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Our $3600 Eye-Opener

October 8, 2009

This post was contributed by Michael Roush, National Project Director for the National Disability Institute and “Chief Financial Officer” of his family.

Six years ago, my partner and I decided that we would spend one year analyzing our spending habits. It was during a time when I was finishing up graduate school, we both were working full-time and had set our sights on a real estate purchase. As we began examining our finances, we soon realized that we didn’t really know where our money was going. The journey to document every penny that we were spending began.

First on the list, our beloved local coffee shop. We loved coffee, the atmosphere, and the people. It had been our go-to stop in the morning before work, our post-lunch pick-me-up, our evening meet-up spot with friends. What’s more was that it seemed as though similar alluring coffee shops were on every street corner, wickedly tempting us — we couldn’t resist.

At the end of one year of analyzing spending habits, we were surprised to discover that we‘d spent nearly $3600 (!) on coffee and treats. It was the end of an era. But… the beginning of our quest to become financially fit and to build a stable financial future for ourselves. 

Constantly going back to the basics and analyzing our spending habits via our ever-illuminating (although sometimes disappointing) spending diary has been key to maintaining control over what I like to call our “own economy.” And these days, a multitude of online tools are available to make your “own economy” quest clickably easy. Mint.com, for example, is fantastic. Then there’s the saving grace of online banking — an automatic analysis of where your money goes each month, which you can see updated, every day. And our favorite, spendster.org, devoted to (ehem) impulse spending.

Consider the benefits of what it means to define your “own economy” and examine your spending habits for one month. Because no matter what your economic status or ability (or caffeine weakness), keeping track of where your money goes is wonderfully empowering and — occasionally — enlightening.

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