A lot of what I write is directed towards people who have been managing their money for a long time.
But in case you stumbled on this blog and you feel like you’re one bill away from bankruptcy, I thought I’d write a post for you.
Let’s say that money scares you. You don’t look at you credit card bills, you don’t know what your credit score is, you haven’t even thought about retirement. That’s a long time away.
But you know that something has to change. You know you’ve got a lot of debt, and spending feels scary, and it never feels like you have anything approaching control around your money.
There is ONE thing you need to do. One thing only.
I’m not going to tell you what that is, yet. First, I want you to figure something out.
When is the first time in your day when you sit in front of a computer or phone?
Do you get up early in the morning like me and go upstairs to your desk and start checking your email?
Do you get up, throw some clothes on, grab a protein bar, then start scrolling through your phone on the train (or you did, before Covid)?
Do you feed the kids, get them off to school, drive yourself to work, then sit down at your desk and open your work laptop (again, before Covid)?
Figure out when that is. Then, make a decision to take five minutes tomorrow, when you first get in front of your devise, to open Notes, or Google Sheets, or your email browser, and write some numbers down.
Don’t panic!!! Let me finish.
Ok, I want you to go find some paper. Right now. Ideally, if you have it, one of those little spiral-bound notebooks like detectives use. But don’t get hung up on that. You should NOT buy anything for this exercise.
Do. not. buy. paper.
If you don’t have a little notebook, get a Sticky Note pad, or some recycled paper which you’ve torn into squares, or even said Notes app on your phone. if you’re digital.
Cool? So step two is finding something to write on.
Now, Step 3 is that you’re going to write down everything you spend money on.
So when you go buy gas, you’re going to write down how much you spent on gas. Then you’re going to write down how much you spent on snacks, if you go inside and get a Coke. You’re going to write down how much you spend every time you go in the grocery store.
It can be on the back of the receipt if you can’t find your paper. It can be in your Notes app. It can be anywhere.
Don’t panic if you forget to write something down. Just make your best guess about what you spent.
Don’t worry about logging into your bank account online and writing it down from there. That’s actually not as effective.
I want you to get used to writing down your purchases as you make them.
Yes, you’ll forget a few. That’s ok. A few will slip through the cracks, but the idea is to get in the habit of writing down what you spend.
Ok, Step 4 is putting it all together. When you get up in the morning, and you first look at your computer, go find your wadded up receipts, or your little slips of paper, or your detective notebook, or get your Notes app. Wherever you wrote down what you spent.
Now, start a Master List. Don’t be scared of that term. It’s just a place that you are going to type or write out all of the things you spent money on the day before. Open your Google Sheet (or Notes, or Email Browser, or whatever), or keep it open–that’s what I do–and just write down everything you spent money on the day before.
If you paid your rent or mortgage, write that down. If your electric bill got automatically taken out, write that down (even if you don’t know the exact amount–a guess is ok).
You see what we’re after here? NOT perfection. Not writing down everything to the penny.
NOT setting a budget.
NOT stopping yourself from spending.
JUST writing it down.
That. is. all.
One thing. Yes, you’ll have to think through when you’re going to write it down, and where, but those decisions are kind of fast. You’ll forget, and that’s ok, because you’ll try again, and make a guess about how much things cost.
The idea is to just start writing down how much you spend, and NOT to try and change your spending behavior.
Well, the crazy thing is, studies have shown that when you just write down your spending, without trying to change anything, subconsciously you start to pay more attention to your spending, and you start to change your spending a little bit.
Here’s my post on when I started tracking all our spending.
Try it for a week. Try it for a month. Change ONE tiny, tiny behavior. That’s all. That’s all you need to focus on. One tiny thing is really enough to make big changes in your life.
Don’t wait. Go now. Find that paper. Find a pen. Decide when you’re going to write down your spending. Do it tomorrow, then do it the next day. Then do it again the following day.
Things will change.