They say that if you are trying to lose weight, the first thing you need to do is get a clear picture of what you are actually eating from day to day. And the best way to do that is to keep a food journal.
So it doesn't surprise me that the same advice is given to those of us who are trying to get in shape financially. The first step is usually to find out where you're spending your money. I might argue that the first step is to figure out why you're spending, but that's a debate for another day...
Taking this advice, then, I decided to try out mint.com, the free online service that gathers information from your accounts and shows you where you're spending. I signed up for this last week, so I'm still tinkering with it. But this is what I have observed so far...
* As a household we're spending less than we make. Yay! This is a good sign.
* I spend the most on bills and utilities, which is to be expected.
* The bulk of the rest of my money goes toward "shopping." This, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road. It is "mindless vs. mindful" territory. I need a plan!
I have also learned that regardless of the program I am using, managing money takes time and can feel like a chore. Even spiffy programs like mint.com, that make certain things easy, require an investment of energy. For instance, I still have to figure out how to divide my "groceries/cosmetics/magazines/home goods" receipt from WalMart into discernible and helpful categories.
I suppose that the next step is to focus in on that "shopping" category, and apply some mindful practices to my habits. I should probably see the numbers go down a little. I might also have to come up with some creative ways to classify how I spend (because sometimes being mindful doesn't mean spending less).
I'll fill you in as I go!
Incidentally, another type of budget conversation is happening in our national headlines. I write about it on my current event blog, Cigars in the Parlour. Read more by clicking here.