For one week I kept every receipt, kept track of every transaction and recorded every penny I spent. That week, I ended up spending more than I had in previous weeks. Usually, my monthly credit card statements are sufficient to track how much I am spending, but I was curious how much I spent day-to-day. I downloaded a personal finance app (one that did not want me to plug in my credit card information) and started calculating.
Before I started calculating every cent, I was pretty sure that food was going to be my biggest expense other than rent and took pride in my ability not to splurge on many luxury goods like clothes, electronics or fancy foods. On the first day I realized I never thought about tax when mentally calculating my daily expenses. It turns out my $6.50 Subway sandwich was actually more than $7 and even closer to $9 if I was getting chips. I also found that some of my attempts to save money were fruitless. For example, buying K-Cups for my Keurig was actually more expensive than the coffee shop right next to the train station.
As I went through the week and began plugging in the same expenses every day, I would treat myself if a price was cut. On the day that I was treated to lunch at work, I looked at my finance app and realized I could now afford ice cream with dinner that night. However, it might have been more worth it to save that money for a rainy day rather than spend it instantly. In contrast, even when presented with a great deal, such as a $20 t-shirt being sold for $5, I said ‘no’ because I did not want to record it. Yet, even though I was proud of fighting my impulse to buy the shirt, I realized that I actually needed a new shirt and would have to spend the full $20 the next day to get the same shirt. Then, towards the end of the week I started to get lazy. I wouldn’t calculate the dollar or two I spent on gum, the coffee in the morning or the shampoo I got from CVS. However, I would still assume that I spent exactly as much as the app said I did and budgeted the rest of my money accordingly.
So, even though I thought the app would make me more money conscious, it actually lured me into a false sense of security. I found that I put too much trust into the app as my personal guide and tried too hard to think logically about each purchase. Having a set budget simply did not work when my days varied so much. During that week I ate out more and bought more snacks and other small price items that added up to about $30 extra. While I see the benefit of having a set budget, keeping a close eye on your expenses and being money conscious, I believe this extreme can be just as dangerous as not thinking about spending at all.
It is true that I did learn an important lesson on the presence of taxes and the hidden costs in some parts of my day, but spending 30 minutes every day recording my expenses and filling my pockets and backpack with receipts that I will inevitably lose was a giant waste of time. Therefore, I suggest using credit card and debit card statements to give you a monthly snapshot of expenses and taking a more holistic view at your spending. Analyze where all of your money is going to, see if anything can be cut and where you are allowed to treat yourself. At the end of the day, in addition to maybe spending more than planned, keeping money consciousness at the top of your mind 24/7 may ruin the small day-to-day joys like splurging on a large ice cream cone or going to a movie you’ve been waiting weeks to see.