The spending journal challenge

The spending journal challenge

Mental math is the best way to remain delusional about your finances. Write it down instead.


Once upon a time the only way you could pay for anything was with cold, hard cash. Then came plastic. One swipe, and whatever you wanted was slipped into a shopping bag and handed to you, all for a squiggle of your signature. Enter contactless payment systems. With a wave of your smartphone you can now buy, Buy, BUY!

Hold up. Remember how all that plastic shopping created a debt-hole it took eons to climb out of? Long after the damage was done to your personal economy, research showed that shopping with plastic actually meant you’d spend more money than had you used cash.  Turns out, having plastic at the ready means you’re way more likely to indulge.

Now imagine all the trouble you might get into waving that smartphone around to satisfy every impulse that grabs you. Let’s face it, the further away you get from having to hand over that cold, hard cash, the less likely you will be to temper your purchases.

Digital dollars don’t have to distance you from your budget. You can keep the balance in your consumption versus cash conundrum by using a spending journal to keep yourself accountable.

All you need is a notebook and a pen. No fancy app necessary. Each time you swipe, click or wave to pay, enter the transaction you’re making into your spending journal, deduct the transaction from your balance and look at what you have left. The reality of seeing your balance drop is what will keep you from going off the rails while shopping.

Don’t believe such a simple step can keep your shopping gremlins at bay?

Take this challenge: For the next four weeks, write down every single financial transaction you make using a spending journal. Add your deposits. Subtract your spending. Keep track of where every penny is going. Every penny. At the end of four weeks if you aren’t more conscious of what you’re buying, I’ll spring for a cup of tea and listen to you gloat.

I know spending journals work. I’ve been using one since I first started working. Initially it was to keep me on budget because my income was low and I had to account for every penny. After I was making plenty, it was to keep me aware of my spending and honest about where my money was going. (Mental math is the way to go if you want to remain delusional.)

Hey, go ahead and prove me wrong. Or prove me right and finally get a handle on your spending, paying as you choose, without having to resort to carrying jars every where you go.