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Look, maybe you’re already doing pretty well.

  • You don’t spend a lot.
  • You check your spending every once and a while.
  • You even manage to save a bit every month.

But what if you could slash your spending in half?

There is a single tried-and-true trick that can help you spend less, save more, and completely re-align your spending with your values.

Write down what you spend.

Wait, wait – I see your eyes glossing over already. Stay with me.

The science is with us on this one – it’s called observation bias. Simply recording something can affect the results – whether it’s stepping on the scale or logging an expense.

10-20lbs Down With No Exercise
Researchers analyzed data from 1,042 adults with an average age of 47. Over the course of a year, participants weighed themselves as they normally would, but they used Wi-Fi or Bluetooth–enabled scales that sent data to the researchers. The participants were not given any advice or directions, except to monitor their weight as usual.

When the year was up, those who never weighed themselves or did so only once a week didn’t lose any weight. Participants who weighed themselves six or seven times a week, however, lost 1.7% of their body weight, which the study considers significant.

What’s so special about stepping on the scale on a daily basis? The theory is that keeping a close eye on your number makes you more aware of how certain behaviors (what you eat, how much you exercise, etc.) affect your weight.
Weighing Yourself This Many Times a Day Could Actually Help You Lose Weight

Of course, body weight can be a tricky topic. The researchers readily warn that anyone with an existing emotional struggle with their body image should think twice about reopening old wounds.

But the connection is clear – what gets measured gets managed.

How to do it. ✍️

Don’t make this complicated.

  1. Get a notepad and pen. Or start a free Vermillion account.
  2. Spend money.
  3. Write it down.
    1. Include the item name and the amount you spent. Bonus points if you include when and where you spent the money.
    2. E.g. May 12, $54.75 spent on Groceries at WinCo

That’s it! You don’t even need to revisit it.

The simple act of knowing you'll be recording the transaction will trigger you to reflect on it.

But if you must total it up at the end of the month and gawk at how much you spent on face masks – well, we won’t stop you. 💅

Neuropsychologists have identified the “generation effect”: Individuals demonstrate better memory for material they’ve generated themselves than for material they’ve merely read.

So while checking your spending periodically through an app like Mint may feel like active budgeting – don’t be fooled.

You’ll get a much higher benefit from recording the expenses yourself.

Forced situational awareness. Turn off the auto-pilot. ✈️

Some of us go into a trance the minute we walk in the grocery store.

“Grocery list? I don’t need a list! I just walk down the aisles and look at everything – that way I know what I need when I see it.”
-You, wasting $5,546,435/year on impulse purchases

The average American household spends $2,641 per person every year on food, 60% of which is eaten at home. Personally, I shop once a week and buy between 15-20 items.

You may not realize it, but the grocery store is ripe for decision fatigue. Making 15 decisions in a row isn’t easy – and it can leave you mentally drained.

Store owners are hoping you lose control.

The sooner you do, the sooner you start throwing caution to the wind and random junk in your cart.

  • Fed up by the checkout register → Throw a bag of M&M's in the basket.
  • Give up halfway through the chip aisle → Wasted a whopping $50 on snacks.
  • Going to the store hungry? Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. You spent it on artisanal ice cream and organic mouthwash.

Yikes. Guess that coupon didn’t help very much…

We all start with great intentions. But our intentions are easily undone by a lack of preparation and awareness.

  • Coupon for 25% off → Offset by one extra snack.
  • No-Fee ATM → Killed 10x over by a single overdraft charge.

It’s enough to make even the toughest among us sob into our coffers.

But where does it go?
Think about it. If you’re “not struggling” you probably earn around $60,000/yr and take home around $45,000/yr – about $3,750/month. Let’s say your housing is $2,000/month.

Insurance might be $150, and on average food might be $300. Let’s kick in $200 for gas and insurance. That leaves $1,000.

What are you spending $1,000 on every month?

  • A new iPhone?
  • A trip to the Carribean?
  • $12 avocado toast at every meal?
  • A pumpkin spiced latte every 3 hours???

    And that’s not one month. Not three months a year. Every. Month.

    And some of you are making much more than $60,000/year. Where on earth is it all going??? Since you aren’t tracking your spending, you may never really know.

But those attempts you made at saving – the coupon! The ATM! What do they have in common?

They’re intentional.

Contrary to what popular apps may want you to believe, we rarely save that much money on autopilot. Saving happens when we take action. And action only happens through awareness.

It’s not uncommon to see discretionary spending fall by 50% just by tracking it.

Don’t believe me? Try it.

See before you spend. 🔎

One huge benefit to tracking your spending in a zero-sum budget is being reminded of your budget balance every time you log an expense.

This sounds like more work, but trust me. It will save you thousands.

  • Level 1: Spending blindly, with little knowledge of how much money you have.
  • Level 2: Checking your account balance before purchasing.
  • Level 9000: Checking your budget category balance before purchasing.

A budget balance is the difference between:

  • Spending $50 during the first two weeks of the month and respectably declining drinks and outings after you’ve reached your spending limit.
  • Blissfully blowing $200 on drinks, dinners, snacks, concert tickets, extra merch, and retail therapy.

And if you do overspend, your budget balance will tell you – and it won’t mince words.

Your budget won’t lie unless you do.

Re-focus your intentions. 💌

We all know what we should be doing with our money – more or less. We may not know which stock to buy, but we know we should be investing. We may not have every date night planned, but we know we’d like to spend more on quality time with our partner.

Every dollar is spoken for: School, retirement, vacation, etc.

We just get distracted.

It’s hard to consider the impact of every decision, so we tend to gloss over the details and do our best.

The simple act of knowing you’ll be recording the transaction will trigger you to reflect on it.
-Me, 3 minutes ago

Writing down each expense can serve as a small and consistent reminder to focus on what’s important. Every time you flip open your budget to record an expense, you’ll see that balance.

And maybe you’ll remember what it’s all for.

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