5 Things I Learned From Writing Down Every Dollar I Spent

Make a wish, take a chance, make some change. 💰

"Budget" is not a thing that I do.

I keep a vague spending threshold in the back of my mind, and every time I feel I could potentially reach that threshold, I check my bank account in a wild panic and then put myself on a strict soup-only diet until the end of the month.

I'm guessing this is why I was nominated to take on the terrible, demeaning task of recording my every purchase in a Tiny Journal Of Shame.

Here's what I learned after keeping track of every dollar I spent for two weeks.

Don't be fooled by how freaking cute this tiny journal is.
Don't be fooled by how freaking cute this tiny journal is.
Julia Bush

1. Fee-free ATMs are abundant.

I would rather blend $3 into a kale smoothie and enjoy the nutrients than pay an ATM fee. Writing down fees in the Little Notebook Of Sadness made them even more real and nauseating.

After almost a year living in New York City, I finally looked up and mapped the fee-free ATMs near my usual haunts. Despite banking at a Missouri-based credit union (a crisis I will save for another time), I found a free ATM a block from my office building that would have saved me at least $20 in fees had I previously been aware of its existence.

My handwriting could be improved.
My handwriting could be improved.
Julia Bush

If you haven't already, find your bank's ATM locations right now. Drop pins and save them in Google Maps or memorize the locations of at least three or four of those suckers. Then, make a point to take out cash whenever you're near one.

It's better to have withdrawn extra cash than to never have withdrawn cash at all.

2. Being thrifty doesn't mean you can't have a social life.

You just have to get creative.

I am a regular Alexander Hamilton when it comes to saying no to things: I cannot do it. But thinking about writing $30 in my Cute Booklet Of Shame for gin and tonics (again) was enough to prompt me to say no to a night out with my best friends.

Instead of cursing my finances, my caring, gracious friends came up with a more creative way to spend the evening.

TJ = Trader Joe's.
TJ = Trader Joe's.
Julia Bush

A boring evening alone quickly turned into a night of delicious Trader Joe's Italian and lovely company, all at the cost of a package of pre-made gnocchi and half a bottle of rosé.

Instead of just declining an invitation, you can rent bikes, split a wedge of brie and some crackers or make your own dope neon sign. There are so many cheap adventures to be had that don't cost $15 plus cover.

3. Take a lap before making big purchases.

I was doing so well at the end of week one. And then I found the pillowy soft, massively expensive, purple leggings at Lululemon.

I held the leggings. I petted the leggings. I carried the leggings around the store while I pretended to look at yoga straps and running shorts but really moderated an internal debate over whether or not to purchase the leggings. And then I put the leggings back on the shelf and left.

One lap around the block later, I was cured of the strange, magnetic spell of athleisure. Sometimes, it only takes five minutes.

4. Cut yourself budgetary slack.

Guilt is the feeling I associate most with money. There are few things I purchase that don't make me a little queasy inside.

As I was standing at the laundromat, paying for drop-off service when I could have technically spent four hours doing my own laundry, I realized there are some purchases that I just shouldn't beat myself up about.

Everything is a trade-off. While someone else did my laundry, I made dinner and packed a lunch for the next day. I swept the kitchen floor. I went for a run. I watched a "Gilmore Girls" rerun (important). All of these things made me feel significantly more prepared for the week ahead, and the extra $7 on laundry didn't compare to the feeling of having my life together, if only for a half hour on a Sunday.

Plus, the next day I spent $7 on a stupid green juice thing at Starbucks. Why not save some extra guilt for that dumbass purchase?

5. Money diaries work.

Just the act of writing down my purchases cut my spending by about $100, compared to my bank statement for the previous two weeks.

No matter how much you know you're going to hate it, get yourself a Miniature Diary of Dismay. Write down everything you buy for a defined period of time. Even if you don't save any money at all, being conscious of your decision-making can only improve your spending habits.

Would you like to improve your relationship with money? Sign up to join our 30-Day More Money, Less Stress Challenge to demystify one of the most important and empowering areas of your life. We’ll deliver tips, challenges and advice to your inbox every day during April. Sign up here!

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