I Tracked Every Cent I Spent For 6 Years. Here’s The Budgeting Lessons I Learned

Last week, as I dug into the digital archives of my financial journey, I stumbled upon a humble relic – my very first budget created back in 2017.

It was nothing fancy, just a simple excel spreadsheet divided by month. I would manually type out every purchase I made, including the date, amount and what category it fell into.

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A real screenshot from my 2017 budget! Can you tell I liked colour?

What I discovered in that first month of budgeting was incredible, transforming the way I viewed and managed my money.

The start of my budgeting journey

When I began my budgeting journey, I decided to track all my expenses for the first month without strictly adhering to a budget. It was an eye-opening exercise that I highly recommend, especially if you’re new to budgeting.

Starting a budget without understanding your spending habits can be challenging. After that initial month, I was shocked by the amount I had been spending. It was a wake-up call, making me realise how much I was splurging on eating out and shopping, without even remembering what I had ate or bought! And, I hadn’t saved or invested any of it.

I wondered why I felt like I didn’t have any money.

The reason was simple—I wasn’t spending my money mindfully. I hadn’t been asking myself, ‘Do I genuinely want this?’ or ‘Am I just bored and craving chicken nuggets?

My spending was impulsive and lacking intention.

Can you tell I’m hungry writing this article?

My second month of budgeting

After what I learned, my second month of budgeting was a game-changer. I constructed a proper budget, using the 50/30/20 rule as a guideline. This rule suggests allocating 50% of your income to ‘needs’ like rent, food, and transportation, 30% to ‘wants’ such as shopping, and 20% to savings. Eventually, I adjusted these proportions to save more and spend less on the ‘wants’ category.

During that second month, I stuck to my budget like a pro, and I felt a significant shift.

Budgeting made me feel like I had more money, even though my income remained the same

By making saving a priority, I was able to set aside funds in my savings account instead of mindlessly spending on random crap.

Plus, I began to truly prioritise my ‘fun’ purchases. That cute dress with a slightly awkward fit? I didn’t buy it. I was craving a bubble tea really badly? I did buy it. Being mindful of my spending transformed my mindset from ‘where did all my money go?‘ to ‘I’m spending on the things I love while saving at the same time.’

After month two, I was a convert. I continued to budget for years, tracking every cent and creating a new spreadsheet every year. This allowed me to accelerate my financial goals substantially. With the power of budgeting, I hit some really cool goals which you can read more about below:

My first year of budgeting taught me that just knowing where your money goes is incredibly powerful.

Budgeting lessons I learned since 2017

Since I started my budgeting journey, many things have changed.

I experimented with various budgeting methods, from using apps to my phone’s notes app, but in the end, I found solace in the trusty old spreadsheet! The reason behind this choice is that I don’t think there is a good budgeting app out there. The automated apps I tried often misclassified expenses, and tracking things like transferring a friend $15 for lunch was hard. Thus, the spreadsheet became my go-to tool. And, still is!

Over the years, I’ve come to understand the true importance of budgeting.

Last year, I had a lot going on. I started a new job and moved interstate to Sydney, where I moved in with my partner for the first time. During this time, I stopped budgeting for a couple of months, assuming that my spending habits, built over the years, would keep me on track. Oh, how wrong I was!

Without budgeting, I made zero financial progress. I didn’t save anything, didn’t invest at all, and to make things worse, I couldn’t even remember where all that money went instead. I wish I could attribute it to bougie dinners or designer bags, but I simply lived my normal life!

Unfortunately, I didn’t spend it all on food. Which, is always worth spending money on!

So, I went back and tracked every cent over those missing months. What I found was that I had regressed to mindlessly spending on random crap, falling back into the same bad spending habits I had before I started budgeting.

It was a wake-up call, highlighting how easily one can slip into detrimental financial behaviours. The key lesson I learned from this experience is that I must always incorporate some form of budgeting into my life. While some people, like my partner, achieve financial success without needing a budget, I’ve come to accept that I am not one of them!

After 6 years, how do I budget?

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive when I mention my budgeting journey is how I actually budget today.

As I mentioned earlier, I still rely on a spreadsheet, but it has come a long way from the manual version I used back in 2017. How so? Well, now I can conveniently add my expenses using a simple form that automatically populates the spreadsheet!

This method has proven to be the best budgeting solution I’ve come across, at least until someone develops an awesome automated money app that can actually replace a spreadsheet. For now, this approach works quite well for me.

One of the reasons why I love this method is that it reduces the manual effort required to sit down and input every expense. Additionally, I can add expenses and income on the go while waiting for a train or a friend, making use of any spare moment to quickly record my daily purchases.

The added benefit is that these purchases are automatically organised within the spreadsheet, which includes helpful graphs and category breakdowns, among other features. If you’re interested in trying out this spreadsheet and form setup…

I’m happy to share that the budget I use is completely free! If you’d like to get a copy for yourself, you can click below:

My budgeting journey

My budgeting journey has certainly been interesting.

From my humble beginnings of manually tracking expenses in a simple spreadsheet to discovering an efficient method that automates things, I’ve learned invaluable lessons along the way.

Budgeting has become an integral part of my financial success, and I now understand its undeniable significance. I will always be a budgeting girlie!

Through tracking every cent I spent over the years, I gained a great understanding of my spending habits, identified areas for improvement, and took control of my financial future.

I realised that budgeting isn’t about restricting myself or feeling deprived – it’s about making deliberate choices and aligning my spending with my values and goals.

Budgeting empowered me to save more, invest wisely, and prioritise the things that truly bring me joy. It also (scarily) showed me how easy it is to fall back into naughty spending patterns, reinforcing how important it is to spend mindfully.

If you’re new to the world of money management, I encourage you to embark on your own budgeting journey. Explore different methods (even if it’s good old pen and paper!), find one that works for you, and commit to the process.

Embrace the power of tracking your expenses, setting realistic goals, and spending mindfully achieve your money dreams!

Published by Ruba Khan

Hi, I'm Ruba! The Money Marketer is a financial discussion space to discuss all things money and investment, with a touch of food and lifestyle.

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