Should we write down every dollar we spend, or is doing this just a waste of time?

To answer this question requires some help from the divine wisdom of Yoda.

“Waste of time, it is, if you already know where your money goes. Yessss, hmmm.”

What the late 900-year-old registered lethal weapon is saying is, if you only ever have enough moolah to just get through a week … then yes, start tracking every dollar. Buy a small notepad and write down every cent you spend for a month.

The percentage of people who have done so and not been shocked at what they’ve spent? Maybe one per cent.

Budgeting basics. If you don’t know where your money goes, if money seems to slip through your fingers, if you seem to spend more than you earn … then the first step in setting a budget is knowing what you spend.

I’ve never seen a budget that didn’t have some fat in it. I’ve rarely seen a budget that didn’t have a lot of fat in it. Most budget problems stem from too much spending (over which they have control) rather than too little income (over which they have less control).

Next, go through each item of spending and mark it as either a “need” or a “want”. Obviously, it’s the “wants” that have to be cut back.

Sorry, but you don’t “need” a $4 take-away coffee. You want it. Same goes with most internet purchases, eating out too regularly, after-work drinks and all of those clothes that you’ve only worn once (or never).

Cutting out on non-essential spending is the easiest way to bring your budget back into the black.

Bruce Brammall is the author of Debt Man Walking ( and principal adviser with Castellan Financial Consulting.