Why You Need To Do This
These dull – but vital – Thrifty Habits are rooted in two of my Principles Of Thrifty Living – Take Control and Deal With The Real Not The Ideal. They give you data you can mine about your current spending habits and that data helps you take practical steps to control your spending. Without the hard evidence receipts give of your real spending habits, there is a danger that many of your attempts to be thrifty will be based on what you think you spend, not what you actually spend.
As a bonus, being able to provide hard evidence that your spending is going down each month gives you a huge morale boost. So keeping all your receipts and then reviewing them every month is a vital part of getting yourself into thriftier habits.
How To Use Your Receipts To Cut Your Spending
Start by grouping your spends into broad categories – for example Food, Fun, Travel, etc. These are the areas you think you are spending on but your receipts might tell a different story, so leave space to add extra categories if you need them. Now make a note for each category of how much you think you spent on it this month. Don’t cheat by peeking at your receipts! This is going to help you spot the areas where your spending is least under your conscious control.
Pick one category – Travel, say – and go through each receipt looking for spending on just that category. Tally this up so you can see how much you spent this month on that category. Tick off each expenditure as you log it so you don’t accidentally double-count it. By the end of this process you should have a clear idea how much you are spending on each area.
Now compare these with your estimates. Were you spot on? A little out on a few? Wildly inaccurate? And how does each spend compare to what you could afford to spend on that area? Were there categories you didn’t even know you had spent on?
The gulf between your actual spending and what you thought you had spent tells you how much – or little – control you have over your spending in that area. You need to think about practical steps to help you notice how much you are spending on these areas when you are spending – shopping with only cash, for example.
If there is a gulf between what you are spending and what you can afford then you need to budget more tightly – and stick to it.
That all sounds very simple but the reality is that spending is more to do with human behaviour than with numbers on a spreadsheet – and behaviour is hard to change. That’s why this is a monthly Thrifty Habit not just a one-off. It takes time to start to get a picture of where your money is leaking away, even longer to figure out why you are letting it. But it is worth the effort.
What Do You Do With The Information From Your Receipts?
Now that you have a clear and accurate picture of your recent spending history it’s time to decide what your spending future is going to look like. Go through your categories again and set yourself a spending maximum for each – make sure that all your max spends don’t add up to more than your monthly budget can bear. Make a note of the difference between your new spending target and last month’s spend for each category – this will tell you how much (if anything) you need to shave off your spending on that category.
Work With The Real Not The Ideal
Is your revised budget a fantasy or will you really change your spending habits next month? If I have learned one lesson in all my attempts to live thriftily, it’s that good intentions often disappear if we don’t have a real plan for putting them into action. So, now you have a realistic picture of your spending habits, make sure that your plans to change them are equally realistic.
Look back over last month’s receipts and make concrete plans to change certain things. For example, if you want to spend less on Travel are you going to walk/cycle more? If you want to spend less on Food are you going to buy all own-brand next time? If you want to spend less on Clothes are you going to spend your lunch breaks reading a book rather than wandering round the shops?
Now, I am not going to pretend to you that this Thrifty Habit is fun – it’s really not – but I can tell you with total conviction that you cannot get your spending under control until you know how, where, when and why you are spending your money. And reviewing your spending each month is a vital step in that direction.