Like most folks I balanced my check book every month or so and kept a loose running tally of what monies were available. More than a few times I scrambled at the end of the month to cover shortfalls and occasional over drafts. Finding money in piggy banks, pockets, and sometimes cleaning out the couch. Too often I ran short at the end of the month, even without unexpected expenses.
I had created a budget and outlined when to make payments each month, but there was never enough money to cover all of the bills. I had even tried to build some flex into my budget. Because I knew that if I didn't set aside a little spending money for hanging out with friends I would get frustrated and tend to **** out on the whole budget.
One of my friends got tired of me bitching, about digging for change, that she suggested I figure out where I really spent my money. She suggested that I track literally every penny, (for drinks, pizzas, or anything else I spent money on) every day for three months. We made a bet as to whether or not I would follow through. So beginning the first of the next month I recorded everything that I spent money on. It was harder than I thought and the first two weeks there were many apx. (approximate) notations because I did not write everything down right away and I did not collect receipts.
Within thirty days I was regular at noting my spending and I began to notice some trends. First, I always gave the benefit of my mental approximations in my favor. This meant I gave myself permission to spend money that had been set aside for other things. Second, I bought a lot more junk food and beverages than I thought I did. Especially damaging was the night out after I got paid and felt flush. Third, impulse purchases (I probably did not really need another light saber.) were eating away at the flexibility I had included in my budget. Finally, overdraft fees ate even further into my budget and sent my finances into a tailspin.
I won the bet, but it was still many months before I got a real handle on my finances. It took some hard consideration about how, when and where I spent money. The first step was an honest appraisal of where my money was going and why it was going there. I learned how to build up a cushion, not much, but a few bucks for a planned splurge every month instead of unplanned splurges every week and I stopped relying on lost and hidden change to make ends meet. I still track where the money goes and I have fewer overdrafts and missed bills. Not perfect yet, but much closer now.