It’s Monday morning, you wake up, and you decide you’re going on a vacation. For the record, you’ve given no thought to this vacation until right now. You haven’t asked for time off from work. There are no plans, no destination in mind, and no dollars set aside to fund this adventure. How many of you believe this is the most effective and efficient way to plan a vacation? Anyone?
Now perhaps, there are some free spirits reading this book who plan all of their vacations this way. My guess would be, though, that the vast majority of people reading this book would have elevated levels of anxiety if this were the vacation planning laid before them. Personally, I would have much more than “elevated” levels of anxiety– I’d be freaking out!
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” I love this quote for so many reasons, but mainly because I’ve lived out the results and, therefore, I know it’s true! So why on earth am I talking about vacations and Benjamin Franklin on a section about writing down spending?
Did you know that Gallup recently did a poll that revealed that only 32% of Americans, one out of three, track their income and expenses each month?26 Does that statistic surprise you? I’ll be honest; it didn’t really surprise me, but instead, it encouraged me to use my experience to create value in the lives of others when it comes to their finances.
If we take the data revealed in this poll, when it comes to spending, two-thirds of Americans have very little if any idea about where their money is being spent every month. I believe that for many people, tracking their spending falls into the quadrant Stephen Covey calls “important, but not urgent.” People find value in knowing this information, but it’s challenging to find the time or the willpower to do it. I believe that in order to overcome this challenge, you can begin with the small step of taking five minutes before bed to write down whatever money you spent that day.
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Let me share a little bit about my story. In the summer of 1998, my wife and I were just getting started in our careers, fresh out of college and living in a seven-hundred-square-foot apartment. I had very little idea as to where to begin when it came to being wise with our finances.
I was the “numbers guy” in our marriage, so I sat down at a computer, opened up Excel, and decided I was going to try to come up with a spending plan—some folks call it a budget—for my wife and I. I had no clue where to start, so I decided to use this little step and track our spending for a week so that I could lay a foundation to build on. Gathering the data and creating this spending plan seemed to go a lot easier when I broke it down and started with this one small step.
Over the last 18 years, our spending plan has become a routine part of our overall finances. In fact, I continue to tweak and use the very same Excel spreadsheet that I created in 1998 every month when I fill out our spending plan. This small step has ultimately allowed us to confidently say, “Yes, we can add this new expense,” or “No, not this month.”
Notice I didn’t say “No, not ever.” If the family decides it needs to be a priority, then we sit down with our spending plan and tweak it to make sure we fit in this new expense. Some examples over the years for us have been the purchase of a car, building a house, giving to a new charitable organization, increasing the amount we give to existing organizations that we love, etc.
Remember, if you choose to do nothing and don’t proactively plan for one of the most important aspects of your life, your finances, then you’ve made a choice. The question though is, what will be the result?