How Keeping a Journal Helps Control my Spending


When I was younger I had a very romanticized view of what journaling was all about and how one should go about doing it. To my mind, keeping a journal meant keeping a physical notebook in which one wrote down their thoughts and feelings. As far as I could tell, the process also involved a lot of notebook-hiding and secrecy. To me the idea of putting everything in my brain down on paper and just hoping the wrong person wouldn't stumble across it seemed ludicrous. Besides, my hand couldn’t keep up with my mind, and trying to write fast enough to get my thoughts down became quite a chore. Although I tried to keep a journal many times, I always came back around to the conclusion that journaling just wasn't for me.

When I quit drinking I decided that keeping track of my progress and working through my inner bullshit was a must. Since paper journaling had never been my thing, I decided to go the simple route - I created a Google doc and started writing in it every day. It worked like a charm, and I suddenly found it quite easy to make writing in my journal a daily routine.

Since those early days of sobriety I have made an effort to journal daily. Sometimes I’m successful and sometimes I’m not, but for the most part I have been able to consistently put fingers to keyboard and work through my thoughts on a daily basis. A couple of months ago I realized that my daily journaling habit could be a great tool for working through some other changes I would like to make in my life, and I decided to begin creating journaling “prompts” for myself to revisit each day. I started using the following prompt at the beginning of July:

“What did I spend money on today? Why did I choose to spend on those things?”

As the weeks have passed I've found that taking the time to reflect on and examine my spending habits in this way has helped me to not only keep track of where my money is going, but to recognize spending triggers and circumstances in which I might be more vulnerable to spending irresponsibly. A few interesting things have emerged:

  • I spend more when I am stressed about my budget. I can fall victim to an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to a lot of things in life, and spending is no exception. Being aware of this reaction and writing through it has kept me from overspending quite a few times over the past month and a half.

  • Some tiny expenditures bring me much more joy than large ones. As it turns out, some days spending $3 on fancy iced coffee to sip on a park bench in the sunshine can add more to my life than new clothes, trinkets, or even electronic toys.

  • I am more satisfied by big purchases when I have planned for them. I coveted my little Chromebook for months before purchasing it and spent a ton of time thinking about how it might fit into my daily routine. Now that I own one I find it incredibly useful and I’m glad I bought it. I don’t get that same kind of satisfaction from most things that I buy on a whim, presumably because I haven’t thought through how they might fit in my life before purchasing them or I feel guilty about spending money I hadn’t planned on parting with.

I have another prompt in mind to add to my daily journal, but that’s a post for another day.

Do you journal? If so, what kind of journal do you keep?