“I can’t help you if you don’t know what you spend.”

There I was, in my 30s. All full of vim and vigour. All ready to take my financial life in hand. You know, as an independent woman and all. I thought I should start to, um, invest and stuff.

I’d done the research. I’d found a respected independent financial advisor. I’d made the appointment. I was ready to be responsible. I was ready to have a “savings plan doodad” and a “retirement annuity thingiemebob” and an “investment portfolio whatsit”. I was ready to be impressively organised.

We sat down. I happily warbled on about how I had no debt. How I didn’t have any store cards. See, clever old me. Already half way there to being a financial genius.

He seemed unimpressed.

“Let me see your budget,” he said.

Um. Ja. About that. Who’s got time for budgets, man. I just want to know what I should be doing.

He raised a stern eyebrow at me and uttered some pretty heavy shit.

“I can’t help you if you don’t know what you spend.”

And then he sent me home!

I was smacked of gob. Surely this man was supposed to be selling me policies and planning my retirement fund?

Nope. He was giving me homework. I had to track my spending for 3 months before I was allowed to come back. Every cent, cash, credit card or otherwise, had to be entered into a little spreadsheet.

So I did. And it was the single most powerful financial exercise I’ve ever undertaken.

It was revealing and horrifying in equal measure. Not in a Kardashian kinda way. But more in that oh, god, do I REALLY spend that much on takeaways every month kinda way. All my unconscious spending right there in excel black and white. Every quick lunch, every ad hoc moment of retail therapy, every ridiculous kitchen gadget bought without thought. All adding up to some serious loola.

It gave me a hard, honest, unrelenting look at financial me. It was not a pretty sight. But it did open the door for a far more frank conversation about what I wanted to be spending my hard won dosh on. And what it was all going to mean for my ability to afford a bond, or buy a car or have a baby.

The added bonus? When the car finance or bond people give you an “income and expenditure form” – you can fill it in quick sticks. Or when your mate asks you if you know what you spend on average on groceries – hell yes, to the cent. Or when the school you have your eye on wants to do a budget check – no problemo. Makes me feel like SUCH a grown up!

I still do it, every single month (and it’s a bagillion times easier now that 22seven has been invented – go guys!). I’m still regularly horrified (I really should buy shares in Woolies. Or that little sushi place on Trill Street in Obs). But a decade on, I feel like that goal to be a little more financially responsible is on track. And at this rate, I’ll even be able to afford my little dude’s school fees. Winning!

Originally written for 22seven

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