I have tried lots of times to budget my money, but I was never actually even close to being successful at it. Paydays came, bills were paid, stuff was purchased, and nothing ever got into a savings account. I have always just lived paycheck to paycheck. I was a single parent, and that’s just how it always was. I was in the habit of being broke, and it finally occurred to me that it was a habit that just needed to be broken.
“Follow the money” is an expression I’ve heard while watching crime dramas. The basic concept is about forensic auditing of a suspect’s bank accounts and/or spending habits to determine their guilt or innocence. So I decided to either prove my innocence or confirm my guilt about why I was always broke by following my money. You can believe me when I say it took a lot of courage to do this. I knew I was spending money where I shouldn’t, but knowing it and seeing it on paper were two different things.
I started by creating a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel. I suppose it could be done on paper, although not as easily. I listed the categories of where I spent money other than for rent, utilities, and insurance, because they were not optional. I started out with a pretty generic list like food, gas, books, and clothes. I have a memo app in my phone that I used so I could keep track of what I spent money on, and the generic list soon became more specific.
For example, the generic food category became “Domestic Food” and “Foreign Food/Coffee”; food I bought at the grocery store and cooked myself vs. fast food, take out, and delivery, as well as my morning lattes. I soon discovered that I was spending way too much on the latter, and began to try to discipline myself to make more nourishing meals at home. Up until then I hadn’t realized that I was spending almost $100 a month on coffee. It was just a habit, but once I paid attention to how much I was really spending, I was able to break it really fast.
The gas category became “Gas/Maintenance” when I realized that I was not taking proper care of my car, and books became “Entertainment” after I included movies and music into the category. I have always loved to read and had many books to prove it, but until I tracked my money, I never realized how much I really spent on CD’s and DVD’s, including rentals.
Clothes became “Apparel” as shoes and accessories were included, but I soon noticed that there were hardly any entries made in this category. Fashion has never been important to me since I started working in casinos because we are issued work shirts. On my days off I’m just a jeans and t-shirts kind of girl, but sometimes a new pair of work pants, comfortable shoes, or a cool new t-shirt that makes a statement are a must. Accessories for me are usually a new watch when the battery dies on my old one.
As my spending habits disclosed more information, more categories were added. Excel also has a feature that allows you to add a comment to a cell. This allows me to explain a specific purchase I only do occasionally but is larger than the purchases usually made within a category.
Having the courage to follow the money was the best thing I have ever done. After only a few weeks, scrutinizing my spending habits helped me to learn about myself better than any therapist could because we can always choose to lie to a therapist. Numbers will only tell the truth.
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My name is Laura Mozer Davis, and I was born over half a century ago. My life’s journey has included raising three children as a single parent while caring for my parents who both became disabled during the last 10 years of their lives. Now that my children are grown and my parents have passed into the next part of their journey, I finally have time for me to grow as a person, not as just a care-giver. What I am learning, however, is that my destiny is to always be a care-giver. When I started writing for The Daily Sisterhood blog, I realized that I was to continue my care-giving through my writing. If my words help even just one person find either solace or joy, I know my life continues to have meaning.