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Blogging for Change Blogging For Change
by Jesse Campbell on January 16, 2013

Financial Freedom Fits in Your Pocket

You may not want to hear this coming from the guy writing a weekly financial advice column that you’re kind enough to be reading, but my money strategies as a kid were abysmally misguided.

Don’t be so hard on yourself, you might be saying. No one knows good money habits until someone teaches them!

While I appreciate the supportive words (that I just put in your mouth right then), I don’t think you understand the depths of my former folly. You see, I didn’t blow all of my birthday money on Gobstoppers and comic books like a normal adolescent boy. I didn’t stash it away in a piggy bank, either.

My long-term financial strategy of choice? Hiding dollar bills and checks in books and envelopes and then intentionally losing them.

I think the idea was that I didn’t want to waste my rare and precious money on something frivolous; however, found money was a different story entirely. Found money was basically buried treasure and therefore supplemental income, to be used however I pleased. If a few stray bills stayed lost, well, that was the cost of doing business, I suppose.

Later, as a young adult, I switched to the What’s in My Wallet? method of budgeting.

“Can I afford this new DVD player? I’m not sure. What’s in my wallet? Hey look – money! I guess I can!”

As you can imagine, this strategy represented great short-term gains, but created a few long-term problems, usually when I went to pay bills or buy groceries. I knew I had a problem, but the idea of completely overhauling my financial habits was pretty overwhelming. I tried saving my receipts, but they just ended up in a big sad pile at the bottom of my sock drawer. I tried writing up a budget, but I wasn’t very diligent and my numbers were all terribly inaccurate anyway.

I felt great despair!

Then – as happens in these sorts of stories – I had an idea. A simple idea. An idea that changed finances for me forever! Which all sounds a little melodramatic, but hear me out.

I bought myself a little spiral-bound notebook, one small enough to fit in my back pocket, and starting writing down the date, place and amount of every purchase I made. And that’s it. That’s all I promised myself I would do.

  1. Buy something
  2. Write it down

A few interesting things started to happen.

First, I became instantly averse to buying (and recording) anything that appeared even remotely impulsive and unnecessary. (I still get a little rashy when I drive past a Dunkin’ Donuts.)

Second, I began to see easily identified patterns in my spending. Should I really be grocery shopping three times a week? I sure do buy a lot of stuff I don’t need on payday.

Finally, it became incredibly easy to flip through my little book at the end of the month and see where all my money had gone. Without even creating a formal budget, I had a much better idea of what I could reasonably spend and where I’d end up as a result.

Suddenly, money and personal finance seemed much smaller and easier to navigate. If you know money is an issue and you’re struggling to find a starting point, consider the little notebook approach. And if you’re ready to take the next step, consider credit counseling with a certified nonprofit credit counseling agency like Money Management International (MMI). MMI also offers a wide-range of educational programs on subjects ranging from buying your first home to improving your credit score to building your savings for retirement.

The first step is always the hardest, but once you’re off and running you’ll be amazed to see how the world of personal finance opens right up to you!


January 18, 2013

Dear Jesse;Like you, I have had many failed attempts at controlling and tracking my spending and cash flow. Then I started writing down my expenditures day by day in the $1 calendar book I got at the Dollar store. I also began to see patterns and that started to change the way I saw my money, my spending decisions and my own ability to change my financial behaviors for the better. Now I track all expenses and income in a monthly spending plan spreadsheet that I update on the weekends. My wife and I don't make a lot of money and we have a lot of bills, but we are on a better path toward paying down debt and reducing the impulse purchases that have eaten up so much cash (read future wealth) in the past. We also communicate about our money and the management of our rental property than we ever did before, which helps me because I have been carrying the mental burden of thinking about finances every day for years, all alone. Thanks for the story, it gives me a little more hope that positive behavior change is do-able for everyone!! Sincerely, Ben Martin LaGrange, IL

Anonymous says:
January 17, 2013

On payday, I write a check at the bank for $75.00 in $5.00 bills. I place the envelope over the visor in my car and use this "stash" for small cash stops like lunch or quick market stops. I actually made a laminated card for when I go thru the drive-thru requesting all $5.00 bills and the tellers recognize me as the $5.00 lady. I have curtailed many non essential purchases that would eat up a $10.00 or $20.00 bill if it were used.

Lee Ross says:
January 18, 2013
Website: MMi

I like this article and it's a good beginning for people who actually have no idea where their money is going. Years ago I simply allowed myself to spend money as I did and wrote everything down for about 3 months. What I saw was my patterns of spending, which helped me to move money into other areas of my budget, pay off debt and begin to save more money. The only danger I see with writing everything down is some people will begin to behave as if stingy if they fail to simply allow themselves to spend money as they normally would during the process of finding out about their patterns.Thanks for a good article that is sure to help many!

leona harrison says:
January 27, 2013

i love this site i have learn alot this year 2013 is my year of debit free thank u god

Mahasin Tariq says:
January 17, 2013

I really enjoyed the above account of getting some control of your finances by an original experience. Everybody is unique and that is what it takes to overcome your own problems, your unique experience to an answer.

Margrett Moussa says:
January 17, 2013

very well written. thank you for putting it into words.

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