I think I may be turning into a tightwad, and it’s all because of a little spiral bound notebook that found its way into my handbag.
Self discipline has never been one of my strong suits, so when I read that you can save a bundle just by writing down what you spend, I was sold. I also heard that people who record everything they eat will lose more weight when dieting. So I invested 89 cents at Fred’s Dollar Store for my little red notebook which has become a sort of pseudo conscience, reminding me I can be an out of control consumer – or a merry miser.
I wander around town with my little notebook under my arm and constantly jot down purchases and every morsel of food consumed. I once subscribed to the notion that when you come to a fork in the road, you pick it up and eat! No more. I actually put down a cookie at a party the other day because I was too lazy to take the notebook out of my bag and go to the trouble of computing the calorie content. See how that works?
It’s amazing how spending and eating can come under control once you see it in black and white. And get this – studies show that the more educated a person is, the more likely he or she is to be a tightwad. So I wonder if I look more intelligent now that I have shifted from a spendthrift to a tightwad.
For two weeks I’ve been on my little spiral notebook diet. I write down everything I spend – down to the last penny. That senior citizen coffee I purchased at McDonalds for 46 cents, check. It went into the notebook along with the $2 “energy bar” at the Bagel Café. Check. I dropped a dime in the grocery store and never could find it. Into the notebook it went.
I thought this would be a terrifying activity and that I would soon grow bored or disillusioned with tracking every penny that fled my pocket. However, the exact opposite has happened. For the first time in years, I have become excited about saving money.
I sat down this morning and examined my purchases for two weeks. If I’m honest, only about 30 percent were necessary… or even satisfying. Did I really need that terra cotta chicken I got such a deal on for $15. Rebel has already chewed up his new faux diamond studded dog collar that set me back $14. Never mind the basted chew bones for $4.99 at which both he and Lucky Dawg turned up their noses. I’m using one for a door stop. And what about that $3.99 bunch of asparagus. Anything that goes into the vegetable bin in my refrigerator is as good as forgotten. All that’s left of the asparagus is a slimy mess that is so disgusting I can’t even bring myself to throw them out.
If you log your purchases and your expenses for any amount of time, you will find that it turns into a challenging game: You versus your money. Every time you pull out that notebook to jot down a purchase, you actually think and re-think whether you really need or even want the coffee, widget, or (you fill in the blank).
At the end of the month, I’m going to record the data on an Excel spreadsheet and group my purchases into five general budgetary areas. I can then scrutinize my spending to see how much money was frivolously spent on items that will go into someone’s garage sale two years from now.
I highly recommend tracking your spending, regardless of your income level. For the first time in a long while, I feel like I have some degree of control over my financial destiny. Oh, and I’ve lost 10 pounds since I gave up my addiction to energy bars from the Bagel shop.
(Emily Jones is a retired journalist who lives in Starkville Mississippi . She edits a website for bouncing baby boomers and may be reached at www.deludeddiva.com.)