Whether you budget weekly, monthly, quarterly or otherwise, regular reviews of your spending is critical if you want to make meaningful changes to your spending habits. It’s impossible to budget effectively if you’re not taking regular stock of what you’re spending.
The better you get at budgeting, the more confident you’ll be to intuitively spend – but it still helps to review your spending on a regular basis, and it’s even more important to do so at the beginning.
So, what’s the best way to review your finances?
I personally tend to review my spending weekly. Partly because I’m a millennial who needs instant gratification on my absolutely everything including my goals, partly because I have a shit memory, and partly because it’s one of the easiest ways to keep on top of your spending and spot bad habits early.
The Weekly Spending Review
To conduct your own weekly spending review effectively, it helps to actually wait until the first day or two of the following week. I’ve made the mistake of reviewing my weekly spending on a Sunday afternoon, and ended up ordering takeaway or going out for drinks that evening – and suddenly that end-of-the-week spending gets missed. Review a 7-day period on the 8th or 9th day. That way, it’s still fresh in your mind, and you can be sure that your spending is complete.
- Start by writing out your transactions. Whether you do this neatly in a journal, organised into a spreadsheet, or just jotted down onto a piece of paper in shorthand is entirely up to you. The main act is actually reviewing the numbers, not how neatly you keep the records.
- Take a highlighter and highlight all your necessities and non-negotiables. Be careful here and think on a more granular level. Don’t just assume that a food shopping trip was essential. What did you buy? Was it toilet paper you actually needed, or did you trip and fall into the Dorito aisle and leave $5.50 poorer?
- Take another highlighter and highlight any spending that you regret, or that you know for certain was not a mindful spend. That might’ve been the soggy wrap you bought at work out of laziness, or the dress you ordered online late at night that you know you didn’t think through. If you can associate those spends with a particular trigger or feeling, note that down next to the transaction.
- Take one more colour and highlight any spending that brought you pure joy. Maybe it was a wine catch up with a friend after work or tickets to an event that you know will be great for networking.
- Add up your essentials, your regrets, your joy spends and your miscellaneous spends (anything that didn’t fit into those categories), and really look at the numbers.
- How much of your spending was completely essential?
- How much of your spending was completely worth it for the joy?
- How much of your spending was totally NOT worth it because you already regret it?
- …and how much of your spending was so blah that it didn’t even fall into one of these categories?
Note down your spending patterns
Repeat these 5 steps each week, and look for any patterns or regularities that point to signs about your spending. You’ll get particularly good insights from noticing trends in the triggers that lead to your regret spends.
Once you start to notice where you’re overspending, you can work on cutting those categories down.
Cutting down overspending
If you’re over on the regret spends, implement strategies to stop you using spending as a bandaid. Even seemingly-silly things like keeping some frozen chicken nuggets in the freezer for those days when you end up stress-ordering Uber Eats. Or simply not taking your bank card to work to stop you online shopping on your lunch break during a shitty day. Or taking Apple Pay off your phone for a while. I know it’s convenient, but it means you can spend money ANYWHERE. I took it off my phone so that when I went out for lunchtime walks at work to listen to a podcast, I couldn’t take a detour via a shop or café.
If you’re over on the joy spends, look for cheaper ways to hit those same feelings of joy. From finding a cheaper bar with a happy hour to cooking at home with a friend sometimes instead of catching up at a restaurant.
Doing these reviews will help you approach a new week with a heightened sense of awareness around your spending, which in turn creates a hunger to change things up. The old saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ is so painfully true when it comes to spending. But with a weekly spending review, awareness can become financial bliss.
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Some really good simple steps here. Always amazes me how many people have never done this.