Save money, log your spending

By Ali
Category: Financial | Date: Mon 20 Oct, 2008

When I was in my second year, I took part in some study being run by some bank – sorry I’m so woefully short on details, I only did it cos I earned a tenner from it.

As part of the study, I had to keep a spending log (also known as a spending record) for a week: tracking what I spent on transport, meals out, meals in, etc. As it happens, I was having an exceptionally boring week and really didn’t spend much. But when I’ve done a similar exercise for myself, I’ve usually found a few surprises.(“I spent HOW much in the pub?” “ebay is RUINING me.”)

If you’re constantly broke and not quite sure why, try keeping a spending log to figure out where the money’s going. Here’s how:

1. Write down EVERYTHING you spend

This won’t work if you try to fudge it. You need to write down everything you spend, even if it’s only buying a mars bar from the vending machine in the corridor. It’s those little daily expenses that can add up surprisingly.

2. Keep up your spending record for at least two weeks

A single week isn’t usually a good picture of how much you spend; you might have a big night out or, alternatively, it might be Reading Week and you’re at home with your folks. Tracking your expenses over at least two weeks – and ideally a month – will give you more accurate results.

3. If you’re in the pub, spend cash

There’s no way you’re going to keep an accurate count of what you spend in the pub. Count how much cash you’ve got on you at the start of the evening. Count how much you’ve got left afterwards (or the following day, if you’re too drunk to add up). Obviously, this will only work if you resist the temptation to stick your card behind the bar and put everything on a tab.

4. Carry a notebook with you when shopping

If you’re darting in and out of multiple shops, it’s a good idea to keep track as you’re going around, even if you plan to record all your expenditure in a spreadsheet. A small pocket notebook is a useful device here. Alternatively, keep all your receipts and log everything when you get home.

5. Split expenses into categories

Whether you use a sheet of paper, notebook or spreadsheet, you need to split up what you’ve spent into some general categories. Most students will find this list works:

  • Transport
  • Rent/bills
  • Groceries (food you buy to eat at home)
  • Food out (restaurants, takeaways, canteen)
  • Alcohol (you might want to split this between booze you buy in the supermarket/off-licence and booze you buy in a pub/bar, as the latter will be between two and three times more expensive for the same thing)
  • Toiletries/household (shampoo, bin bags, etc)
  • Books and other course-related supplies
  • Magazines/DVDs/novels/other take-it-home entertainment
  • Cinemas/theatres/galleries/club entrance fees and other going-out entertainment

So what will you learn?

You’ll probably find that:

  • The mere act of writing stuff down makes you wonder whether you really need that grande latte.
  • The faff of writing stuff down makes you wonder whether you can be bothered to buy a magazine.
  • You spend a lot more than you thought in certain areas.
  • Sandwiches and coffees can add up a LOT over a week.

But give it a try for yourself, and see what you find out. Chances are, there’ll be a few surprises – and some areas where you can save quite a bit without missing much.

Further reading:

Have you ever tracked your spending? Were you surprised (or horrified) at where your money was really going?


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