I didn't used to be one for keeping New Year's resolutions. Sure, I made them, but as with most of us, they fell by the wayside after a few days.
But in 2012, I made a resolution that I actually kept 95 percent of the time. I decided to keep track of whatever money I spent. I carry a small calendar in my purse and every time I spent any money — whether the $73.39 for the water bill or a 75 cent candy bar from the vending machine — I wrote it down in my little calendar book. It's nearly the end of the year, and I've done really well. I can open it to any day — let's check May 25: $22.68 at Saigon restaurant, 80 cents for M&Ms, $52.60 at Meijer's (must have been payday!) — and I have all the details of my spending written down.
The goal of this resolution was for me to figure out where my paycheck was disappearing to. And when I go back and look, I've gained a new appreciation of just what I should be doing with my money. I can see where I can cut back now. Did I really need to spend $14.01 at McDonalds on July 30? Or $7.65 at Starbucks Sept. 7? (There seems to be an inordinate amount of spending at fast-food joints. Hmmm.)
And sure, I have most of this in my monthly bank statement. The idea was to keep track of the little bits of money that seemed to just disappear by writing them down after forking over the change. Somehow, the simple act of taking pen to paper made the transaction more real. With so many of our payments made electronically these days, there's not the sense of actual cash changing hands, so writing it down memorialized it.
So how can I meet 2013 with a new resolution? I'll keep my money-tracking resolution. It's not so much a resolution as much as a way of life anymore. What can I challenge myself to do in 2013 that will make life better? I know what my mom would say: Make it through the day without spending any money at all. Maybe that's what I'll do.
That's not totally practical; after all, I still have to pay the mortgage and other bills. But now that I have a sense of where my funds are going, maybe now I can reduce that outflow a little more each day. So that will be my goal: Spend as little as possible. And given that we're about to fall off a national fiscal cliff, it's a goal I might not have a choice about!
What are your New Year's Resolutions?