Monday Monthly Mission # 19

April 4th, 2011 - filed under: Furthermore » Monday Monthly Mission

On the first Monday of every month, we take on a ‘mission’ – a shift or habit or inspiration – to work on together. There’s strength (and support) in numbers! On the last Thursday of the month, we reconvene to see how far we’ve come.


Do you know where your money goes? Like, really know? Because me, I have a good general sense – my mortgage is fixed and hefty, I willingly spend freely on top quality food, I eat out on the weekends because it brings me great pleasure, there’s bills and there’s gas for the car . . . I have a rough idea of how my money is divided and for the most part, everything get’s covered as it should.

But I can’t help feeling like there’s something I’m missing. I mean, how much am I truly spending on restaurant fare? And those wheatgrass shots and matcha lattes, what damage do they accrue over the course of the month? What about ATM fees? What about dog food, and diapers, and vitamins?

I’ve never done a thorough accounting and honestly, I think it’ll be fascinating to see where my money actually ends up. Does it mean I have to change anything in the future? No way! Damian was initially resistant towards this project because he feared I’d try to reign in the expenditures once I knew what was what. This would definitely be a useful tool for doing just that, but it’s not *my* intention (it may be yours). No, we’re getting by each month and I see no reason to restrict our fun – after all this is the year of “quality over quantity”, and I’m all about living for the joy of it.

No, this is just for educational purposes. I think I’ll learn a lot. I also think it will help me to be more mindful, which is always my biggest-picture mission.

So I’ve got my Excel spreadsheet. I’ve got my husband on board. I’m ready to play accountant. I’ll be tracking every dollar, tallying everything we’ve spent at the end of each day (rounded up or down for ease, I’m not going crazy here). I need one of those green visors!

And what about you? Will you join me on this mission?

  • Emily

    I’ve been doing this for the past six months- for income and expenditures. I keep a little notebook in my wallet and tot everything up in a spreadsheet at the end of the month. It does promote more thoughtful spending as well as helping me track, say, the last time I bought a box of contacts.
    Good luck with your mission!

  • LauraC

    My husband and I read “Your Money or Your Life” in 2001 and it talks about lining up your expenditures with your values. Anyway it has an exercise to track every penny you spend for 3 months without changing your behavior.

    Ever since we did that exercise, we have been tracking every penny! 10 years! We review our expenses/budget every 6 months and make adjustments. We plan in dreams and goals along the way.

    I’d say it was the best thing we ever did for our relationship. We’ve never had a fight about money because we discuss it all the time! And now that we have kids… well money = time away from our kids so we really want to make sure our expenses line up with our ideals.

    Can’t wait to see what you think at the end.

  • Monika {windycityvegan}

    I’m already there! Ever since we made the choice to become a single income family, we track our spending habits with great scrutiny. It will be good to revisit this with a different purpose in mind, though, and interesting to see how our choices match/contrast others’. And maybe I’ll graph out how we’ve budgeted/spent our income return, too.

  • Kathryn

    My husband and I have tried different ways to watch what we spend while not cutting out the fun in our lives. What works best for us is the envelope system. Each envelope is designed for its own reason, food, fun, savings, Christmas, and so on. We only pay with cash and once the money in that envelope is gone we do not get any more for that particular reason until next pay period.

    We also treat our savings and Christmas savings as a bill. You will be amazed how saving a few extra bucks each pay period will add up to a wonderful Christmas savings at the end of the year.

    One other tip that I love is rounding up! If I spend $1.50 on an item I will round it up to spending $2.00. I then put that extra $0.50 in a jar. My husband and I have funded weekend trips with the kids this way.

    Good luck on your mission!

  • Rea

    I did this in March and found out that someone had stolen my credit card information and wracked up a shit ton of debt. Luckily for me, I knew who it was and am being paid back. I think a lot about how we spend money, and like you I think there’s no reason to reign in the expenditures if we’re getting by each month. Well, for the most part. I can definitely live with not walking to the bookstore from my work and buying a $1.25 soda every other day. It really makes you think about all your pennies and priorities. I see no reason why doing this WOULDN’T be beneficial, honestly. helps track your monthly expenditures. I think it’s free, too.

    I should note, though, that I don’t dare ask what my wife spends money on. I should’ve said that I keep track of MY money, not hurts. She insists that I should think of hers as mine, too, but I haven’t really gotten to that point yet, even if I consider mine as hers. :x

    How long does that usually take for people?

  • Missy D’Haene

    What a great mission! I did something like this last year for about 6 months. I tracked all our receipts, payments, anything at all and was surprised to learn how much we actually spent on food! One month it was $700! Now that’s only organic, free range, wild, and sustainably farmed so it puts the cost in perspective – still it’s a lot. I decided that perhaps I shouldn’t buy so much goat cheese in a week and perhaps I should finish left overs before heading out to the co-op with a wad of cash. Actually, I started paying for more things with cash because it seemed to mean more than buying something with a debit card. Good luck with it this month!

  • Nicole

    I think this is a very worthy mission, and I’d like to suggest that you should be open to change, knowing that you will not necessarily have to change your lifestyle, but you could actually enable a better lifestyle by making a few small shifts. I’ve found that there are always ways to save, or even earn more money, and usually no (or insignificant) sacrifice is needed.
    For example, perhaps tracking HOW you spend money (in addition to where) is worthwhile. My husband and I put everything we buy (EVERYTHING – even a few dollars) on Mastercard. This serves several purposes:
    1) each month, we automatically get a statement of all of the money we have spent. We can either glance over it and note a few things (like hey, we spent a lot on parking fees that could have been avoided, etc.), or if we’re feeling like we need to take more control, we’ll plop it into excel and do some real tallying and analyzing.

    2) We don’t carry cash. Maybe a toonie (here in Canada, that’s a $2 coin) for emergencies or to hand off to some particularly worthy street person, but this means that we have to consciously think about what we’re buying, and it limits impulse buys (Do I really want to use my credit card to buy a $2 bottle of juice – nahh… I’ll wait until I get home and have water, saving both the cash and the bottle).

    3) You are forced into being reminded of your spending when the statement comes. For example, say I’m feeling tired one day and just don’t want to cook. I stop and get take-out, thinking “well, this is pretty expensive for a pizza that I could have made better myself, but oh well”. Then, 3 weeks later the statement comes and I see the $30 pizza, and I’m reminded that it probably wasn’t worth it. Next time, I’m more motivated to cook at home.

    4) POINTS!!! Our particular credit card gives us free groceries. We literally get hundreds of dollars worth of free groceries every year. This is where the “earning” comes in. We actually earn several day’s wages just by using our credit card instead of cash (and no ATM fees too).

    A few notes though: this doesn’t work for everyone. You have to be a pretty disciplined person money-wise to begin with so that you don’t charge more than you can pay for, which would leave you paying interest, defeating the entire purpose. For people who tend to spend more than they should, systems like the envelope one described above are more suitable.

  • Kate

    I’m going to say YAY for self awareness!

    If you are truly curious, and are comfortable with the ways of teh internets… will tell you ALL of that information, and keep track of it for you. Much less effort to track on your part, and paying attention to it certainly makes you go ‘oh god, I really do spend that much on coffee and bon bons…every.month.’

    Here’s to learning! :)

  • Meghan

    I already do this and have been since 2006. I figured if I was going to be a grownup, I needed to have a budget. I have the total monthly budget for each kind of expenditure at the top of my spreadsheet (Food, entertainment, stuff, etc.) and I put in each receipt as I get it, such that the magical excel (well, open office) maths update the top with how much money I have for the rest of the month. It is nice to see not just how much we spend, but what we spend it on.

  • Meghan


    I also pretty much never use cash, which helps limit small impulse buys. (Plus all of our credit cards are rewards cards, so as long as we pay them off every month, we get free money!) I also like that if I lose a receipt (or my husband neglects to give one to me…) I can track almost all of our spending online. Also works as a backup to my spreadsheet.

    I am really glad to see that someone else does this. I have a lot of really bright friends that are afraid of credit cards and never use them… But if you can be disciplined with your money there are just so many upsides. (another bonus… if your wallet gets stolen, you can cancel your credit card, and usually get fraudulent charges reduced… if your wallet is full of cash, you’re never seein’ it again!)

  • Neva

    I totally recommend using – it has pie charts and bar charts comparing your expenses. It is great and secure.

    Also read – it is a great site.

  • TeniseRae

    Ah…my husband kinda already does this. He has his Excel spreadsheet. He does the bills every month and fills in all the numbers. He has pie charts, line graphs, everything’s color coded. It’s pretty crazy. So he generally knows where the money’s going…however, there’s always the small, unexpected, things that add up and we’re left at the end of the month thinking, “Hmmmm….we thought we were on track. What happened?”
    I’ll accept this challenge but only after I’ve discussed it with him. After all, he’s the one with the income and bank account. I mean, I have my own account…I’m just not employed anymore. We gotta work together on the money thing, ya know? :D

    Thanks, lady! So glad you’re back. I missed ya. :)

  • Sayward

    Lots of great advice here for those who want to manage their money better. Thanks for all the input guys!

    I do think it’s really interesting, some of the tips being given are contradictory – ie ONLY using cash versus ONLY using a card, both in order to avoid impulse buys. I don’t think this means anything except what we all know to be true – different strokes for different folks! Each of us needs to experiment to find our own method that works for us – this is, I suppose, the essence of being mindful! =D

    Me, well, I’m compulsively frugal and have spent the past few years actively training myself to NOT micromanage my money and to ALLOW myself to be frivolous here and there. We’re all on our own path!

  • sarah

    Man. You guys all beat me to it. I was also going to say – for any who are interested. Internet account – accessible on any Mac or PC, iPhone app, Android app, and FREE. You can track bank accounts, investments, mortgage, vehicle value, etc. etc.

    And of course anything by Dave Ramsey is great. Although we are fans, we’ve never taken any of his classes or anything – we’ve just always lived by his principles (not really his principles, just commmon sense). So no debt (except the house). I think this is so important… we have a ridiculously tight budget due to a bunch of recent crap (ie we are barely getting by) and I have no idea how people with car payments, etc. deal with that extra stress. I think this is a great mission (those coffeeshop trips add up!)

  • Julie

    I also read “Your Money or Your Life” about fifteen years ago and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

  • Angel

    oh I’m in.
    I just finished my taxes and was thinking that I’d really like to keep track of everything this year. We’ve been using the credit card only method for many years and that has worked well for us.
    I’ve always kept track of everything with paper charts (I don’t know why, habit I guess). So after reading all the great tips, I’m adding learning how to use modern technology to keep track of spending to my mission.

    So happy your back!

  • Erin U

    On the flip side, sometimes keeping track of all the spending (or frugality!) allows you to see that you DO have extra to plan a little trip, purchase something you’ve had your eye on, etc. It’s so easy to “reign in” right now for everyone, but remembering to find ways to reward and enjoy life are also just as necessary!

  • Violet

    I’m in! I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile. My goals are similar to yours- I want a better awareness of where my money is going, without any guilt. I just started my spreadsheet, and already I can see that I spend “too much” on coffee, but it’s one of my greatest simple pleasures, and it gets me through many days. More joy! Thanks for the inspiration. <3

  • Cassandra

    I’m in! As a starving college student, I need to watch where my money goes…at the end of the month, I’m always shocked by how little I have in my checking account (hello, $0.01!). Mint helps a bit for me..

  • Allison

    This is pretty great MMM. I am really good at keeping within my budget, and I already have quite a spreadsheet for tracking my finances, but I have never REALLY analyzed where my money goes. I am going to tentatively attempt this.

  • Emily

    I was doing really well at tracking expenses for a while, but then kind of got out of it. It probably couldn’t hurt to do it again.. I’m a college student with a really limited budget, and while I always manage to get by on what I have, I could probably benefit by keeping closer track of my money and “extra” expenses and whether or not I am spending that money the way I really want to.

    I’ve heard advice so many times about how one should carry cash, because it makes the purchase more concrete, but I’ve found that I am waaay more likely to fork out cash on those little things that add up and I know I don’t need than if I have to pay with my debit card. I do save up my loose coins, though – it’s a good way to squirrel away bits of money that I won’t miss at the time. It doesn’t add up to a lot, but it’s nice to be able to trade in a few saved up quarters for candy or coffee when I’m stressed and need something fast and sweet/caffeinated. XD

  • erosan

    Problem with mint is it does not do International banks (at least it still won’t do Mexican banks) T_T

    Gosh, I wish this MMM hadn’t come on a month I happened to decide to spend on a couple of “luxury” items… I’m probably not going to like what I see at the end of the month. Oh well…

    @Rea: I actually think it is healthy that you and your dear one keep separate finances. I do the same with my GF, and we do a good job. I mean, we share the money, it is just that each of us administrate a different half of it. It seemed unfair that if you worked hard and earned it, somebody else gets to decide how to spend it… So, we divided the bills and she will pay some of them, I pay the rest. If she needs extra money, she knows she only has to tell me (after all it is her money too, it comes out of the “making-GF-happy-expenses” account). ^_^

  • alison

    I’ve been tracking all expenses for the past few months, and it’s really helpful! This way, when the time comes when a change in spending needs to be made, I can make a quick decision because I have all the facts.

  • RawJoy

    I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, so this seems the perfect time to jump on board with payday being this week.

    Right now, I get a set amount of grocery and spending money for me and DH in cash every two weeks, and the rest goes in the bank for bills and also a savings account. We have a fairly generous personal spending budget for ourselves which includes gas, lunches, toiletries, and then whatever else we want to spend or save for. That’s worked for us for the last ten years. But there’s so many times where it’s three days after I get my cash and I start wondering where $80 went??? So I’m going to track my personal spending money.

    I’d kind of like to get a credit card with rewards and try to go that way instead of cash. However, I DO save my change. If something’s $9.01, I give them $10. Even if they ask for a penny. On the few times I use a vending machine, I always put the dollar in. Always give them $2 for a $1.39 cup of coffe. I throw it all in a old stone pickling crock in the bottom of my closet. It seems to average between $100-$150 every three months. So if I save it for a complete year, it can easily be $500 or so.

    I’ll start tracking my cash, and look into some credit cards.

    Good to have you back!

  • Callie

    It is so funny that this is the MMM this month. N and I are looking to go solar for the new house and in order to see if we can pay the upfront costs we sat down just this weekend and did a whole budgeting money round up thing. We’ve come out of it feeling good. We’ve decided to make some small changes, like putting a budget on whimsical Amazon purchases, but we’re mostly in good shape and we’re getting solar panels! Even though we can now see better where we’re sometimes careless with our cash, it’s very freeing to not have it be a big mystery. Good luck, and I hope this ends up being enjoyable!

  • Kelsey

    I am definitely in. I used to be really good at keeping track of my spending, but in the past couple of years, I have made enough money that I didn’t have to worry about it too much. My boyfriend and I really want to buy a house, so we have been talking about how much we spend and trying to keep track so that we can save as much as possible for that.

  • RawJoy

    Already working! As I went out to lunch, there was a book fair in my building lobby. I browsed through and, without really thinking about it, picked up a couple of CDs, figuring they’d be nice to listen to while working. Then I DID start thinking. Do I really need to blow $12 on more CDs? I barely listen to the ones I have at work now. So I put them back.

    No real big deal, but it was cool that I’m already beginning to be aware of and think about how I choose to spend my money.

    (However, I had no problem dropping $10 when I walked into Whole Foods and saw they had Champagne Mangos on sale 10 for $10)

  • Sandra

    This monthly mission I am going to take head on…after my semester ends on 4/15, but I am realizing that I spend entirely too much on food! My refrigerator and freezer are almost always packed to the gills, as is my pantry. We bought a Blendtec last month, so we’ve been experimenting with that…but we’ve also found there’s a lot of foods we can easily make instead of buy thanks to it. Woo hoo we can do this!

  • Sayward

    Yay, I’m glad there are some people joining me on this one! So much better not to go it alone.

    Oh and @ Rea, I totally agree with what @Erosan said, and Damian and I have a similar system.

    @ RawJoy – That’s awesome you’re being more mindful already!

  • T

    I use YNAB (You Need a Budget) software to track my finances. It’s awesome. You enter the amount of money you have, then you budget every penny of it. You can move amounts around throughout the month if you need to. They try to get you to living month-to-month instead of paycheck to paycheck. All of my income gets designated to next months’ budget, so I don’t need to wait until payday to pay the Internet bill that just came in. I already have that money budgeted, and the money I’m using to pay it is from the money I earned last month. They have a free book you can download on their site. It’s short and worth the read, and explains their methodology. It got us from paycheck to paycheck to living month to month.

  • natashia

    my husband and i are actually in our third month of doing this. We save all our slips and at the end of each week we are each responsible for filling in our excel sheet. this past week i went shopping for some up-coming birthday gifts, an anniversary present and a wedding gift, and all i kept thinking was ‘i don’t want to enter these numbers into my spread sheet!’ ha ha it’s good though, it makes you think twice before you hand over the plastic