All photos in this instructable are of my art work and are Copyright Lisa M. Yarost. All rights reserved. Please do not use these images elsewhere without permission! Thanks!
Step 1: Write It Down!
Here's a way most people cheat, and you don't want to cheat: If you go to the grocery store and take cash back, do not write that down as groceries. You haven't spent it... just taken it out of your account. You need to track what you do with it once it's spent. Likewise, if you go to a superstore like Walmart for your groceries, don't put your new CD that you picked up in your grocery expenses, just because you paid for it with your groceries. You want to know where the money really goes!
Step 2: Spy on Yourself!
I like to color my income in green, for some reason. :-)
When it comes to spending, you want to break that down into categories:
1. Fixed regular (like rent, subscriptions, car payments, student loans, insurance...)
2. Flexible regular (like utilities, transportation expenses, groceries)
3. Irregular (like unforseen medical bills, auto or home repairs, gifts, etc.)
4. Optional (Starbucks purchases, movies, alcohol, clothing, shoes, books, restaurants and fast food...) I like to put this category in red, because it's the one we need to watch!
Step 3: Add It All Up!
Now, add up all the income for the month, and write it in one column. Then add up each of the other categories, and write the totals in a second column. If your first column adds up to more than your second column, congratulations! You have made more money than you have spent this month! If your second column adds up to be more than the first, you have spent more than you made, much like the United States Federal Government.
Either way, you want to figure out how to get ahead so that the second column is smaller (or smaller yet) than the first.
Step 4: Is It Worth It?
Now, think about all of the things you marked that you want to spend less on, and come up with ways to do so. Do you spend too much money at the book store? (Guilty, as charged!) Then start using the library.
Do you buy too many lunches out or eat too much fast food for dinner? Stock up on frozen dinners or canned soup and sandwich fixings and make sure your lunch is ready the night before work.
Can't live without that horrendously expensive ColdStone ice cream? You might think differently once you consider the price difference between their stuff and a half-gallon of even the best grocery store ice cream.
Step 5: Apply Your Knowledge!
Knowing that you will have to write those expenses down in order to evaluate them at the end of the month may give you just the amount of time you need in order to change your mind.