Track Your Spending: mini-mission

Because I’m a Dave Ramsey girl, I spend every dollar on paper. My budget has a few loopholes though. For instance, I have a category for groceries, one for restaurants and one for free spending. Sometimes the lines blur on those three categories and I don’t know where my money really goes. Is shopping at the wine store considered groceries or free spending? Is an afternoon coffee considered restaurants or free spending. I want to really know where my money goes.

Don’t be scared. I’m not going to ask you to spend less, give up your Starbucks, or stop ordering music and apps. In fact, I insist that you don’t change a thing for the next 30 days. The only thing you have to do for this mini-mission is track every penny that you spend. Only when you are aware of what the issues are, can you begin to change them.

While some of you might embrace this challenge as a way to better understand why you buy what you buy, and where your money really goes, this might feel threatening to some of you. You don’t have to share your 30 day money journal with anyone, so don’t over think it. Just get started.

simple rules

  1. write down your purchase within 10 minutes of spending
  2. use paper and pencil or pen
  3. write exact amount – no estimating
  4. include purchase, place and amount

Remember this is not an exercise in budgeting or spending, or even analyzing your patterns. Just keep a record of your spending. I suggest spending less than a dollar on a tiny notebook that you can carry everywhere and write down the date, place and purchase. Even include your regular bills.

While I usually do mini-missions in advance of sharing them, I’m going to do this one with you. I am going to track from Sunday, March 20 through Monday, April 18th.

This challenge is for you regardless of your current financial situation. You can benefit from this if you are upside down in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and even if you are debt free with a nice emergency fund. This 30 day journal will shed light on more than just your spending habits, so get ready to be enlightened.

Are you in? Commit today and we will revisit in late April. I have a feeling there will be some big revelations!

Let me know in the comment section if you have questions on the why and how to take on this very important mini-mission.

For more experiments to simplify your life, read Mini-missions for Simplicity. It’s available on the Amazon Kindle store, but you don’t need a Kindle to read it. Kindle books can also be read using the Free Kindle Reader App for your Web Browser, PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android.



  1. Erin says

    Yay, another Dave devotee! I have my little spreadsheet that tracks all my expenses – I’m soooo particular about that :)

  2. says

    My partner and I tracked our spending for one year several years back to create our budget, and at the end of each month we sit together to go over our spending and savings. Both if us have saved money, and constantly reevaluate how we want to spend our money.

  3. DanaK says

    Love Dave! Doing this was how my husband & I learned we were going overboard on dining out & wine/beer purchases. It made us learn to spend smarter so we could spend less.

  4. says

    I think this is so important to living a simpler life. I’ve been using to track my spending since last fall. Just seeing where it goes has been eye-opening. And I’ve found the same struggle you document here; it is hard to know which category to put some things in. I don’t have a free spending category–I’ve needed to be really clear about every penny.

    I’ve realized how much I spend to maintain some big things in my life: house, car, etc. Tracking my spending got me to get serious about trying to find a way to live closer to where I work–which will make many things, not just paying the bills, simpler.

  5. says

    I want to do this.

    I find it so uncomfortable to think about jotting down every buy.

    I’m so unorganized that it stresses me out thinking of having to keep this notebook with me at all times.

    Nonetheless, I will do it.

    • Kristina says

      I usually save receipts and record them all at the end of the day, it makes it less stressful for me that way. If I don’t get a receipt or something, I just write the purchase down on the back of a different receipt or piece of scrap paper. Hope this helps some!

  6. Darris says

    Good for you Christopher and everyone!!

    I used to be amazing at saving and budgeting. My ex husband and I had a net worth of close to two million dollars. After our divorce I could no longer afford to keep the house we built 22 years prior after I paid him his half plus more. I gave up all right to the 401K’s, and other savings plans thinking this would ‘settle him down’ so he’d stop harassing me. Nothing mattered. I made a poor financial decision, and at 56 I am starting over.

    My ex and I had average jobs and we were still able to save build wealth, and build our dream home. I know what it takes and it takes knowing where you’re spending and not spending more than you make. It takes sacrificing a bit . . . I’ve never owned a new car. I drive a 14 year old car with 220,000 on the speedo. It takes living modestly, no flying the globe on vacations. It’s a choice and I’m ready to start over. I need to get my husband (I remarried) on board as he’s never been a saver and has some debt to handle. He’s been resistant but sees the benefits.

    This is a great place to begin . . . we’re in!

    • Michelle says

      I just came across this blog and would love to respond to Darris. I am 40 and recently divorced. Starting over is way too familiar! I would love to know more about your jorney. Do you blog?

  7. says

    I’m in!! Whilst I’ve started this kind of project a few times, I’ve always petered-out before getting all the info for a month. Knowing that I’ll be doing it in tandem with others is the motivation I need!

  8. CMHouston says

    I admire everyone’s dedication. After coming back from the Iraq war about 2 years ago a lot has changed. I never touched a drop of alcohol, cut out the junk food and focused on consuming less. I “purged” a lot of the “junk” I accumulated over the years with a seller account on . I fell in love with reading books (ebooks hah!). Actually, if you can believe it I lost 25 pounds in the last 18 months. I made a contract with myself, I do not and will not spend a dollar more than I earn. The system sounds simple, but was tough at first. It involved me cancelling all of my credit cards. Expenses cannot and will not exceed my income. Some weeks things are tight, other weeks I’m doing fine. Bottom line I am moving out of debt! (too bad for Starbucks though) I do not consider myself a minimalist in the sense of giving up my car or anything like that, I cannot really give this “thing” I have a name yet, because I do not even know what it is yet. But I do know it is precious and some form of new energy. Like many others, I’m still on a journey.

    Good luck to everyone, I wish everyone the best!

  9. says

    Great timing! My hubby and I were just discussing the need to do this very thing for a month or so to see if we could spot any hidden issues. When you live very simply you can take things a little for granted and forget to jot down the fruit stand honor system purchase or a coffee; thanks for the timely challenge, I’ll show him this for proof we were on the right track. You are appreciated! :)

  10. Kristina says

    I have been recording all of our expenses (my fiance and I) since the beginning of the year and have found it invaluable. Its helped me identify areas where we are spending a lot more than we realized (especially on restaurants — that stuff adds up fast!) and to construct a realistic budget. I’ve made budgets in the past and have found them difficult to adhere to when you’re just guessing about how much money you need for different things.

    I would definitely recommend this mini-mission to anyone, even if you don’t analyze the data to death or use it to make a budget. Just the simple act of recording a purchase and holding yourself accountable may make you think a little more about how you’re spending your money!

    Thanks for all the great posts!

  11. says

    I’m in! I tend to be a spender(ok, my husband would say I AM a spender…) This will be a great exercise for me to see where our money really goes.

  12. says

    I’m in! Was sat on the bus this morning on my way home from work after a night shift and wondering whether buying my daily tickets 3 times a week was actually cheaper then what my daughter pays for her monthly ticket. Bearing in mind i often get the bus, even on the days when im not working. Cool :)

  13. says

    This is an excellent tip – you have to know where you are to get where you are going. That’s my saying on budgeting or spending plans – whatever you want to call them.

  14. Jen says

    Ok, your right this totally threatens the begeezes out of me but I’ve known for years I need to do this. Its like knowing for years you need to eat right and exercise. I dont know why I want to dig my heels in and buck the system on something so harmless and simple. I’m going for it, it will help to have others there too :)

  15. Courtney Carver says

    I’ve got my notebook ready to go. Starting tomorrow, every penny goes on paper!

  16. Karen T. says

    I’m in! Like many of you, I’ve read about this and thought about this but I’ve never done it. I already know we spend too much money on eating out, and I spend too much at Starbucks — I’m probably going to be shocked at how much! But I’m really going to keep track and see what I learn. Thanks for building this community, Courtney!

  17. Karen T. says

    BTW — the “comment time” says 3/20/11 @ 12:16 a.m. — but I’m in northern California, and it’s 11:16 p.m. and still 3/19. I’m in under the wire!

  18. bev smith says

    Actually I’m in the UK and its sunday at the moment so do i end up starting before everyone else? I dont spend on sunday’s its my Sabbath :)

    One more thing a couple of years ago i did a similar things on books and magazines and found i was sending at least £50 a month on books i didnt even get time to read and about £32 on magazines a month. I just stopped buying altogether for about 6 months and then i only purchased 5 books in the whole year and no magazines.

    I now allow myself a small amount of money each month to buy those delicious books. I got my daughter to buy me a subscription for my favourite magazine for my birthday and it was amazing to recieve my birthday present over and over again.

    My starbucks is costa here, but that’s about £4 a go for coffee and a muffin. Twice a week – at least – erm – oh!!! I could go swimming for the cost of a costa :)

    p.s really sorry you will have to translate the figures :)

  19. says

    Courtney, What a wonderful and useful idea! I’m so terrible about keeping track of anything! Can I do this? I’m not sure. I’ll see!

  20. says

    I have been tracking my spending for the first time, since the beginning of March. I’m glad to see so many others taking the plunge, in this supportive community!

    I have a question about tracking, and I don’t know where to look for the answer: How do you track an expense that is paid once but used over time? For example, I pay $80 for 8 yoga classes. Should I write down the $80 in the month I paid it, or $10 each week that I attend class?

  21. Heather says

    I’m in! Phew (guilty smile). Glad I’m starting tomorrow 3/22. I spent $50 on two pairs of shoes and 2 shirts on Friday. Still feeling guilty though… Is it me, or is it impossible to find cute black flats for the high-arched??

  22. says

    I began doing this when I got married. I had no clue how much coffee I bought out of the home… And my tracking sounds an awful lot like what you describe at the beginning, I often don’t know what items go where. The most important thing though does seem to be just seeing it all out.

    Just prior to beginning my ODP I went back through the previous 6 months of writing it all out and calculated the total I spent over that time period on clothes and shoes and doubled it to estimate what we may spend in a year on wearable items. Though we shopped (what I thought was) little, I was pretty thrilled to see in a number what I would be cutting out this year during my zero consumption, fashion-fast.

  23. says

    I’m also a Dave fan, and I was getting confused and overwhelmed trying to categorize all my spending. I use, and I swept away all the “restaurants” and “groceries” and “household supplies” categories in favor of one broad category “consumption.” Anything that gets consumed, be it a dinner out, groceries, diapers, toilet paper, etc. gets placed in that category. It’s made it very simple for us. It might be too broad for some people, but it works great in our household!

  24. says

    Yes, I think this is a good idea. I will do it, and I hope that it is going to show me the truth about my spendings. And then… I´ll se what I do about it.

  25. bev smith says

    Its coming up to the half way mark in the month and easter is just around the corner. I have been doing it. Its a little scary! One thing that as shown up which i have been ignoring is that i spend too much in costa and lunches out. I may not be spending lots of money each time – about five pounds – 3 or 4 times a week, it become 15 or 20 pounds times by 4 weeks thats 80 pound. I could do a lot with that, like buy books :)

  26. says

    Love your idea regarding giving your Starbucks money away to help and encourage others. Very unselfish and doable.

  27. Nin says

    Did you ever revisit this topic? I tried to find it in the archives but I couldn’t. I’d be interested to see how you approached this subject again :)

  28. rajwins says

    I wish I would have done some kind of this tracking when i was not in hospitals and i was on quite good money. spent them all or dont even know if someone has been hacking my accounts and spending from my accounts. dont have the strength now to organise life again. I wish i can R I P