I decided that in order to build (improve, encourage, regain) self-control in terms of my spending habits, I need to work on my discipline. Sounds scary for some reason LOL. I can’t believe it, but I have actually started tracking my expenses. It was a strange decision for me because I always said (mainly to myself) that I didn’t want to become ‘that guy’, the frugal guy counting pennies! But desperate times…I am sure you can insert your own cliché here.
Just a recap on my journey so far
I am a late starter in terms of saving and investing. I’ve had a sudden wake-up call though and am on the way now. I’ve spent time on introspection and analysis and I’ve started putting one (financial) foot (carefully) in front of the other. I received my first salary payment and I am being intentional about what I am doing with it. I have set up a scoreboard to keep track of my progress (emergency fund, killing debt and saving) and I know I need to spend less.
This is the 6th part in the 10-part series. Catch the first one here when I realised that I am starting retirement savings late.
Hmm, spending less…
Wow, spending less is more complicated than I imagined.
I am going to deal with the issue of spending in two parts. Firstly, in this article I am going to deal with what I am spending and how I’ll track my expenses. And then, in the next article I will cover how I am spending (i.e. cash, credit cards, etc).
I need to be intentional
As part of the Late-Starter Journey, I am trying to be intentional about every cent that I spend, every purchase that I make and every cent that I save and invest.
Being intentional takes time and involves slowing things down. Every time I am making a decision to spend, even for the small things, I must be intentional. I must ensure that my brain is awake and aware and that I must not pay for anything unless I am fully engaged. That may sound crazy and you may be thinking that this is obvious but I have noticed (and it isn’t just me) that we (apparently intelligent) humans can switch the sound off when we don’t like the truth.
Where’s my money dissapearing?
I am not the kind of person who ever worried about the Rands and cents as I spent them, as long as they were in my account (pretty much any account of mine), I would spend them. Cash in my wallet would disappear and well, the money somehow vanishes.
Much, though not all, of my unnecessary spending was on what I assumed, were insignificant things; coffee and breakfast, trips to the local grocery shop for ‘treats’, online software and apps, books (both online and from the bookshop) and dinners for the family (take-out and sit-down). These minor expenses never bothered me at all. The truth is that every cent I spent on these ‘little’ things was wasted. I have been robbing future-me. Confronting the truth is difficult (actually wondering how I ended up being ‘this guy’ is difficult) – but as we know, the Truth shall set us free. And it sure is doing so for me!
It seems to me that I was in a haze for a long time. I have been like a drug-user, oblivious to the signs, unable to resist and completely addicted.
Tracking my expenses – practically
I like simple stuff so I found a free App, downloaded it and started using it. There are many expense tracking apps and I’m not here to give reviews or sell anything. Download one or two and find one that works for you. You can also have a look at how the owner of this site uses YNAB in South Africa and why he likes it. It’s a paid-for app but also worth giving it a try.
For now, I can share, that it has already been very enlightening and has shown me some important things. Things like how much it really costs to have a coffee and breakfast every other day; lol that only lasted two days!
The main lesson that I have learnt (even though I have only been tracking for two weeks) is that my brain is an amazing machine. It can be completely deceptive when it comes to keeping me happy! It is as though when I don’t consciously consider a purchase (especially with my credit card) my brain gets very hazy. I can easily forget what I have spent in a day.
Thankfully, that becomes a lot more difficult when I track my expenses. That has been my experience thus far. Tracking absolutely everything. It’s quite simple really.
I am not sure that tracking expenses can be a life-long habit for me (I don’t like admin), but, I believe that it can build the life-long habit of being consciously aware of where my hard-earned money is going. I can already see that tracking expenses wakes up my brain, wakes up the disciplined-me who sees the future-me and reminds future-me that every cent I spend now, cannot be invested (so that it can grow) for future-me.
Tracking expenses is not new, I know that for many of you reading this it will indeed be old news. But for some, like me who have left things very late, this is a fundamental step in the right direction. Understanding, analysing, curbing and fixing our spending will be foundational to savings and investments.
Alternatives to spending less
Tracking your expenses and cutting down on frivolous spending is one thing. But, you can be more drastic! You could move to a cash-based budget, use the envelope system or even try “no spend days”. The point though, is that you need to admit the problem, you have to see the addiction and you need to take drastic action. If you are a disciplined person this may be easy. For most of us though it will be quite difficult. But that is where persistence and consistency pay off.
Keep at it! If you fall off the horse, shake the dust off and get back on quickly. Forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes and move on. Your Late-Starter Journey is all about forward momentum, going in the right direction for as long as you can.
Don’t let the falls stop you.
These two posts may be useful too:
Help! Where my money going – a free workbook to get you started
Working hard, walking hard and taking drastic action. Not just for myself, but for my kids and the next generation of Journey-Men and Journey-Women.
Next up on the Late Starter Journey : It’s War! #creditcardsmustfall