In 1970, when my parents were newlyweds and struggling to live paycheck to paycheck, my mother started keeping track of their expenses. They wanted to start building up a nest egg, but there didn’t seem to be anything left at the end of each month. So she got a ledger book and wrote down every penny (or pence – they lived in England then) that they spent. If they bought a coffee or a newspaper, it went into the book. And it worked, because they started getting ahead with their finances in the early 70s and never looked back. Even though my mother quit working outside the home in 1978 when I was born, and they raised four children (including college for all of us), they haven’t had any debt since their first mortgage in the early years of their marriage. They sold that house and were able to buy a fixer-upper with the proceeds, which they’ve been doing ever since. They’ve never had a car loan and never carried a credit card balance.
When I was younger, I thought that my mother was hopelessly anal when it came to recording their spending. I mean, come on – do you really need to write down that you spent $1.25 on a sparkplug for the lawnmower? But she liked to do it, and she told me that she thought it was one of the things that had helped them get ahead. Over the years, she filled a lot of ledger books. She switched to a computer in the last few years, but she still records every penny.
I got most of my money habits from my parents. And my frugal habits. But I have never tracked our spending. Not in an organized manner like my mom does. I keep track of everything in my head, and I’m pretty good at it – I can tell you exactly when our bills are due each month, what the amounts will be on the set ones like mortgage, internet and phone, and a rough estimate for things like water and electricity. And I check our credit card balance online every day to make sure that there aren’t any charges I don’t recognize, and to keep track of the total (we only use one credit card, which makes this process easy).
But I’ve never kept a record of exactly what we spend. And I think it’s time I do. August looks like a good month for it. We don’t have any abnormal expenses planned for August, and I get three paychecks from the library next month, which will make the incoming side of the sheet look better. And in August we’ll be paying off the last of our credit card debt, which makes it a happy money month. A little positive psychology never hurts.
So in August I will be keeping track of every penny. We’re pretty darn frugal as it is, but I’m sure that knowing I have to write down all expenses (and post them on the blog, of course!) will mean that we’ll have a lower-than-normal spending month. I’m excited about that, because it will mean more money towards our savings goals for the rest of the year. I know that we’ll both be trying to keep the numbers as low as possible – we’re always up for a challenge. So stay tuned for updates in August on how we’re doing.