The Twenty-Something Series: How following a budget for six months changed my spending habits

Six months on from trying to track my spending, I've saved some money and changed a few habits...

Earlier this year, you may remember I posted that I had finally started budgeting and tracking everything I was spending.

This wasn't something I'd ever done before - or whenever I had tried, I had consistently failed within a week or two. 

But, lo and behold, we are six months down the line, and I have tracked every single penny I've spent for that entire time. (I'm very proud. Can you tell I'm proud? This feels like a big achievement.)

How I've kept it up

First thing you might ask is how in the hell I've gone from not being able to budget or know what I'm spending my money on to managing to follow it all for six months solid. 

I think the method I chose was a big help. Using Numbers on Apple means I could do it on-the-go after each individual purchase on my phone, or if I hadn't done it for a while, I could sit at my computer and check through my banking apps and list everything from there. I also made sure that I never left it longer than about ten days before doing that - I'd pop a reminder in my ToDoist app if it had been a while. I also kept receipts where I could, as a physical reminder to update the tracker.

Another motivator was this was taxes. Whenever it's time to sit down with my accountant to go over my income and expenses from being an author, I'll go through my accounts, and no doubt there will be a few things that just really puzzle me - if only because the date on my bank statement is a day or two after whatever event or trip actually took place. Keeping close track of everything is something I know is going to make getting everything ready for my accountant so much easier.

How much I've saved

I've actually managed to save around £2,000 in the last six months, which I'm pretty pleased with! Especially when I had several birthdays and leaving dos to contend with, a wedding to go to and a splurge on going to The Lion King in London.

I wouldn't say I've been actively trying to save from my salary - it was more a case of trying not to spend quite as much. It's certainly curbed my impulse buying, and it's stopped me from nipping into town at lunch for a break and ending up buying a new blouse and a coffee and sandwich. 

What I've learned

I think the biggest thing I've learned is just that it's worthwhile, paying more attention to what I'm spending - and saving. Looking back at how much I'd spent versus what I'd saved also made me more driven to put a little more away each month. 

Tracking my spending regularly - at least once a week - and comparing it to how much I had left in my budget - also made me a lot more conscious of what I was planning for the rest of the month. For example - if I'd blown through all my socialising budget by the 10th of the month, how many more leaving dos or meet-ups with friends did I have in the diary for the next couple of weeks? What was a realistic budget that month, if I needed to readjust? Was there somewhere else I could cut down my spending?

I also readjusted the budget a couple of times. If I had a six-monthly bill due, I'd alter the utilities budget. If I hadn't been spending as much on groceries as I originally thought I would, I lowered it. That was a pretty useful exercise, too. I mean, paying my water bill every six months - I'm not considering that 'over budget' - instead, I increased the budget and knew I'd probably be saving a bit less that month. I did, however, manage to keep the budget below my paycheck from my day job each month, which has helped me continue to put a little bit aside even when it's been an expensive month.

I've definitely learnt to think twice about whatever I'm spending money on, and understood what I can afford - and what I could cut down on, if I ever needed or wanted to.

And actually, it's helped me think more about what I want to be doing - nights out or days in with friends, afternoons shopping, going to the theatre or the cinema... I've stopped to think, 'What do I want to do this month?' so many times and had a lot more fun for it.

I'm not saying that keeping a close eye on your finances is a lot of fun, and it's definitely daunting, but it is a useful exercise - and never too late to get started. 

If you have any tips on budgeting, or want to share how you manage your money, I'd love to know - share in the comments or let me know over on Twitter, @Reekles!

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