You Manage What You Measure

You manage what you measure.

manage what you measure

As boring and clichéd as it sounds, the above statement is true.

I was resoundingly reminded of this just last week.
My 7-year-old daughter kept a food-diary for a few days as homework. Interestingly when it was completed she changed her mind about having a school prepared lunch going forward. You may recall I’d relented and started paying once more for school dinners. No longer. She now believes a packed lunch is healthier.

Today I’ve added £118 to the balance of cash generated from my Spring Sale. This takes me to £454. Only £146 to reach my self-imposed £600 target.

Would I have persevered with car-booting and eBaying had I not had a target? I’m not sure I would have. Once the initial enthusiasm and momentum had waned, maybe I would have slowed down on the decluttering.

If I hadn’t publically committed to a £50 weekly grocery budget last year, would I still be keeping my costs down? I can’t say for sure. What I do know is some 12 months on I am probably in excess of £2k better off (post tax) than the previous year.

Just 2 little steps, but in the right direction. Reducing spend whilst generating extra income.

What do all these steps have in common?

They were all measured. I set a target for each.

So, the food-diary incident got me thinking. What would I like to improve upon, on the path to a simple life, that may be floundering?

There are a few things. But the most relevant one I’d like to share here.

I’m going to keep a spend-diary. I have done this before. Lately I’ve been wondering whether I am slipping into bad habits that a diary would shame me into rectifying. Or more productively, stop me doing the misdemeanour in the first place knowing that it would be jotted in my little book for the world to see.

I sincerely believe that one of the reasons I am able to curtail spending so successfully is because I rarely carry cash and 90% of my spend is on credit card. There’s one bill at the end of the month, shouting from the rooftops how much I’ve spent and on what. It keeps me accountable.

One month (a long time ago) I spent £50 at the Golden Arches. The shock of seeing it there in black and white resulted in immediate action being taken. I vowed never to see such a figure again spent at a fast food outlet in one month.

I practice conscious spending, but I anticipate that there may be unnecessary spend slipping in. Or so I expect – I can’t say for sure? I love an experiment. So for the rest of the month I will write down everything I spend and analyse it at the end.

How about you? Do you find target setting helps when you need that extra push? How do you manage your spend?

{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Megyn @Unstuffed October 17, 2012, 5:22 pm

    I firmly believe that the more accountability and transparency, the better! One area I need to watch my spending is on groceries. We generally try to spend $100/week for the 4 of us, and I’m not sure how much we are sticking to it. However, now that The Hubs has to buy his beer separately, I’ve noticed we have a lot more left over. As for other spending, I tend to go through phases where I spend nothing for a very long time to spending a lot (okay maybe $300 at most) at once. I generally end up returning a lot of that shopping binge. However, I often find that I need it as I tend to be so tight with my money, I’d never part with it lol! Looking forward to seeing how your spending changes 🙂

    • EcoCatLady October 17, 2012, 8:21 pm

      Oh the beer! I fear squabbles over money and beer were one of the things that put the nail in the coffin with my relationship with my Ex. To him, beer was “food” so it should come out of our joint grocery budget… never mind the fact that I drank 1-2 beers per week and he drank 1-2 per hour! OK, that’s an exaggeration, but seriously, the dude couldn’t make it through a weekend without a case or two of beer. But the day I had to take money out of my savings account to feed HIS daughter because he had drained the joint account to buy beer, I knew the end was near!

    • simplybeingmum October 17, 2012, 8:57 pm

      When you lay all your cards out there’s no where to hide. Sometimes we need to take account and accept responsibility don’t we? It’s easy to have a bout of excusitus. Because I am careful with my spending it’s easy to buy the odd bit and piece here and there, because I don’t usually. But once you have cut out most unnecessary costs its all the tiny amounts that will make the difference going forward.

  • Megyn @Unstuffed October 17, 2012, 5:22 pm

    I firmly believe that the more accountability and transparency, the better! One area I need to watch my spending is on groceries. We generally try to spend $100/week for the 4 of us, and I’m not sure how much we are sticking to it. However, now that The Hubs has to buy his beer separately, I’ve noticed we have a lot more left over. As for other spending, I tend to go through phases where I spend nothing for a very long time to spending a lot (okay maybe $300 at most) at once. I generally end up returning a lot of that shopping binge. However, I often find that I need it as I tend to be so tight with my money, I’d never part with it lol! Looking forward to seeing how your spending changes 🙂

    • EcoCatLady October 17, 2012, 8:21 pm

      Oh the beer! I fear squabbles over money and beer were one of the things that put the nail in the coffin with my relationship with my Ex. To him, beer was “food” so it should come out of our joint grocery budget… never mind the fact that I drank 1-2 beers per week and he drank 1-2 per hour! OK, that’s an exaggeration, but seriously, the dude couldn’t make it through a weekend without a case or two of beer. But the day I had to take money out of my savings account to feed HIS daughter because he had drained the joint account to buy beer, I knew the end was near!

    • simplybeingmum October 17, 2012, 8:57 pm

      When you lay all your cards out there’s no where to hide. Sometimes we need to take account and accept responsibility don’t we? It’s easy to have a bout of excusitus. Because I am careful with my spending it’s easy to buy the odd bit and piece here and there, because I don’t usually. But once you have cut out most unnecessary costs its all the tiny amounts that will make the difference going forward.

  • Sharron October 17, 2012, 5:27 pm

    I too keep a spending diary, i struggled with this for a while forgetting to fill it in and what not, then i bought a filofax with a little section for finances. It made a huge difference and when i started filling it in i was shocked. My ‘Kids’ expenses are HUGE. Ballet lessons, driving lessons, school trips, school dinners, friends birthday parties etc. I really need to start reigning finances in they seem to be going up 🙁 not down!

    I forgot that you literally halved your food budjet, how do you think it will fare with the price hikes? A £2000 saving is such an acheivment. 🙂

    Sharron x

    • simplybeingmum October 17, 2012, 8:49 pm

      The spend on the Kids activities soon mounts up doesn’t it. We quickly went from just swimming lessons, to 4 activities – which in isolation didn’t sound too expensive but when added together… But they are all activities which we deem important, and also they enjoy them.
      Reigning in spend this time of year isn’t easy… and don’t you have birthdays also coming up?

      • Sharron October 18, 2012, 2:18 pm

        Yes that’s right, all the kids activities are important to them so it’s not somewhere i can cut back 🙁 So i try to in other areas. We have one birthday next month and to be honest christmas is mostly done, so the spending is out the way. We are having a scaled back christmas this year as we go to Florida in April 🙂

        I’m trying to keep my grocery budjet at £100 4 biggies, 2 littles, 2 cats, 2 dogs!

        Sharron x

  • Sharron October 17, 2012, 5:27 pm

    I too keep a spending diary, i struggled with this for a while forgetting to fill it in and what not, then i bought a filofax with a little section for finances. It made a huge difference and when i started filling it in i was shocked. My ‘Kids’ expenses are HUGE. Ballet lessons, driving lessons, school trips, school dinners, friends birthday parties etc. I really need to start reigning finances in they seem to be going up 🙁 not down!

    I forgot that you literally halved your food budjet, how do you think it will fare with the price hikes? A £2000 saving is such an acheivment. 🙂

    Sharron x

    • simplybeingmum October 17, 2012, 8:49 pm

      The spend on the Kids activities soon mounts up doesn’t it. We quickly went from just swimming lessons, to 4 activities – which in isolation didn’t sound too expensive but when added together… But they are all activities which we deem important, and also they enjoy them.
      Reigning in spend this time of year isn’t easy… and don’t you have birthdays also coming up?

      • Sharron October 18, 2012, 2:18 pm

        Yes that’s right, all the kids activities are important to them so it’s not somewhere i can cut back 🙁 So i try to in other areas. We have one birthday next month and to be honest christmas is mostly done, so the spending is out the way. We are having a scaled back christmas this year as we go to Florida in April 🙂

        I’m trying to keep my grocery budjet at £100 4 biggies, 2 littles, 2 cats, 2 dogs!

        Sharron x

  • Kim October 17, 2012, 8:11 pm

    Brilliant blog, given me lots to think about. The last few months i’ve been doing the main part of my shopping at Aldi, the amount i’ve been getting had slowly increased. I’m planning of lots of redecoration in the new year so need to find some funds, so i’ll be budgeting a lot more seriously. Thats a great idea keeping a check on your daily spends as you’ll find what your lacking in main shop, think i’ll try this in the run up to christmas and from this hope to set an amount for the weekly shop in the new year.
    Thanks for all the ideas 🙂

    • simplybeingmum October 17, 2012, 8:55 pm

      Thanks Kim – glad to hear you’re finding Aldi useful. Did you hear the Radio 2 slot on them a week or so back? They’ve been getting a lot of good press of late.
      Good luck on the budgeting!

  • Kim October 17, 2012, 8:11 pm

    Brilliant blog, given me lots to think about. The last few months i’ve been doing the main part of my shopping at Aldi, the amount i’ve been getting had slowly increased. I’m planning of lots of redecoration in the new year so need to find some funds, so i’ll be budgeting a lot more seriously. Thats a great idea keeping a check on your daily spends as you’ll find what your lacking in main shop, think i’ll try this in the run up to christmas and from this hope to set an amount for the weekly shop in the new year.
    Thanks for all the ideas 🙂

    • simplybeingmum October 17, 2012, 8:55 pm

      Thanks Kim – glad to hear you’re finding Aldi useful. Did you hear the Radio 2 slot on them a week or so back? They’ve been getting a lot of good press of late.
      Good luck on the budgeting!

  • EcoCatLady October 17, 2012, 8:25 pm

    This is so, SOOO true. I too use the one credit card system, because when that monthly bill comes in there’s no getting away from the stark reality of the numbers staring you in the face. When I first started tracking my spending eons ago, I discovered (much to my horror) that I was spending $50-$100 per month on pens. You red that right, PENS! I had a “thing” about fun colorful pens with big squishy grips and I just couldn’t control myself. When I finally had my “day of reckoning” I discovered that I owned (literally) several grocery sacks full of pens, pencils, markers and other writing utensils. Oy Vey!

    • simplybeingmum October 17, 2012, 8:53 pm

      Now that I read twice…yes I did do a double take when I saw pens. But we all have our weaknesses! I had to pop to Hobbycraft today (do you have them in US) and could have spent a small fortune. Fortunately I came away with just a cake board, some card and knitting needles – all of which had a very specific purpose. The cakeboard to hold a cake as a gift, the needles to make a gift for Christmas, and the card, well hat’s a whole other post! 🙂
      I can see the attraction of pens, they hold potential for loads of creative ideas, images and words. They are the door to our imagination.
      It’s great to hear I have a fellow credit card fan – they get a lot of bad press – but if used in a a certain way they are a very efficient way of spending.

  • EcoCatLady October 17, 2012, 8:25 pm

    This is so, SOOO true. I too use the one credit card system, because when that monthly bill comes in there’s no getting away from the stark reality of the numbers staring you in the face. When I first started tracking my spending eons ago, I discovered (much to my horror) that I was spending $50-$100 per month on pens. You red that right, PENS! I had a “thing” about fun colorful pens with big squishy grips and I just couldn’t control myself. When I finally had my “day of reckoning” I discovered that I owned (literally) several grocery sacks full of pens, pencils, markers and other writing utensils. Oy Vey!

    • simplybeingmum October 17, 2012, 8:53 pm

      Now that I read twice…yes I did do a double take when I saw pens. But we all have our weaknesses! I had to pop to Hobbycraft today (do you have them in US) and could have spent a small fortune. Fortunately I came away with just a cake board, some card and knitting needles – all of which had a very specific purpose. The cakeboard to hold a cake as a gift, the needles to make a gift for Christmas, and the card, well hat’s a whole other post! 🙂
      I can see the attraction of pens, they hold potential for loads of creative ideas, images and words. They are the door to our imagination.
      It’s great to hear I have a fellow credit card fan – they get a lot of bad press – but if used in a a certain way they are a very efficient way of spending.

  • dollymixtures4me October 17, 2012, 8:56 pm

    Keeping a spending diary since June has helped me become more conscious of my incidental spending and I love recording my ‘no spend days’. I have a set a budget for my monthly food shopping and am managing that well but would love to get it down even more. It requires a lot of discipline though. Well done on your savings.

    • simplybeingmum October 18, 2012, 11:04 am

      It does take perseverance but you can do it. Each week it gets easier and easier as long as you stick with it.
      One of my favourite quotes of all time is “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop” – Confucius
      Like the idea of marking no-spend days – oh very exciting I could display it like a reward chart!

  • dollymixtures4me October 17, 2012, 8:56 pm

    Keeping a spending diary since June has helped me become more conscious of my incidental spending and I love recording my ‘no spend days’. I have a set a budget for my monthly food shopping and am managing that well but would love to get it down even more. It requires a lot of discipline though. Well done on your savings.

    • simplybeingmum October 18, 2012, 11:04 am

      It does take perseverance but you can do it. Each week it gets easier and easier as long as you stick with it.
      One of my favourite quotes of all time is “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop” – Confucius
      Like the idea of marking no-spend days – oh very exciting I could display it like a reward chart!

  • Live and Learn-Toss and Turn October 17, 2012, 9:06 pm

    I too have kept a spending diary to see all of the little things were that we were spending money on. And you’re right, just knowing that you are going to be writing it down keeps you from buying some things.
    I also use one credit card for most of my purchases and pay it off each month. I just find that easier.

    • simplybeingmum October 18, 2012, 10:56 am

      A fellow credit card fan Yay! They get bad press, but it’s what you do with it that causes the problem, not the card itself. I’ve a feeling like you putting pen to paper is going to save me some extra cash!

  • Live and Learn-Toss and Turn October 17, 2012, 9:06 pm

    I too have kept a spending diary to see all of the little things were that we were spending money on. And you’re right, just knowing that you are going to be writing it down keeps you from buying some things.
    I also use one credit card for most of my purchases and pay it off each month. I just find that easier.

    • simplybeingmum October 18, 2012, 10:56 am

      A fellow credit card fan Yay! They get bad press, but it’s what you do with it that causes the problem, not the card itself. I’ve a feeling like you putting pen to paper is going to save me some extra cash!

  • Clare October 18, 2012, 12:16 am

    We write all our receipts in an accounting book (we could call it a spend diary) so we can keep track easily of what we have spent on and it really works for us, a tie-over from our old cash envelope system.
    I tried using cash, and, while it kept me on budget better because I could see it, I was always forgetting to take the right envelope to the shops and then having to try and fix my envelopes later. It was a hassle! Back to using the debit card now as we keep our mastercard for irregular work expenses that need reimbursing (easier to see when they are on their own card, and technically we are still operating a cash/envelope system, it’s just an electronic one!) and, while I have gone over budget several times lately (I have been sick for 5 weeks and seen the Dr 3 times!!! not to mention the Pharmacist!) it has actually been less stressful because I keep a buffer in the cheque account to cover unexpected expenses, which didn’t happen when i was walking around with cash 🙂

    • simplybeingmum October 18, 2012, 11:02 am

      Firstly Clare – I hope you are feeling better now? 5 weeks is a long time to be under the weather!
      Last week I thought (fortunately not) I’d lost my purse (do you call it a wallet in NZ like US?). Because I don’t carry cash the only real concern monetary wise was my credit card and debit card (I have to carry a debit card now because Aldi won’t take credit cards). I was more concerned about my library card and baby photos! One quick call and my credit/debit cards are stopped. If I were carrying say £50 cash for my groceries and I lost it, it’d be gone.
      I also like the traceability of using card. Today I’m taking back a hedge trimmer that’s faulty and although I do not have a till receipt from 18 months ago I do have my credit card statement with a transaction number on it.

      • Clare October 19, 2012, 12:49 am

        Tell me about it! It started with a cold, then turned into a sinus infection, now I have my first ever ear infection! And it’s been blowing a gale all week! Great excuse to wear a beret everywhere 🙂 NZ terms: My wallet is the thing I keep my cards in, my purse is my handbag 🙂 I totally agree about the traceability of credit/debit transactions, we just got our outdoor umbrella replaced that way too. I felt so uncomfortable carrying around cash, $10 here and there for incidental stuff (school mufti days, fundraising etc) is fine, but my full grocery shop (NZ$200+) really freaked me out. Sure, no one expects you to be carrying ‘actual’ money these days, but I still felt nervous. I’m glad we tried using cash, but in retrospect I think it was probably the spend diary part that actually made us more conscious about what we were spending in combination with setting a zero budget, rather than the fact we were using cash. And I learned I really like my plastic, responsibly used of course! 🙂

  • Clare October 18, 2012, 12:16 am

    We write all our receipts in an accounting book (we could call it a spend diary) so we can keep track easily of what we have spent on and it really works for us, a tie-over from our old cash envelope system.
    I tried using cash, and, while it kept me on budget better because I could see it, I was always forgetting to take the right envelope to the shops and then having to try and fix my envelopes later. It was a hassle! Back to using the debit card now as we keep our mastercard for irregular work expenses that need reimbursing (easier to see when they are on their own card, and technically we are still operating a cash/envelope system, it’s just an electronic one!) and, while I have gone over budget several times lately (I have been sick for 5 weeks and seen the Dr 3 times!!! not to mention the Pharmacist!) it has actually been less stressful because I keep a buffer in the cheque account to cover unexpected expenses, which didn’t happen when i was walking around with cash 🙂

    • simplybeingmum October 18, 2012, 11:02 am

      Firstly Clare – I hope you are feeling better now? 5 weeks is a long time to be under the weather!
      Last week I thought (fortunately not) I’d lost my purse (do you call it a wallet in NZ like US?). Because I don’t carry cash the only real concern monetary wise was my credit card and debit card (I have to carry a debit card now because Aldi won’t take credit cards). I was more concerned about my library card and baby photos! One quick call and my credit/debit cards are stopped. If I were carrying say £50 cash for my groceries and I lost it, it’d be gone.
      I also like the traceability of using card. Today I’m taking back a hedge trimmer that’s faulty and although I do not have a till receipt from 18 months ago I do have my credit card statement with a transaction number on it.

      • Clare October 19, 2012, 12:49 am

        Tell me about it! It started with a cold, then turned into a sinus infection, now I have my first ever ear infection! And it’s been blowing a gale all week! Great excuse to wear a beret everywhere 🙂 NZ terms: My wallet is the thing I keep my cards in, my purse is my handbag 🙂 I totally agree about the traceability of credit/debit transactions, we just got our outdoor umbrella replaced that way too. I felt so uncomfortable carrying around cash, $10 here and there for incidental stuff (school mufti days, fundraising etc) is fine, but my full grocery shop (NZ$200+) really freaked me out. Sure, no one expects you to be carrying ‘actual’ money these days, but I still felt nervous. I’m glad we tried using cash, but in retrospect I think it was probably the spend diary part that actually made us more conscious about what we were spending in combination with setting a zero budget, rather than the fact we were using cash. And I learned I really like my plastic, responsibly used of course! 🙂

  • Libby October 19, 2012, 4:02 pm

    I keep an envelope for each month and inside it I put the receipts from my spending. On the outside on one side I keep track of each VISA charge and on the other side I keep track of my cash spending.

    I’ve been using this system for several years and find it incredibly helpful to know exactly how much I have spent at any point in a month, find receipts quickly for rebates, returns, etc. It has made me much more conscious of my spending but also been the key tool to living well on not a lot of money.

    Kudos to you Jo for saving 2,000 pounds!!

    • simplybeingmum October 22, 2012, 9:21 am

      I like this idea Libby… I tried something similar with a bulldog clip – where I kept a note on top of how much I’d spent. I’m going to give it a try with none credit card purchases also.

  • Libby October 19, 2012, 4:02 pm

    I keep an envelope for each month and inside it I put the receipts from my spending. On the outside on one side I keep track of each VISA charge and on the other side I keep track of my cash spending.

    I’ve been using this system for several years and find it incredibly helpful to know exactly how much I have spent at any point in a month, find receipts quickly for rebates, returns, etc. It has made me much more conscious of my spending but also been the key tool to living well on not a lot of money.

    Kudos to you Jo for saving 2,000 pounds!!

    • simplybeingmum October 22, 2012, 9:21 am

      I like this idea Libby… I tried something similar with a bulldog clip – where I kept a note on top of how much I’d spent. I’m going to give it a try with none credit card purchases also.

  • Rachel October 22, 2012, 2:22 am

    This post is timely for me. This month I’ve taken a very aggressive approach to our grocery budget and household spending. Every receipt is saved, totals are written on the envelope, and a month of dinners were planned at the beginning. At the end I’ll be starting a price book based off the receipts so I can start doing price comparisons. I’ll also track how much we spent in each category as well as where we can trim a bit.
    It’s fascinating to me how much we spend in certain areas. Take gasoline (petrol) for instance: I fill my car once a week, but before this month I’d no idea exactly how much that amounted to each month. Because I’m more conscious of the amount I’ve found that while we live in a inexpensive home it might actually be more fiscally responsible to move to a more expensive neighborhood due to all the commuting it would save us.
    “You manage what you measure” is not a saying I’m familiar with, but as you can see, I am fully aware of it’s truth. It’s always a good idea to take the time to be more conscientious of something when it becomes rote and habit.

    • simplybeingmum October 22, 2012, 9:25 am

      Rachel you are spot on… complacency easily creeps in. Because I don’t spend a huge amount of bits and pieces I do wonder if I get a little too pleased with my efforts and therefore careless at times? It’s always beneficial to call yourself into question from time to time. Interestingly since starting my spend diary – I have spent more. This may just be circumstance in that I had stuff to buy, or it may be that I wasn’t aware of how much i had been buying. It’s getting a busy time of year with Birthdays and occasions and spend is creeping up. I’d love to hear how you get on…please keep us posted!

  • Rachel October 22, 2012, 2:22 am

    This post is timely for me. This month I’ve taken a very aggressive approach to our grocery budget and household spending. Every receipt is saved, totals are written on the envelope, and a month of dinners were planned at the beginning. At the end I’ll be starting a price book based off the receipts so I can start doing price comparisons. I’ll also track how much we spent in each category as well as where we can trim a bit.
    It’s fascinating to me how much we spend in certain areas. Take gasoline (petrol) for instance: I fill my car once a week, but before this month I’d no idea exactly how much that amounted to each month. Because I’m more conscious of the amount I’ve found that while we live in a inexpensive home it might actually be more fiscally responsible to move to a more expensive neighborhood due to all the commuting it would save us.
    “You manage what you measure” is not a saying I’m familiar with, but as you can see, I am fully aware of it’s truth. It’s always a good idea to take the time to be more conscientious of something when it becomes rote and habit.

    • simplybeingmum October 22, 2012, 9:25 am

      Rachel you are spot on… complacency easily creeps in. Because I don’t spend a huge amount of bits and pieces I do wonder if I get a little too pleased with my efforts and therefore careless at times? It’s always beneficial to call yourself into question from time to time. Interestingly since starting my spend diary – I have spent more. This may just be circumstance in that I had stuff to buy, or it may be that I wasn’t aware of how much i had been buying. It’s getting a busy time of year with Birthdays and occasions and spend is creeping up. I’d love to hear how you get on…please keep us posted!

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