Surviving Twenty Something

How to Figure Out Where Your Money Is Going

Money + Happiness, Popular PostsDanna Rowan

"I'm trying to cut down on buying Starbucks coffees," said a coworker of mine, while sipping her venti black dark roast— the one coffee she was allowing herself that day, rather than the usual two to three. I try to arrange my face into an expression that doesn't look too horrified, and is somewhere between surprised and impressed.

Yes, you read that right: two-to-three Starbucks coffees everyday. And while this might not make your face melt off as quickly as if they were two-to-three lattes everyday, the math is still pretty shocking.

Let's say here the price of a coffee is $2.00 (it's about $2.20CAD, I think). Times three coffees a day (assuming there are no croissants, scones, doughnuts, cookies, or breakfast sandwiches accompanying said coffee). Times 350 (I'm being kind and assuming there are days she stays home, holidays, busy days, etc).

Hold up your pants.




Let's look at what $2100 can get you:

  • a trip to the UK
  • groceries for one person for a year
  • 10.5 pairs of gorgeous quality shoes
  • 175 trips to see a movie
  • 84 lunch dates with your girlfriends

I mean, that list could go on basically forever. Save that up over a couple of years and you've got yourself a decent car, or a good chunk of a downpayment for a house. A sweet financial cushion, or enough money to let you pursue your side-hustle.

All of which, I think is safe to say, are better than Starbucks coffee (at least black, ew).

But here's the thing: this lovely coworker of mine, until she really sat down and did the math... wasn't really aware of just how much money was disappearing into the Black Hole That Is Starbucks.

She didn't have a concrete number, so it was a lot easier to pretend it wasn't happening. But after that $2100 started staring her in the face? Nnnnnot so easy. And it's not just Lovely Coworker— the number of people I've talked to who were stunned to find that they were spending thousands a year on coffee, take out, booze, and Uber rides is, well, high enough that I'm writing about it (and I think almost everyone can relate to the feeling of looking at your bank account or credit card statement and thinking WTF HAPPENED).

Getting your spending under wraps means setting a great budget or financial plan that works for you— but before you can make a realistic budget, you've gotta find out where your money is going. Ah, we arrive at last.

If you're trying to put into place a budget that someone else has tailored to their life, without figuring out your money situation and what you need in your life, you're getting a pile of meaningless numbers based on someone else's lifestyle.

No es bueno. 


1. Make yourself some rough spending categories

Where you spend is not going to be the same as where others spend. I, for example, do not have a car, nor do I often go out drinking— these are not things that need to be a part of my categories.

But they might be for you.

Categories you may consider include:

  • groceries
  • home essentials
  • transportation
  • housing costs (rent, mortgage, utilities, etc)
  • student loans/other debt payments
  • entertainment (movies, eating out, lattes)
  • pet expenses
  • school expenses
  • "fun money" (non-essential makeup beauty products, clothing, decor, etc)


2. Decide on a method of payment

Okay, good. We've got our categories. Now, you'll want to be tracking your spending over a typical month. A strategy I find super helpful here is to stick to just one method of payment, if you can— it makes it much easier to track, and much easier to see where your money is going and when. You can do old school cash, or pay for everything with your debit or credit card; the important thing is that you do your best to stick to one.

Obviously, situations may arise where that's not possible— in this case, note down the purchase ASAP.



Whether you've chosen cash or a card-based or digital method of payment, you've got one more decision to make: how to track.

You can easily use an old-school Excel sheet (except, Excel blows, let's be honest), pen and paper, or a Notes document if you feel like that will work best for you. If you're looking for some more organization, however, I recommend a digital tracking app, such as:

The best method of tracking is the one you're going to stick to.


4.  Look into the future

Alright, so there's one last thing before we go: you gotta think ahead just a little.

Not every kind of expense is going to be accounted for on a month-to-month basis— there are lots of expenses that only show their faces once every couple of months, or even once a year (hello, dog vaccinations).

Take a few minutes to think about the types of expenses that show up for you on a less than regular basis and note these down. You can then either work them into a yearly budget, or divide them by 12 to see what the equivalent monthly spend would be.


You've got the tools, now go out there and start spending (er, you know, not too crazy or anything, as you normally would. Carry on)!


Did you find this post helpful? Click over on the left to share it. And while we're at it, let us know in the comments what your most surprising spending-find was!


p.s. And for a little money-inspiration... >> How We Paid Off $30,000 In A Year