Can This Easy Money Hack Help You Avoid Overspending?

In my new book, Refinery29 Money Diaries, I talk a lot about figuring out how to afford the life you want, and that includes saving for future you (that's not necessarily "retirement" you, but also "five-years-from-now" you). Every financial advisor I've ever talked to will recommend you set aside 20% of your salary for those future goals, but in reality, it can be hard to save that much when you've got to pay rent and your student loans and you know, have a life. How do you prioritize what you want right now with what you might want in the future?
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Manisha Thakor, a financial advisor, author, and founder of Money Zen, has a three-step process she calls joy-based spending, which can help you become more mindful with your money. In the book, we walk readers through all three steps. But today, I want to give you a peek at step 1: The Highlighter Test.
The idea is that you track your spending for a certain period of time — Manisha recommends a month, but even a weekend will work. You don't necessarily even have to be writing down every purchase — it can be as simple as writing down your major bills (mortgage/rent, car loans, student loans, utilities) and printing out your most recent credit card statements. Then grab a highlighter and start highlighting any expense that doesn't make you do a happy dance.
The idea is that by the time you've gone through a month's worth of spending, you'll find areas where you can make changes without feeling like your making a sacrifice.
Want to see what a highlighter test looks like IRL? We had a reader take the test and share a month's worth of her spending with us. (She tracked her spending in December 2017.)
BIO: I'm a special-education teacher. I teach basic literacy skills to students with reading disabilities. In Connecticut, I am what's called a certified dyslexia practitioner, and I do some extra tutoring on the side as well as consultation for parents who have students with disabilities. Industry: Education
Age: 27
Location: South Windsor, CT
Salary: $61,705 (plus transportation reimbursement and extended detention duty (varies) and ~$360 a week for tutoring/consultation)
Paycheck Amount (22 times a year): $2,125.21
Partner's Salary: $0 (With my full support, my boyfriend quit his job at the end of the summer to focus on finishing up school on time. He's going for a degree in electrical engineering. We made the decision that I would cover all of the bills until he gets a full-time job. We keep close track of his expenses on a spreadsheet, and he will pay back any of his personal spending. We are planning to get engaged later this year and have decided that once we're married, we will have separate bank accounts but will each deposit an equal amount towards a joint bank account to be used for household expenses. I bought the house myself, over a year and a half ago, but we searched for homes together as we'd already been cohabiting for six months prior to that. I made sure that if we ever ended our relationship, I could still afford the home on my own. He's extremely handy around the house and has saved me close to $5,000, by my count, in repairs and upgrades.)
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Monthly Expenses
Mortgage: $2,069.68 for a 15-year mortgage
Loan Payments: None. I am extremely fortunate in that whatever scholarships didn't cover, my grandmother covered for me.
Utilities: Varies, but about $200 a month
Transportation: About $40 a month. My commute's mercifully short.
Internet: $90
Cell Phone: $0 (My parents won't let me pay for my portion of the family cell phone plan)
Health Insurance: $34.56 for health and $6.21 for dental, taken biweekly
Savings: $600 (automatically taken out of my checking account and put into a high-yield savings)
Teacher Union Dues: $42.65
Teachers' Retirement Board: $210.94 for 7% contribution
General Financial Info
Savings: Just under $17,000
Debt: ~$204,000. Scary number. That includes my house ($189,000), car ($11,500), credit card ($1,200, but I always pay it off in full each month), $2,000 (TV/surround sound system)
Total spent in December 2017: $5,323.63
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