When I started university, my brother shared a simple Excel sheet with me and told me to start keeping monthly accounts. It seemed like a ridiculous idea at the time, to keep track of my expenditure when I barely had any luxury money to begin with, but I did it anyway. My friends thought I was crazy. Yes, everyone knew roughly how much they spent and what they spent it on, but I was one of the few ones who knew it to the last cent. I even started getting a certain kind of pleasure and satisfaction from completing and balancing accounts at the end of every month.
Ten years on, I don’t think there’s a better habit my brother could have passed down to me. (OK, there are plenty of other things he could’ve passed down, not least of which are the ability to manage a great fitness routine and the knack of keeping everything organised, but let’s not nitpick.) It’s one of the most useful lessons I’ve learnt regarding managing finances. Nothing about investments or stock markets or fixed deposits. Just plain old, straightforward record-keeping.
Even though I’ve been keeping track of my accounts for 10 years now, it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve really realised how much that habit has helped shaped the way I think about finances. For the first part of last year, I was unemployed, but living with my parents, so I wasn’t really spending anything from my own pocket. Coming back to Singapore, however, and trying to live a regular life while not earning a regular salary was harder than I’d thought it would be. When you get used to having a job and an income, it’s amazing how many things you take for granted.
Every single purchase started pinching, but against all odds, that was also when I got bitten by the online shopping bug. The brain is ridiculous. I guess it’s true what they say – you only want things when you can’t have them. I think I did more online shopping in that period than I had done before that or have since, and I wasn’t earning a single usable penny.
Somehow (and this is where I credit the account-keeping, which, despite my recklessness, was keeping me in check, at least on a subconscious level), I pulled through. By the time I started working full-time again, I was coasting on a fraction of my savings. Additionally, having taken a significant pay-cut for my new job, I had to rethink my lifestyle to make things work within my means. However difficult it might be to do that, I know this – it would’ve been so much worse had I not been introduced to the idea of money management early on in life.
At this point, I keep thinking of more and more things I want to do for myself (learn new skills, travel, etc.), all of which require money and that I should’ve started on when I had the moolah for it. Again, you only want things when they’re that much harder to get, right? Still, I’m not in a terrible position, and all these years of managing my finances have at least given me the confidence that things are always under my control, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
Thanks, brother. Next meal’s on me. 🙂