. Keep every receipt you get, put them in a special place and then look at all of them once a week. For most of us, “out of sight – out of mind” is how we go about our life, but when it comes to our money it could be hurting us. Sometimes the best way to learn a lesson is to see it for yourself. If you don’t have the discipline to use what I’ve recommended in the first two tips then this one’s pretty easy to follow… as long as you don’t throw anything away.

4. Take pictures of all your receipts. Everyone’s carrying around a smartphone these days and every smartphone has a camera. If you don’t want to keep all of your receipts, it’s pretty easy to snap a quick picture of them. All you need is the total, not the entire receipt, unless you want to keep the date, which is often at the top.

Most smartphones allow you to create your own folder to move images into, so you can either do that or just keep the pictures on your phone wherever they happen to show up. Then follow the pattern of the first 3 tips and look at them once a week.

One of two things will happen.

One, you’ll be so worried about how you perceive yourself spending money that you’ll actually be really good, proving that you can control yourself. Or two, you’ll scare yourself when you add everything up and see just how you’ve been spending your money and how much you spend without thinking about it and start making changes to protect yourself.

Or three… you’ll scare yourself the wrong way and never look at receipts again… hello bankruptcy! 🙂

This process can be scary, and we hope you don’t quit (for that matter we hope you’ll do it), but it’s essential to do if you’re looking to get a handle on your finances. Go ahead and give it a shot; either way, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover about yourself.

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