Financial fitness is in the inches

Earlier in Jan I committed to keeping a diary of my spending. I did it, but the results are not particularly pretty.

Here are the metrics I used:

  • Planning (i.e. I planned and expected to spend this money)
  • Mindfulness (i.e. I didn’t just spend without first thinking about the consequences)
  • Enjoyment (Money is just a tool for living – it’s not an end in itself)

All of these get scores out of 5. My aim was to get an average of 3.5 over the period.

Two weeks have now flown by and the results of the exercise are … eye opening. At first I thought about publishing the actual numbers of my spending but I’m wimping out. Too much transparency is not a good thing.

Week one:

I started out really strong – spending on stuff I planned and thinking about my spending. Lots of functional spending – buying stuff I actually need and not just the first thing that pops into my mind. But the birthday of a loved one and the resulting excitement meant the week ended in tatters.

My scores for the week:

  • Planning: 3.15
  • Mindfulness: 2.29
  • Enjoyment: 4.43

Week two:

The problem with cheating a diet (whether nutritional or financial) is that cheating quickly becomes the norm. It was an exceptionally enjoyable week with a trip to Paternoster and some wonderful meals. But mindfulness and planning … not so much.

My scores for the week:

  • Planning: 1.71
  • Mindfulness: 1.43
  • Enjoyment: 4.5

Overall results

Looking at my spending, I can see predictable patterns. When I’m feeling happy and carefree I tend to spend, spend, spend. When I’m a bit more calm, I tend to hold myself in check a bit more. And, as I suspected, it’s not really the big expenses that are a problem – it’s all the little bits and bobs that eventually add up.

What’s interesting is that spending and enjoyment don’t seem to correlate exactly for me. There are days when I was careless but relatively unhappy. It’s notable that in week 2, for instance, my enjoyment levels weren’t that much higher, even though my other two scores were much lower.

So now what?

I could be depressed about missing my targets and being such a spendthrift, but I’m really not. I had a great two weeks. But I do recognise that financial fitness is in the inches as much as it’s in the miles. I can’t neglect the day-to-day aspect just because I get the “big” stuff right.

This exercise has actually been relatively painless (if not particularly comfortable), so I’m going to continue it for the next few months. Thanks to 22Seven, it’s really simple to keep track of where my spending is happening, and how it compares to the goals I’ve set for myself. Looking at my finances daily gives me a nice sense of mindfulness.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I work for Publicis Machine, 22seven’s advertising agency. That said, I was using and writing about 22seven long before I moved here.