Ever try tracking what you spend on *wants*?

We all know that tracking every transaction helps keep you accountable, but what if you were to just focus on the *wants* side of the equation?

Would it open up your eyes even more or change future habits?

I’ve been doing it for about a week now and so far I’m thoroughly enjoying it :) It hasn’t affected my patterns *too* much yet, but I’ve never sat down to actually figure out just how much I spend on fluff, so I’m def. curious what I’ll find over the next month.

Here’s what I’ve been spending so far:

  • Day #1: $0.00 (it’s working already! ;))
  • Day #2: $35.00 (membership to a local organization)
  • Day #3: $3.27 (coffee & a bagel)
  • Day #4: $5.27 (coffee & bagel, two $1.00 raffle tickets at coin club)
  • Day #5: $43.27 (coffee & bagel, two $20.00 donations*)
  • Day #6: $2.00 (ice cream bars for boys)

Total so far: $88.81
Daily average: $14.80

Too early to tell how good or not this is, but so far it’s at least feeling pretty good! Outside of the donations, most days have been under $5.00! And I’ll probably just take those out of the equation anyways as they’re fully automated like “bills” and don’t really affect my day-to-day habits, even though technically they are wants.

(I’ve also coded all the numbers here in green instead of red because they’re expenses that make me happy, haha… After all – they’re wants! ;))

What I’m most excited about though is just seeing how far I can push myself with this and get my spending even lower, while still retaining my same quality of life. Since after all – there’s a ton of stuff that can make you just as happy whether you spend $5.00 or $500.00! And quite honestly, I haven’t been the best at holding myself accountable in recent months…

I don’t know if any of you have experienced this, but I’m finding that it’s a LOT harder saying “no” to stuff when you can actually afford something than when you can’t. Not saying it’s the biggest problem in the world (hah), but it’s definitely something I’ve noticed creeping up in recent years.

When you don’t have the money to buy something, it pretty much makes the decision right there for you (credit cards, aside). But when you DO have the money, the biggest obstacle has been removed – thereby leaving you fully open to temptation! Again, not the worst problem to have, but definitely something I need to be better about warding off.

So let’s see what this Wants Tracker does over time! Anyone wanna join me and compare notes?!

I’m gonna keep doing it until at least the end of the month (long enough to give a more accurate picture), and then if I’m still getting something out of it I’ll continue until the end of the year.

I really do believe it’s going to open up my eyes more than I think, and it’s not too often we separate out this category from the rest of them. Nothing wrong with spending money on stuff you love, but that’s only if it’s not getting in the way of stuff you love even more! And you first have to stop and track it in order to know exactly where you stand.

I’ll come back in a month and do another update :)

UPDATE: Here’s what I learned after tracking these wants for 30 days!

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  1. Crystal July 16, 2018 at 6:17 AM

    Let’s not start this today for me… it’s Amazon Prime Day and I have gifts to buy… ;-)

    Overall, we spend alot on wants. Less now thanks to being busy with the baby, but still way more than $3.28 a day on average. I’m guesstimating around $500 a month. Fast food, cable, Amazon…yep…

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 7:44 AM

      Is it really Prime Day??? Haha… I totally planned that… #NOT

  2. Lily | The Frugal Gene July 16, 2018 at 6:48 AM

    I agree with Crystal…do we have to start today?! xD I’ve got 2 orders of shoes coming that I’ve snagged great deals on, talk about spavings! I’m kicking butts in that department!

    Eating out would be my biggest want. Its my birthday month and uh…well it’s looking pretty ugly on that front. Mid-month and I’ve blown through the entire budget for dining out for July.

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 7:44 AM

      You get a whole month of celebrating??? Lucky you!

  3. Mrs. Adventure Rich July 16, 2018 at 6:51 AM

    Great idea! Haha- I think I might be unpleasantly surprised with my “want spending”, but tracking will definitely keep me more accountable!

  4. Elle Martinez July 16, 2018 at 7:09 AM

    I’m in!

    I have a feeling this will be eye-opening and we’re not as frugal as we think. I agree there’s a challenge to say no when you see that there’s money in your account o pay for it. But just because we can we should go for it.

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 7:46 AM

      Awesome!! You’ll have to let me know how it goes, or better yet – write a blog post on it so everyone else can see (and be inspired) too! Make sure you cover at least one weekend doing it though as so far those are the hardest at least for me to catch myself :)

      1. Elle Martinez July 23, 2018 at 7:35 AM

        Well, one week down and I discovered a few things-
        1- we love to eat
        2 – Hardee’s has got to stay a once in a blue moon thing. Love their onion rings, but man, my body is not used to the grease..

        I will say the timing on the challenge was perfect for me. Skipped on Amazon Prime Day spending #winning LOL

        Published my numbers on the site for last week, but going to stick with it until the end of the month. The real benefit of this challenge for us is reviewing how much happiness/value we get out of spending on tour wants.

        Thanks J!

        1. J. Money July 23, 2018 at 9:54 AM

          YESSS! Excellent idea! I might have to steal that and add a “happiness” column to the tracker as well :)

  5. COD July 16, 2018 at 7:54 AM

    My budget spreadsheets have three subcategories – needs, wants, savings. Last month it was about 50% needs, 27% savings, and 23% wants.

    The big challenge is deciding between needs and wants. Groceries are a need, but not everything I buy at Kroger is really needed. We don’t have to grill steaks after all. If money were really tight I presume we could get by with less spending on groceries, so I allocate $400 a month for needed groceries and $200 a month for wanted groceries. My wife’s daily Wawa Diet Coke habit hits the dining out budget :)

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 9:23 AM

      Haha… yeah, anything not bought at a grocery store food/drink-wise goes into the “want” section too for me :) Love it that you’re already tracking it all on a monthly basis like that!

  6. Ms. Frugal Asian Finance July 16, 2018 at 8:14 AM

    Cool idea! My wants right now are just delicious food either at home or restaurants and ice cream lol

    I stayed to keep track of our food expenses late June just to see where we are with our good expenses. I guess I’m killing two birds with one stone then hehr

  7. Kelly July 16, 2018 at 8:22 AM

    sound just challenging enough to want to try & succeed..
    I’m in….& I hope I CAN get my wants under control…my hobby is a tad more expensive that I was expecting…& I’m trying to think of ways to continue to afford it…plus the hubby has HIS hobby which isn’t cheap either..uugghhhhh

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 9:25 AM

      Maybe there’s a way you can bring home some side money that gets allocated 100% towards them? That way you don’t feel guilty? :)

  8. Leo T. Ly July 16, 2018 at 8:33 AM

    I definitely agree that it’s way harder to say no to your wants when you can afford it. The worst thing for me is saying no to treats that are on sale and it’s under $5 when I am doing grocery shopping.

    If you are spending money eating out, would you count that as 100% of that as your want? After all, you have to eat and it’s a necessity. I would probably allocate 50% as want when I eat out.

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 9:26 AM

      Yeah – I count *all* eating out as a want just to make it super simple (and also anything I eat at home a *need* even if it’s those extra treats you pick up at the grocery store. So it probably evens out a little.)

  9. Steve Bootsma July 16, 2018 at 8:42 AM

    Tough to categorize what is a want and what is a need.
    For me – donations to church and other charities is a need, not a want.
    I can keep my wants average under $5 / day easily.

  10. COD July 16, 2018 at 8:42 AM

    I count eating out as 100% want. If money were really tight, we obviously could eat at home for every meal. To me, needs are those expenses you have to pay every month no matter what, such as rent or mortgage, electricity, groceries, childcare, etc. I also put legal obligations such as car payments (and credit card minimums, if I had any) in needs too, as you have to pay those no matter how poor you may be that month. Then put 20% in savings, and whatever you have left over is your want money for the month.

    I don’t think of wants as a bad thing. I don’t work because I enjoy paying the rent. I work because I have to pay the rent, and I enjoy eating out, going to concerts, taking trips, etc. The less you can spend on needs (by having no debt, no car payments, a cheaper home, etc.) the more you can save and the more you can spend on wants.

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 9:27 AM

      Yup – all true things!

  11. Accidental FIRE July 16, 2018 at 8:48 AM

    Now that I’m financially independent I should do this. I’m still saving at a really high rate but it would be interesting to see my “want” expenditures. I’ve cut down on beer a lot in the past 3 years :)

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 9:27 AM

      Would definitely be interesting to see! Do it and then blog about it! :)

  12. SL July 16, 2018 at 9:02 AM

    I have been talking myself out of new furniture for about 10 months now. My living room furniture is about 15 years old is still very comfortable, only has one or two tears, and mostly works (one reclining piece wont recline anymore); I can still use it to sit and I have alternatives. However, my bed looks like I am going to have to replace it. Not sure if that is a want or need. *sigh*

    I think I will go through and try this for a while. Should be interesting

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 9:29 AM

      I think if it’s starting to affect your health/back it’s moving into “need” category, but if it’s just cosmetic then it probably veers into “want” category. But I will say – if you’ve been thinking about this for 10 months already you’re doing great thinking on things and will probably be fine either way you go :)

  13. Joe July 16, 2018 at 10:27 AM

    This whole summer isn’t a good time to start. I’m taking it easy to hang out with our kid this summer. This means spending money on fun stuff and trips. We’re on a road trip right now so it’s all “want” spending for another week. :)
    It’ll be better once school starts.

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 4:59 PM

      Can’t argue with that! Road trips are worth every last penny.

  14. B.C. Kowalski July 16, 2018 at 10:59 AM

    Interesting experiment! I’ve found that for me, usually the opposite takes place, and the scarcity principal kicks. When I made far less money and could hardly afford to spend money on useless stuff, I found I inversely spent more on those things. Now that I could easily buy whatever video games or other gadgets I might like, I feel less of the desire to do so.

    For me, I’m OK with spending a little on the little wants, because I think they also keep me from spending on the big wants. I look forward to biking to the farmers market on Saturday for an extra cup of locally roasted coffee and a treat from one of the local bakeries. I enjoy the occasional beer out with friends, or lunch or dinner on the even rarer occasions. And I prioritize world/national travel every couple of years or so (mostly to countries with low costs of living – I barely spent anything once I got to Thailand). The rest of the time I’m happy with free library books, nearly free TV, my bicycle, photography (a hobby that pays, as well as my occupation!), visiting neighbors, yoga with my yoga friends, weightlifting in my basement, etc. Yesterday is a good example – I played a thug in my friend’s short film, and spent the day filming, and eating free food in between scenes. I guess the lesson is to “want” the things that are low-cost or free, which seems to be a lot of your wants on the list, rather than wanting expensive things.

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 5:07 PM

      HAH – thug!!! That would be a fun experience! I feel like I could make a good one with my hawk and all :)

  15. Money Beagle July 16, 2018 at 11:24 AM

    Cool concept. I’m going to have to try this for a week or so and see what I come up with.

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 5:08 PM

      Please do! And remember to tell me how it went and/or blog about it to inspire others even more :)

  16. Chris July 16, 2018 at 11:28 AM

    This is totally spot on to what I need to do. These past few months I’ve been off with my budgeting system, but I haven’t dedicated enough time to know where I stand. The most important things are getting funded (401K, savings, etc.), but I’m constantly using other budgets to fund different purchases.

    Time to track where my money goes daily. I’m on board with tracking my wants, especially on Amazon.

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 5:08 PM

      Good! Do it! Bet you find out a lot in just a month!

  17. Fred Leamnson July 16, 2018 at 12:12 PM

    I have to say, sometimes I don’t like you very much!
    As the old preacher used to say, “you’ve stopped preaching and gone to meddling.”
    I know how important it is to get down to this level of expense management. I also know that it’s unlikely I can do it.
    I do love how you challenge and don’t ask folks to do something you’re not willing to do.
    I look forward to watching your progress. Maybe, I will actually get inspired to join in.
    Stranger things have happened.

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 5:09 PM

      Haha, well, I def. quit a lot of the experiments I do, but sometimes they stick and my life is forever changed! If only we knew which ones ahead of time would do that :)

  18. Karl Belanger July 16, 2018 at 12:34 PM

    As usual a super useful, practical exercise!

    Just a few points/questions:
    – I don’t think I would consider charity donations as “wants”. I have a yearly budget set aside for charity and typically will spread that out over the year. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and essentially say no when solicited thereafter (there are exceptions, of course).
    – What if you made bagels at home and brought your own coffee in a travel mug? Would that be considered a “want”? I guess technically, it would be but it could also be considered in your grocery budget. It would be a way to save too. Curious mind wants to know ;)

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 5:14 PM

      1) More power to you!

      2) I’d count that okay and *not* on the “want list” if you were to bring your own stuff from home. If Panera Bread was cool with it I’d do it myself, but probably not the nicest thing to do when I steal a table there for 3 hours every morning :) I should probably label it “office expense” since that’s essentially what it is! Haha…

  19. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life July 16, 2018 at 2:34 PM

    Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle applies to me here. Observing the spending always has an effect on the spending so I know the data collected will automatically be biased. Dangit!

    I know it’s Prime Day but there’s also an Amazon workers strike that I can get behind (for better working conditions) so I might direct my support at that instead of buying all the deals today :D

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 5:18 PM

      Yeah, knowing you’re tracking something definitely skews your habits a bit, but in cases like this where you WANT it to it’s actually a pretty good win :) Unless you’re only doing it for a certain amount of time and saving up all the expenses for the day you quit the experiment, haha, but I’d still risk it as you never know what will stick! My 40 day shopping ban from 10 years ago still affects me on a daily/weekly basis!

  20. Michael Outar July 16, 2018 at 2:35 PM

    Great idea! Just tracking your spending on your wants will give you a focused view on exactly what you can afford to cut out to save money.

  21. MrFIREby2023 July 16, 2018 at 4:31 PM

    Track my spending of “wants?” No way! We don’t even keep a monthly budget. It’s a scary thought because over the past few years I bet I’ve frivolously spent $20-25k/year on stuff. Stuff that are nice things, like my 2015 Harley Davidson (purchased it used with 600 miles on it & saved myself over $5k from the new model) or the firearms I’ve purchased over the past couple of years (the Beretta autoloading shotgun that I use for hunting waterfowl).
    We just had a serious conversation two days ago about ceasing the spending on wants, so your article is very timely and much appreciated. Now in analyzing my spending, the guilt takes over.

    1. J. Money July 16, 2018 at 5:20 PM

      Well remember this too – it’s 100% to spend on wants so you don’t have to cut it all out or anything, it’s just about being conscious with just how much you DO spend without even realizing it. You may find you’re totally happy with the #’s and all is good, or – as you’re already alluding to – you may find you’re going over your comfort levels and need to dial back some. With either outcome though, you’re basing a decision on hard data vs data in your brain which is always mushy and more optimistic than factual ;)

  22. Laramy July 17, 2018 at 7:28 AM

    My wife and I added a miscellaneous and restaurants columns to my personal budget. We don’t have an allotted amount but but record all purchases that do not fit into other categories. It has become very enlightening to our extracurricular spending. Can’t say we are great at keeping the number down but at least are aware throughout the month and have the ability to drastically pull back if necessary.

    1. J. Money July 17, 2018 at 7:35 AM

      Hey, being aware is the first step! At least you’re making your own decisions off it! :)

  23. LeeAnne July 17, 2018 at 5:30 PM

    I’m hoping by using my credit card for all purchases and then tracking them in an excel file (broken down by categories) I’ll get a better feel of what I’m spending on my wants!

    1. J. Money July 18, 2018 at 6:51 AM

      That works! Excellent idea!

  24. Sydney July 17, 2018 at 10:32 PM

    Yes, I track every penny! I have a separate bank account with a debit card that is strictly used for fun money so tracking is easy, plus every Friday I take a predetermined amount of cash out of the ATM for miscellaneous small purchases. I’m “wanting” less stuff because I want my cash more. Over the last month my daily spending was under $3 a day, dang I really AM frugal.

    1. J. Money July 18, 2018 at 6:53 AM

      Haha nice… Never heard of the separate bank account for fun money – I like that idea!

  25. Tanya August 14, 2018 at 2:50 PM

    I used to be so bad with money but now I’m trying really hard to keep on top of it and keep track, this is actually one of the things I did early this year to help me get a grip. I’ve definitely started slacking again though getting two coffees a week out and not my budgeted one. I agree it’s so much harder when you have the money, I try to go to work and not take my purse but everywhere accepts Apple Pay.
    I need to get back on this!
    My biggest challenge is a long distance relationship so when we get to see each other once a week we tend to want to go out for food and make the most of it.

    1. J. Money August 15, 2018 at 6:07 AM

      Totally feel ya! It’s def. hard to decline the niceties of life here and there – especially when it comes to relationships. Tell your significant other that J. Money says to move back next to you so you guys can enjoy financial freedom together ;)

  26. Shafay May 14, 2020 at 8:08 AM

    Great one J. Amid the current pandemic I am tracking how much I am able to save while living this way. Honestly, it is amazing how much we consume and spend out of necessity. I am recording it in an Android mobile App for now, but the biggest struggle is to even record the tiniest of spending. :)

    1. J. Money May 14, 2020 at 4:45 PM

      Haha yup! Major savings opps right now being stuck at home! I estimated we’re saving at least $1,000 w/ each passing month! Much more fun to track than your *expenses*, lol…