Do you have a practice or habit of taking a close look at your household’s expenses on a regular basis? How about ever?
A podcast interviewer recently asked me what I thought working parents should be doing right now to protect themselves and their families in this time of economic uncertainty. I’m no financial advisor or economist. But I do deeply understand that there are some things I have control over. For example, knowing what’s in my own bank account and what my expenses are. And there are there are some things that are completely beyond my control. Like interest rates. Or unemployment numbers.
I’m here today to make the case for sitting down on a regular basis and reviewing your expenses and income line by line. If you have a partner, I strongly recommend doing this together. (For example, during your weekly planning meeting.)
Yes, I know this sounds awful. At least, it did to me when I first started thinking about it. It’s tedious. In my opinion, dreadfully boring. And yes, it presents plenty of possible emotional triggers and minefields. (We / you spent money on what?! How much?!)
For getting past some of my own mental hang-ups about money, I strongly recommend working through Bari Tessler’s Art of Money course. My hubby and I did it last year, and it helped me, among other things, overcome my fear of looking at my own bank statements.
In the meantime, though, I’ll tell you a story that made me a convert to the expense-review practice.
A Story: The Expense Review Surprise
Earlier this summer, my husband and I decided we would start doing a line-by-line review of our expenses. At our weekly Saturday meeting (a.k.a. hot date on the couch every Saturday night after the kids are in bed!) we started opening all of the webpages of our bank and credit card accounts. My husband created an Excel file where we list out expenses. We group them by personal / household versus business (we have 3 of these between us).
It was maybe the third week we were doing this exercise, and I was finding it marginally interesting. But not at the top of the list of ways to get my curiosity about life satiated.
And then in that third week, two things happened.
First, we discovered a credit card charge from our grocery store that was over $600. Yes, we have two growing boys. But do we consume $600 worth of groceries during a regular week as a family of 4? Sometimes it feels like it. But the answer is definitely not.
Woah. We were both stunned and agreed the amount just couldn’t be right. So the following weekend, my husband went back to the grocery store and approached the customer service desk. “We’ve been waiting for you to come back!” exclaimed the store manager. Apparently, the check-out employee forgot to close the tab on the order before ours, so both orders got rung up together. And put on our card. They discovered the problem but had no way of finding my husband!
That was $300+ back in the bank.
Second, I noticed a $5’ish monthly Amazon subscription payment that I didn’t recognize. Upon further investigation, I discovered that it was for a monthly subscription to PBS Kids. Yes, back in the day, my boys were loyal Wild Kratts followers and we needed access to PBS Kids. But at 9 and 11 years old, they’ve moved on. $5/month doesn’t seem like much of a find. But when you consider how long the subscription had been running without being used, and how long it was destined to run if I hadn’t reviewed my credit card statement, we’re talking about much larger sums.
More money back in the bank.
A List of Reasons to Review Your Expenses
If I had to sum up the reasons why I’m glad to have this expense review practice in my life, they would be as follows:
- In a time when the economy is going bonkers and can inspire fear on a regular basis, this practice helps me feel like I’m doing something to take stock of my own financial situation. (Put differently, it satisfies the part of me that loves control.)
- I find it to be empowering to know what’s going on in my own bank accounts. No more sticking my head under the covers and pretending that something doesn’t exist, simply because I’m not looking at it.
- It opens the door to meaningful conversations with my husband. Not just about money but about our values and future plans.
- It actually led to finding errors in my favor and ways I can put real money back in my own bank account.
I still can’t say I’m having “fun” while I’m doing this review. But it’s a meaningful activity I now crave. I hope you’ll give the practice some consideration. And leave a comment below to let me know how it goes!
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave