With the new year comes new habits, and personal finance is going to be a huge area to get rid of bad habits and start good ones. If you don’t know where all your money went, want to keep track of your savings, interested in monitoring your investing, or want to be really diligent about paying off your debt, you should think about starting a personal finance notebook. Sure, there’s plenty of online tools for budgeting and monitoring your money, but sometimes the good ol’ fashion way is the best way to stay accountable. Here’s how you can get started.

  • Get a nice notebook: Obviously, any notebook will do but if you want to be proud of your finances, you should be proud of your notebook. You decide on the type and the format. You can choose a black and white composition book with lined paper, or you can opt for a Moleskine notebook with a grid inside. Decide how long you plan on tracking your finances and get a notebook that has enough pages to track everything you want to track.
  • Grab a nice pen and some highlighters: I’m an organization freak, so color coordination is huge with me. It’s also very helpful with organizing your personal finance notebook, as you can highlight a certain color for income, another color for expenses, maybe green for savings and blue for debt payments. You decide which system works best for you.
  • Have a goal in mind: You’re starting a personal finance notebook with a goal in mind, so write it down. Do you just want to be more budget conscious or are you saving up for something huge like a wedding? Make that goal known in the first few pages of the book. You might want to draw some inspirational quotes or paste some images of your goal, especially if it’s a vacation you have in mind.
  • Come up with a plan: Depending on how long your goal is, you should come up with a step by step plan for reaching it. Maybe it’s only 3 months long, or you might be planning for the whole year. I like to count backwards from the goal to the beginning point to see how much I need to dedicate to my goal. If you’re trying to save money for a new birth, take your numerical goal and how much time you have left before the baby arrives to see how much you should be saving on a regular basis.
  • Set up a template: In order to stay organized and efficient with your finances, you may want to set up a template. Now this is where your creativity comes in. Do you like charts or do you just like to write things out? You may want a column with your goal, and another column with your progress. Have a space for notes, and maybe some unexpected windfalls or expenses that may come your way.
  • Take your notebook everywhere: What I’ve noticed is I keep track of things better when I document it right away. I always forget how much I spent by the time I get home, and receipts can easily be misplaced. You should get a notebook that can go with you anywhere. At a restaurant, at the mall, at work with you, wherever you think money will be spent, earned, saved, or invested.
  • Keep at it: We all start off with good intentions, but sometimes we lose momentum. Keep it up by finding accountability partners. You don’t have to share your numbers with them if you don’t want, because that’s very personal. However, it’s always nice to have someone ask “did you write in your personal finance journal?”
If you’ve started a personal finance journal before, how did it go? If you’re starting one for the new year, what will you be tracking?