Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
A few weeks ago, I referenced the prevalence of financial illiteracy among college students. Until recently, I thought I might’ve been an exception; since they gave me my first birthday gift, my parents ingrained in me the virtue of saving money and avoiding temptation. Under their careful scrutiny, I’ve tried to minimize the financial drain that my mere existence incurs.
But college life is different from home life. I’ve experienced greater freedom here; not just in terms of academics and relationships, but also in my personal finances. Unfortunately, the proximity of Route 1 and the bevy of campus convenience stories, as well as the occasional late-night munchies, have wreaked havoc on my ever-dwindling bank account.
After browsing numerous lifestyle articles on The New York Times, I decided to try cataloging my purchases in a money diary. The concept is similar to journaling, except that only purchases are recorded. Ideally, using a money diary gives the user insight into their personal finances and allows them to cut unnecessary spending out of their lives — and I’ve found it very effective at doing its job.
There is some aversion, however, to the idea of noting every single purchase you make. Constantly quantifying every experience in terms of its monetary value can lead to an unhealthy obsession with money and detract from otherwise enjoyable events.
For example, when celebrating birthdays, you could be less inclined to splurge simply due to the lengthy list of purchases you would have to catalog. Luckily, I had nothing remotely important scheduled in the past week; as a result, I was able to fully immerse myself in my experiment.
The first purchase I made was a medium iced coffee from McDonalds that cost around two dollars. Content with my drink, I made a brief note on my phone and continued to class. On my way back that evening, I passed through Stamp Student Union again and was tempted to grab dinner from Panda Express. As I recorded this on my phone, I suddenly realized that I would be spending a minimum of ten dollars for a meal. While this isn’t an obscene amount, it seemed excessive when the diner was only five minutes away.
Over the next couple of days, I began to be more aware of my daily purchases. Buying overpriced chips from the convenience store to satisfy cravings can easily add up to a significant expense. In addition, household supplies from Target could add up to 20 to 30 dollars depending on the brand.
In the end, the money diary has given me greater control over my personal finances. The inconvenience of writing down an unnecessary purchase was often enough to stop me from reckless spending. In addition, the frequent documentation allowed me to holistically analyze my expenses at the end of the week and pinpoint the greatest source of waste — eating out and purchasing snacks from the convenience store.
For all the students out there struggling to manage your finances, a money diary is definitely a concept worth exploring; while it can feel contrived, it ultimately is a great way to delegate responsibility to yourself. Another feature that’s worth exploring is the social aspect revolving around public diaries on the internet. You can compare your own journals to other individuals in similar financial situations and learn from their habits.