One of the things that you will discover is I really like numbers and data, more so as I’ve gotten older and presumably wiser. I trust the raw numbers because there is an absolute truth to them; they paint the real story. That gets us to the next and final part of my trilogy on expense tracking first we started with collecting the data then the analysis and now we’re onto the adjustment and continuous tracking.
But first a word from our sponsor, common sense! This last step has the biggest chance of failure. I say that from experience because if I run into issues it’s probably because I tried to adjust too much and didn’t track enough. Proceed with some measure of caution and you should be fine. Remember if you fail or something doesn’t work reset and readjust.
Now back to our regularly scheduled post: Adjustment and tracking. Now that we have the analysis, you should have a sense of where some changes might be needed. If you’ve overspent on groceries (like I have) then you make a conscious effort to spend less. First, you adjust then you monitor.
If you look back at the first two steps and more specifically your analysis you will have the data as it compares to what you were expecting. There is likely a gap in a few areas and here is when you can actually do something about it. You can either adjust your spending or you can adjust your expectations. It comes down to what makes the most sense for you.
Let me illustrate with an example, our grocery spending from my last post was about 25% higher than I expected for most of 2020. The first step will be to adjust our spending because I am pretty sure that I had budgeted enough. This will be done by changing where we shop and what we choose to eat. Another aspect of this will be to watch out for unnecessary purchases and those items we buy on a whim. We live in an expensive city so I am not surprised that the costs are high, but I am also sure that with a little effort we can bring this down. If this fails, then I will need to look at adjusting what we budget in a typical month for groceries.
The key to this adjustment will be the common sense I mentioned earlier. If you try to adjust too much you are just setting yourself up for failure. The goal of this adjustment is to bring your spending to a level where you are comfortable with it (and it works financially). Trying to cut certain costs down too much is unfeasible. The perfect example here is if you spend $250 per month on gas to get to work, trying to cut that in half is going to be really hard.
I’ve mentioned before that I like numbers; I’ve even written about what gets measured gets managed. If you make an adjustment to your planned spending, you have to see if it is working. This is where continuous tracking or monitoring kicks in. You need to see if the changes you made are working and there is nothing more concrete when it comes to experiments than data. Use the steps you applied to Step I and II and keep an eye on your spending. This step doesn’t have to be too challenging if you keep up your cadence with your expense tracking. The last step in the process takes you back to the first and you see the results. The goal is to align your actual spending with your expectations, you need to know where your money goes so that you can make sound decisions about your money.
I mentioned in earlier posts that expense tracking can be fluid based on a lot of different aspects of your life. If you are trying to make adjustments you need to shorten the feedback loop, you can’t go 6 months between tracking if you’re trying to get your grocery spending down by 25%. It won’t work. You need to know if the changes you made are having the effect you wanted, your feedback loop needs to align timewise.
If your adjustments fail don’t get discouraged, you might have been a little too ambitious. Reset with a slightly different number. If you can’t cut your grocery spending by 25% then maybe cut it by 15%. You need to get to a place where there is a balance.
Importance of the tracking step
One of the main reasons that the tracking falls down for me is it is tedious, and I haven’t found a way to automate it yet that I am happy with (yes, I know it’s possible). While this step can seem tedious it adds that needed feedback loop so you can see what is working and what isn’t. This allows you to adjust as necessary and hold yourself accountable, the data don’t lie.
The goal of this whole process is to have a good understanding of where your money goes and not just a vague thought. If you know how much you are spending it makes it that much easier to live within your means. It also makes planning that much easier. Steps I, II, and III naturally flow into each other and then back to the beginning. Always remember this is a process if something doesn’t work as you expected, adjust, and try again.