Three weeks ago, Greg and I started an expense journal. I wanted to use a notebook and jot down our expenses, but Mr. Excel Spreadsheet wanted to see a running total and created a spreadsheet instead.
I'm glad he did. It made a huge difference. Had we just kept a running list, we wouldn't know our totals (and details) until we tallied it up. This way, I know exactly how much we spend, down to the category. Knowing the problem is half the solution.
To be fair, Christmas was probably the worst time to start a journal. The holidays are not reflective of a normal spending week, but putting it down in black and white put everything in perspective.
The first week was a wash. We had continued eating out like we normally did (which was always excessive). We also shopped for gifts and the fancy foods we'd planned for our feasts.
By the second week, I was putting stuff back on the shelves and rethinking priorities. Knowing it was going on the spreadsheet kept me from buying anything superfluous.
Eating out was kept to places where we had coupons or gift cards. Now into our fourth week, we don't even think of eating out unless we know we're going to be out all day. As a matter of fact, our spending has dwindled to a fraction of what I originally allotted. How's that for putting us back on track?
We've been cooking at home a lot. I even spent two days making freezer meals that I could take out for those days when I'm just too pooped to do anything but turn on the oven.
Greg's been experimenting with bread making and I've been making soups. Here's a photo of my French onion soup. It's incredibly satisfying, especially with a hunk of bread and Swiss cheese floating in the bowl.
It was humiliating to learn how weak we were with our spending. Neither of us minded when we had regular paychecks, but now that we're on a strict stipend, every little expenditure comes under scrutiny.
My personal Waterloo comes when I go grocery shopping. I only shop for fresh foods and bread, but I haven't had the strength to walk out without first purveying whatever's on sale. It hasn't blown my allotted budget yet, but it came close.
Ironically, our biggest setback didn't come by our efforts, but by our health insurance. They raised the premiums by almost two-thirds, which goes to prove that even the best laid plans can be thwarted by outside forces.
In the end, the spreadsheet has been a godsend. It forced us to reevaluate our needs and rein in our vices. It's easy to see how people can get into trouble. We weren't even trying to play fast and loose, yet it was easy to spend when the increments were small.
And that was my biggest discovery. If it had been a big purchase, we both would've screeched to a halt, but as I look at the spreadsheet, most of the numbers are tiny, which is why we never noticed them before. It all adds up.
If you use Excel, I can send you a copy of our spreadsheet formulas if you'd like to try tracking your spending too. Even if you do it for a week, I guarantee you'll never look at your spending the same way again.
There'll be a future post on how we trimmed our spending, but I'll cover that later.
In other news: Stacy McKitrick has a new book coming out and I designed the cover.
If you've never visited Stacy before, check out her blog and books.
Have you ever tried tracking your expenses? Was Christmas expensive for you this year? Where do you think the majority of your money goes every month?
Ours used to be gasoline, but that's been slashed in half since Greg came to live with me again. Dining out was definitely our 500-pound gorilla in the room.