Spending logs can transform your finances. Learn what a spending log is, the different ways to keep a log (you can download a free printable below), and why I think it’s the perfect alternative to the cash envelope system!
When I was in six figures of student loan debt, I was desperate to try anything that would help me get out of debt faster. I wanted that magic potion.
Since I love Dave Ramsey, I tried the envelope system which is essentially a cash-only diet.
I tried so hard to make the cash envelope system work, but it backfired, badly. My wallet was a mess, coins were jiggling everywhere, and I just found myself frustrated with having to use wrinkled bills instead of my simple card.
After trying three separate times, I knew that the cash system was not going to work for me. I needed to find an alternative.
I needed to find a system that would make me feel the pain each time I spent money, something that would help me stick to my budget, and a system that would allow for me to easily see where my money was going.
….Enter the spending log! I created an excel spreadsheet for my spending log – each time I spent money, I recorded it in the spreadsheet. I’ve also done this the old fashion way – pen and paper! It did wonders for my finances, and helped me get out of debt. It’s the perfect alternative for someone who just can’t get the cash envelope system to work for them.
What is a Spending Log?
A spending log is a way to track all of your spending throughout the day, week, month, or year.
It is a record that you keep of how much you spent ($ amount), when you spent it (date), and where you spent it (store).
In your log, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can also include how you paid (cash, card, check), budget category (fuel, restaurants, clothing, etc), whether it was a need or want, and even the exact items that your purchased.
How Can a Spending Log Help You?
I tried so many things to help me spend less and put more money towards my student loan debt. Things like a cash-only diet, a spending freeze, and plenty of budgets.
But nothing was as successful as starting and sticking with a spending log. Here’s why:
- It’s eye-opening! There’s nothing like writing down each and every single purchase you make (down to the pack of gum you bought at the convenience store!). You realize how much you are spending (not just the dollar amount, but the actual amount of times that money leaves your wallet). I had no idea that I was spending money almost every day.
- You can easily spot your problem areas. I’m betting Target pops up several times on many spending logs. My secret addiction? Amazon. When I was trying to get out of debt, I simply eliminated (or put a strict budget on these stores I identified when reviewing my spending log).
- You start to question each purchase. Since you know that your spending log is going to hold you accountable (no matter how small the purchase, it has to go into the log), you really question if you need, or simply just want, the item. There were lots of times that I just didn’t buy something so I wouldn’t have to put it in my spending log.
- It’s very easy to review and analyze your finances each month. At the end of the month, you’ll have a lot of your financial information on one page. It’s pretty easy to give yourself some tough love (or some pats on the back) when you can see a huge list of all your expenses.
Spending logs can help you spend less, pay off debt faster, stick to your budget, and simply improve your finances by giving you the knowledge of where your money is going.
How Do I Start a Spending Log?
There are so many ways to start and keep a spending log. You just have to find a way that works for you. It may require some trial and error.
All that is required for a spending log is a piece of paper. Each time you make a purchase, write down the date, amount spent, and store you spent it at.
Here are some of my favorite ways to keep a spending log:
- Bullet journal. I’m not sure if you’ve joined the bullet journal craze, but it’s a fun way to be creative in addition to help organize and improve your life. It’s perfect for a spending log. Bite the bullet and get a bullet journal (ah!, that’s so corny, but check out my favorite brand of bullet journals here).
- Erin Condren Perpetual Calendar. This is an adorable small notebook that you can carry around and use as a spending log. See how I used my perpetual calendar as a spending log here.
- Excel spreadsheet. This is how I kept my spending log. I love excel so this really kept me motivated to stick with using a spending log (and I got to create cool graphs with it too!).
- Small notebook. This is the no frills way! Check out some affordable ones here and some durable ones here.
- Printables. I think printables are the perfect way to organize your finances. I’ve created tons of debt printables, and now I’ve created this fantastic budgeting printable set that includes a….you guessed it….spending log! Just enter your email address in the box below and you’ll get three printables in three days! (The second day you’ll get the spending log).
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Sign up to receive these 3 printables over the course of 3 days. Start fresh with a monthly budget, tracking your expenses with a spending log, and never forget a bill again with a bill checklist.
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But What About Electronic Spending Logs?
Why didn’t I mention any of the electronic ways to keep a spending log? To have a computer automatically log each expense does not have the same affect as pen and paper.
In the same way that a cash-only diet makes you feel the pain of every purchase, a spending log will also make you cognizant and hyper-aware of each time money leaves your bank account. While a cash-only diet never worked for me, a spending log fit my lifestyle perfectly.
I would always spend significantly less when using a spending log. That was great because it meant more money could go towards paying down my student loans!
Have you ever kept a spending log? Did it help you improve your finances?
Thanks. I started a bullet journal recently and found your debt snowball spread on google images search. Having a really good read through the site. Really good to finally get it all on paper.. also scary!! 🙂 But helpful. I have used ynab before and will try a paper logging system similar in the bullet! Thanks again.
Seeing a snapshot of your finances on one piece of paper is definitely scary and helpful! It can be eye-opening for many people, but it’s a necessary first step to take control of your finances and get out of debt. I find using a bullet journal for finances makes the experience a little bit more fun 🙂