I Used to Track My Spending Obsessively -- but Now I Do This Instead

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KEY POINTS

  • I used to track every dollar I spent, using a detailed spreadsheet to show where my money was going.
  • Now I've shifted my focus to doing something else that's made a big difference in my financial situation.
  • I increased my income and automated my bills and my savings, so it's less crucial to track where every single remaining dollar goes. 


Would this be a better option for you too?

When I was younger, I was obsessed with tracking my spending. For several years, I wrote down all of my transactions, combed through my credit card statements and checking account withdrawals, and kept a detailed spreadsheet of where my money was going. I even had my purchases color-coded on my spreadsheet so I could see different categories of spending at a glance.

Unsurprisingly, this took a lot of time -- but it helped me feel like I was in control of my money as I was paying back debt and trying to save for a house. 

However, I've abandoned those efforts in favor of doing something that's made a far more positive impact on my finances. And, looking back, I wish I had changed my mindset and shifted my focus much earlier on. 

Here's what I'm doing instead of worrying about every dollar I spend

While my money-management efforts used to be dedicated to slashing spending by keeping careful track of every dollar, a few years ago I decided that I would instead shift my efforts to increasing my income. 

Now, instead of logging transactions and adding them to a spreadsheet and pouring over them to see what I can cut, I spend that time doing a little bit of extra work or looking for new earning opportunities.  

While this doesn't mean I go crazy with spending and splurge on everything, it does mean I don't keep track of exactly how much money I'm using to buy groceries, gas, or other types of purchases. 

In fact, I have automated the payment of my bills and I have automated the transfer of my money to savings. I now just spend anything that's left in my checking account without really keeping any type of accounting as to where that money goes. I let myself spend it on whatever I want and I couldn't tell you what percentage of the money is going toward entertainment, vet care, clothing, or anything else. 

Why focusing on increasing income can be a better approach

Changing my mindset from focusing on tracking and limiting spending to increasing earnings has worked much better for me for a few reasons.

First and foremost, there's only so much you can do to cut your spending. When I kept track of every dollar, I would always look for new opportunities to save. But, the reality is, you really can't cut things like groceries, gas, vet care, medical care, or other necessities below a certain level -- at least not without risking your safety or health. And even when it comes to discretionary spending on fun things, you can only cut so much before your budget becomes unsustainable.

There's no actual limit on how much you can earn though. So, rather than expending tons of energy on looking for things to subtract from your life, it can be a lot more beneficial to look for ways to just add more money.

Second, it's a lot more sustainable to try to make a little extra money over time than to scrape by on a barebones budget for years -- and it makes life a lot more enjoyable too. And finally, once you have cut your spending as much as possible, tracking every dollar can just lead to frustration as you see how much of your money has to go to purchases that aren't necessarily fun to make. 

I won't go back to tracking every dollar and my finances are much better given my shift to trying to earn more. It's an approach I would recommend to anyone who wants to make money management easier.  

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