Keep a Money Diary!

Detailed records will give you a more accurate reading on finances and spending.

But it is not so high till you realize only N34, 500 was for eating out the month. The other N9,700 was for toiletries and sundry stuff, such as laundry, mosquito spray, minor repairs carried out in the house, and perfumes.

The difference, though quite a lot, appears misleading without proper recording. A lot passes through our hands without us realising how much we have at our disposal that the discipline to re-order our lives is simply filtered away. The consequences are nights of frustrating dreams where you engage your time of rest for an accounting course in reconciliation and expenditure planning. This unfortunately is also a striving against the wind, as you simply cannot keep track of all the expenses in your head.

Knowing how much you’re spending, rather than relying on overly simplistic formulas or vague estimates, is the best way to estimate how much you’re likely to spend in retirement and how much you need to save now.

I have been keeping a detailed money diary since 2004. I cannot tell you how much this has helped my expenditure. When I started, I kept money diary in tiny pocket notes. Today, I use the Microsoft Excel tool. Whichever way you get started, find some recordkeeping tips, based on suggestions from the MoneyWise editors:

1. Just get started, today. Getting started is the hardest part because you may keep thinking it is too much bother and other people, not knowing any better, may poke fun at you for what you do. But consider this: If we expect the Government to accurately account for all income and expenses, why won’t we do it with our money?

2. Do not get discouraged if you slip. Despite your best intentions, you may simply forget to write down what you spent one day (this occurs some times). Although your goal is to write down everything, you will gain valuable insights even if you leave some things out.

3. As you keep your diary, or enter or download, your expenditures in your computer program using excel (as I do now), assign a category to everything. You can decide what that category is. For example, you may classify a meal at a fine restaurant as “dining out” or “entertainment,” and a quick lunch-hour bite at a fast-food joint during the workday as “food” or “lunch out.”

In addition, split expenditures into as many categories as needed even if all the money is spent in one place. (As I wrote earlier, for example, not all the money we spend at the market is for food items.)

The important thing is to avoid lumping too many expenses into a “miscellaneous” category. That does not tell you anything or help you discover where your money goes.

In fact, it may be a red flag, and a big one, if you find that a big chunk of your money is being spent for “miscellaneous.”