by Marsha Rakestraw

$300 on meals out. $50 for your caffeine buzz. A new shirt. The book you have to have (and then never read).

In our super-sonic consumer culture focused on instant gratification and the future, we so easily disconnect from how much money we’re spending and what we’re spending it on.

Does what we’re buying really reflect our deepest values?

Are we making choices that do the most good and least harm for ourselves, other people, other animals, and the earth?

We don’t know, because thanks to debit cards, online shopping, and cash machines, we don’t have to slow down long enough to pay attention.

In the book Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, one of the most powerful steps in the book is to track EVERY PENNY of our income and expenses for at least one month (preferably several) and categorize those expenses, so that we can see where our money goes and whether or not how we’re spending it (and how much we’re spending) truly reflects your values.

My husband and I discovered YMOYL more than 15 years ago.

I came from a family of blithe materialism and instant gratification (whether we could afford it or not), so accumulating debt and spending what we earned was the default paradigm for me.

My husband and I decided to track our expenses and income — every single penny — for about a year and a half.

We were shocked and horrified at what we discovered.

Money flowed like water through our hands, trickling to this expense and that one, and we didn’t even make that much money. These were the times when we were excited to have money left in the bank at the end of the month.

Once we’d started paying attention to the impact of our financial choices, both on our bank account and on others, we began to spend in ways that were more aligned with our values and to make purchases with deliberation and mindfulness.

We also sought out creative strategies for getting our needs met in less expensive (or free) ways.

In a matter of months we had paid off our car loan, eliminated our credit card debt, and found a simpler, saner relationship with money.

And continuing to follow a philosophy of voluntary simplicity and money mindfulness allowed us to pay off our mortgage only six years after acquiring it, and to remain debt-free thus far.

Once we discover where our money is going, we can make conscious, informed choices about whether our purchases and how much we’re spending are aligned with our values and our vision for a healthy, joyful world.

So find a means of recording your income and expenses (whether in a notebook or one of the numerous free apps you can download to a smartphone), and then take a few minutes each day to record that day’s expenses (remember to include any automatic deductions or deposits) – every penny!

Your Turn!

  • How do you maintain mindfulness about how your spending reflects your values?
  • What are your favorite tools for helping you track your expenses?