We've been traveling for the past week. Now I have a big stack of receipts sitting on the table, waiting for me to type them into my October spreadsheet. For the past 4 or 5 years I've been tallying every single expense on vast monthly spreadsheets. In general, I enjoy having the data and understanding where the money goes. I ponder each category and muse on the budget and examine the comparisons from year to year.
It's not the first time I've done this careful expense tracking. I learned at my father's knee. We would spend evenings reviewing the logs he kept and the 25-year budgets he made that got my sister and I through college and a comfortable retirement for him and my mother. When I moved out and my husband and I were saving for our first house, I started logging like I had been taught and saved like crazy to amass that first $10,000 we ever had.
I know there are tools that do all this logging now. I tried some. I think I stopped using them because it was almost too easy. Using a tool that monitored my credit cards took away all the manual data entry which had allowed me the time to ruminate about why that particular $20 was spent. I felt I needed the counting. It's just like watching the calories on a diet.
I find, with this particular stack of receipts, that I am tired. I think it's time to take a break from the obsessive counting and tallying. Does writing down an expense after it's been spent really change my behavior? Does knowing how much we lived on last year really help me? After all, at then end of the month, do I have more than I started with or not? Isn't that all I need to know?
Months and years can be very different from months and years in the past. Is it really necessary to know how much we spent on books in October of 2012? Is it any prediction of what I might spend on books this month? We're moving this month. That will stretch many of the budget categories out of whack.
Is it a budget or an expense log? What is its purpose? Does it keep me on a track, or does it just make me a compulsive penny pincher? Is it worth my time?
I know most of the planned expenses that are in the next 6-12 months. There are some trips, I need some dental work, the holidays are coming. Isn't that enough?
I may just toss this stack of receipts away. Some were hotel rooms, some were meals - we slept and we ate - it's over. It's time to take a break from counting it all. That doesn't mean spending will get all out of control. It just means I might relax a bit about examining it, rehashing it and saving all the details.