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3 Lessons Learned From Tracking My Weekly Spending (Plus Awesome Personal Finance Resources For You)

In the same moment last week that I splurged on a manicure and pedicure, I thought to myself, “I really need to do a better job tracking my personal finances.” Ironic, right? During my glorious pedicure, I committed to making a concerted effort to be smarter with my money, starting with a week-long experiment to track my spending.

Find out how the experiment went and be sure to scroll down for an awesome list of my top five must-read personal finance blogs.

Last Sunday, I tweeted:

Anyone know of a good website to track spending? Want to track all expenses for a week for a blog post.

I was super excited when Cat from Budget Blonde (a fabulous new-to-me blog that I’m really enjoying) replied to my tweet and said she’d be interested in participating. Cat’s blog is a fantastic resource for those looking to pay more attention to their personal finances and explores the topic of money, freelancing and traveling in a fun and personal way. Be sure to head over to her blog to check out how she did last week!

After browsing through a few recommended websites (Mint.com came out as the clear winner), I ultimately decided to kick it old school and simply saved my receipts, monitored my bank account and jotted down expenses in the notes section of my phone.

Lets see how I did.

Please note that the below purchases DO NOT include monthly expenses like my student loans, phone, gym membership, insurance or car payments. These are simply EXTRA purchases made throughout the week, often on impulse. They have also all been rounded to the nearest whole number, for simplicity’s sake.

Saturday: 
Manicure and pedicure- $65

Sunday:
Lunch at Panera- $10
K-Cups, a housewarming gift for a family member and a new Camelbak water bottle at Bed Bath and Beyond-$33

Monday:
Birthday lunch for a friend- $35

Tuesday:
Lunch (tsk tsk…I actually packed my lunch for work this day, but was tempted by the allure of Taco Tuesday with coworkers)- $8
Parking in the city- $12
Admission to an alumni event for my university- $5

Wednesday:
Nothing! Woo!

Thursday:
Gas for my car- $45
Breakfast during a meeting- $8

Friday:
Goodbye dinner for my sister before she headed back to college: $38
Froyo with my sister: $3

TOTAL: $262

YIKES. I’m not thrilled with how I spent my money last week, but tracking my weekly spending taught me three valuable lessons:

1. An online tool (or simple Excel sheet) will help with tracking and accountability. I knew I wanted to track my weekly spending, but I didn’t set up the tools to make this experiment a success. Instead of creating an Excel sheet or using Mint.com, I decided to save my receipts and jot down purchases in the notes section of my phone. Instead of diligently adding each expense as I made it, I waited until the end of the week and added it all up. Perhaps if I had made a more concerted effort to track each expense one by one, at the beginning of the week, I may have been more careful with my purchases later in the week.

2. Dining out= expensive. I  knew going into this experiment that my evenings out with friends and lunch trips would add up to the bulk of my spending, but I don’t think I realized just how much I spend on food/drinks weekly. In an average week, I generally go out to eat at least two times, and although I see that this is where my money is going, this is an expense I’m willing to undertake (within reason). Why is that? Dining out is usually the only time during the week that I catch up with friends or family; food, drinks and socializing seem to go hand-in-hand. However, one way I plan to curb this spending is by packing my lunch for work each day I have evening dinner plans, so that I’m only paying for ONE meal out, instead of two.

3. I treat myself far too often. I often purchase whatever I want and call it a treat, or convince myself that I “deserve it” for one reason or another. In other words, I’m very good at bribing myself. YES, there are situations where a reward is certainly deserved, but I often find silly excuses to splurge i.e. my pedicure last week.

This is just the beginning of my personal finance journey. Now that I’ve been out of school for a few years, am paying back loans and will eventually be looking to purchase my own home, I know that I need to pay more attention to my finances. How am I going to do this? I’ll document it on the blog, but to get started, I’m turning to other personal finance blogs and websites to help me get on track.

Here are a few of my current favorite personal finance resources:

Budget Blonde’s Budgeting Tips: As I mentioned above, I’m surprised Cat jumped to participate in this experiment, because to me, she’s already a wonderful resource for those interested in personal finance. These are some of Cat’s best posts featuring budgeting tips and her personal stories regarding saving money.

Careful Cents: Carrie Smith, the author behind Careful Cents (another new-ish to me blog that I LOVE), blogs about helping freelancers and entrepreneurs get out of debt to achieve their dreams. Her financial tools page is extremely useful.

14 Must-Read Personal Finance Blogs for Young Professionals: Carrie of Careful Cents (above) also wrote this fantastic post for Brazen Careerist featuring 14 awesome personal finance blogs. Browse this list; I promise you’ll find a few new blogs to add to your Reader.

Young Adult Money: This blog by David Carlson, consistently puts out solid content about personal finances specifically aimed at 20 and 30-somethings.

Money section of Life After College: Jenny Blake, author of the wonderful blog, Life After College, has TONS of resources on the Money page of her blog. She even offers a super simple budget template for FREE in this post.

Have you ever tracked your weekly spending? What did you learn? If you know of any other great personal finance resources, be sure to share in the comments below.

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Meet Jessica

I live by the saying “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and help others do the same to reach their biggest, brightest goals. Read my story here.

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