After years and years of reading personal finance tips and tricks, here I will reveal how I keep track of finances. Consider it an example or a cheat sheet of sorts. Because of this, I have not paid one single late fee or unwanted interest charges in my adult life.
I track my spending
Every single expense gets logged into my expense-tracking app (review). I have 16 categories.
In bold= Expenses that can’t be avoided, but I try to get the most of it when I can (example: getting reward points when paying for electricity).
In italic= Things that I pay for in order to get better quality of life, to avoid turning bat-shit crazy and avoid being an uninteresting person in general. I don’t put a limit, but I don’t go overboard.
- Business – website maintenance, tools
- Dates – self-explanatory
- Donations & Gifts – self-explanatory
- Food – for the occasional Chatime and Rotiboy
- Groceries – Gotta eat.
- Insurance & Medical – self-explanatory
- Loan Repayment – PTPTN loan paid off! Only ASB loan left.
- Misc Needs – Things I need to function as an adult. Doesn’t occur frequently enough to warrant its own sub-categories. Ranges from new replacement laptop, sunblock lotion, home repair costs, etc
- Misc Wants – Things I want, usually when I’m weak and/or can’t resist a great deal. Stuff like new clothes, jewelry,
- Mobile – self-explanatory; usually my prepaid topups. Read how I get cheaper prepaid here.
- Parking & Toll – self-explanatory
- Petrol – self-explanatory
- Pets – new category! Added when Yoshi came into my life.
- Public Transport – More relevant back in KL, now it’s mostly for KL-Ipoh trips.
- Social – Gotta meet people and socialise.
- Utilities & Rent – self-explanatory
These categories are personalised for me based on my spending pattern. Add/subtract/adjust as necessary. If you want to check how much you spend for fashion/makeup/gaming/someotherhobby on a monthly basis, this is a good way to find out as well. If you just want two categories : Necessary Purchase and Unnecessary Purchase, feel free to do that too.
The thing is, most people already know that it’s beneficial to track their spending, but they don’t do it, then they give up because the ‘data is faulty and incomplete anyway’. What helped me are these habits:
- Having an expense tracking app in my phone – super convenient
- Logging the expense as soon as the money left my wallet/bank account
- Asking for receipts if I can’t log it straight away, and keep it in wallet to log later
- Logging a rounded up number if I can’t remember the exact amount
I check and double check all things related to my finances
Let me tell you about a real incident. I was at PWTC for some Raya bazaar. There was a vendor selling ice cream. I wanted ice cream. It was RM4 each, and I bought two – one for me, one for my date. I didn’t have small change, so I handed a RM50 note. The vendor gave me the change – RM32 – RM10 short. I asked him for the balance, he denied shortchanging me, but I countered and received the balance.
If I didn’t check there right on the spot, the vendor could have accused me of making it up. Even worse, I could have not noticed at all and just allow this completely avoidable financial leak. This is not an isolated incident – these things happen all the time. Grocery shopping? Sometimes items get rung up wrongly. Just because it’s a machine and relies on database doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect system. Check that tally like a hawk.
Things that I check:
- Receipts (I will habitually ask for it even though I don’t need it)
- Bank statements, credit card statements
- Mobile phone statement (my parents were charged for hundreds of RM4 texts for YEARS before I put a stop to it. They have lost thousands)
- Anything that you have to sign. Decimal points matter.
I see frugalism and minimalism as values to live by
I love the phrase “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
This is, of course, at odds with consumerist culture.
But you know what? The things I have denied myself – that cute shirt, that cool game console – have allowed me the ability to do what I want, when I want, which is infinitely so much better than a temporary high. I was unhappy in one of my previous jobs, so I quit, and didn’t have to worry about making rent because I had savings. The same savings allowed me to make impromptu trips. Give random gifts. Help out my sister’s wedding. Do things that matter.
I still do brainless purchases sometimes, especially when it comes to food… My journey is not perfect, and neither am I. We’re all trying to get the best quality of life. Money whould help you with that, not stress you out.