This Simple Journal May be the Fix for Your Finances


If you'd like an organized system to help you track the past, plan the present, and look to the future, a bullet journal is just what you need. If you already live your life according to a to-do list, then this journal will help you organize the millions of to-do lists that you have for every part of your life.

A bullet journal, originally created by Brooklyn-based digital product designer Ryder Carroll, is a to-do list that can help you manage your finances, track your expenses, and budget more effectively. You can even use it to help you save more. Your spending book can assist with financial planning by helping you set goals and track them on a daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly basis.

How to Use It

A bullet journal can be used for whatever you need. It can help you keep better track of your work projects, organize your daily life, or improve your finances. The purpose of this journal is to jot down quick bullet point notes, rather than writing out full sentences. This is referred to as "rapid logging" and can help save you time.

How to Make One

You can find a number of bullet journal budget layouts online. The most important thing is to have a quality journal that is the right size, so you can take it with you anywhere you need. Most journal enthusiasts recommend getting a journal with dotted lines, as this makes it easier to adapt to different layouts. Some bullet journal enthusiasts also recommend finding a journal that already has a blank index and numbered pages to save you more time.

To get things started, there are some standard sections that are traditionally included in most bullet journals:

  • Index: Each page in your journal should have a page number, which you can reference in your index. This will help you quickly find whatever you need.
  • Daily Log: Keep track of everything you need to get done for the day. Tasks, events, and notes should be tracked for each day. For important bullets, mark them with a star to the left, so your eye will automatically go to this important task. Once you complete a task, add an X to the left, so you can see that it's been completed. When you're planning for the following month, simply move over any tasks that did not get completed (with an X) from the prior month.
  • Monthly Log: This will be split into each day of the month and can be used as a traditional monthly calendar.
  • Monthly Task List: Write down everything you need to get done over the month, such as paying bills.
  • Future Log: This can help you keep track of future events and goals, and can put your year at a glance. It's ideal for long-term goals, such as paying off a particular bill or increasing your monthly contribution to your retirement accounts.

To make your journal more effective, you'll need to master a few simple symbols so that you can easily categorize your tasks. The most commonly used symbols include:

  • A bullet is a to-do.
  • An X marks a task completed.
  • An O marks a big event.
  • A marks a note or quick thought.
  • A < marks a scheduled event.
  • A > means you procrastinated and need to move that task to the following day, week, or month.

If you don't like these symbols, you can use whatever you prefer. If you tend to get confused or can't remember what the symbols mean in the beginning, simply keep a key in the front or back of your journal.

How the Journal Relates to Your Finances

With a bullet journal, your past, present, and future can meld into one. This will allow you to look back and see what has worked and what hasn't. In order for this to work, you need to track your successes along the way. Think of it as your financial diary. Be honest about what you purchased, whether those purchases were worth it, how you saved extra money every month, and how much closer you're getting toward your financial goals.

Track a Single Goal

If you have trouble with one particular task, and you feel gratification from crossing things off your to-do list, then consider focusing on one goal that you can track in your journal. Simply set one line for each month (with numbers for each day of the month) and cross off each day that you are able to achieve this goal. Some of the best things to track include taking lunch to work every day (saving you a hefty sum every month) and not spending money on an expensive habit (like drinking, eating out, or buying cigarettes).

Determine What You're Saving For

First, you want to figure out what you're saving for and when you'd like to reach that goal. Separate one page into four sections, for this year and the next three years. Mark what you'd like to save for in each year. You can also keep a page of things that you want, so you can keep your eye on the prize, rather than just buying everything you want on the spot.

Find fun ways to save for certain future events, such as a vacation, new car, or wedding. For a basic savings plan, mark what you're saving for with a rectangle that includes small boxes for every $100 that you need to save. Once you save $100 toward that goal, you can fill in the box, so you can see how much closer you're getting to your goal.

Track Your Bills and Expenses

You can track expenses, plan out how you'll achieve your financial goals, check off that you met your budget every week, and track your bills paid and due. You can even flag your expenses with different symbols or colors, based on the category or necessity, so you can get a better idea of what you're spending the most on and what you can cut out. Try to set up at least two pages to track your expenses and income.

To track your bills due, note all of the bills you pay regularly. Separate these expenses into how often they need to be paid down the side of the journal page. At the top, split each month into three sections: Amount, Due Date, and Paid (which you will mark with an X once the bill or expense has been paid). This will ensure that you never miss a payment again.

For your expenses list, separate one page into categories, so you can mark what you've spent toward each category, such as gas and groceries. Separate your monthly expenses spread into three columns: Date, Description, and Cost. You can also add another column for how you paid (by cash, check, or card), if you're trying to use cash or a particular card more often. You can even color code the expenses, based on whether you wanted them or needed them. This can serve as your checkbook registrar, so you can keep track of what's been spent and where. It'll give you a better estimate of what you're spending on each category, so you can make future projections.

Keep a Financial Spread

Keep track of what your financial goals are and how often you should be saving for them. This will ensure that you save enough without having to save more than you're able to afford.

These are the basics of starting and using a bullet journal. Your journal is what you make of it, so customize it in any way you choose. Just try to keep it fun and organized, so it can help you achieve the ultimate financial freedom. If you want to delve more deeply into this powerful to-do list, there is endless information online and you can even find inspiration on Pinterest and Instagram.

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