Thursday, May 2, 2013

Moleskine Money

Have you ever been in the position of figuring out the tax on your groceries in order to make sure you have enough money to buy them? Or doing some quick arithmetic before buying a cup of coffee to be certain you'll still have enough for rent? When I first moved to the big city out of school, I was in just this position. And once, when I worked out the tax incorrectly, I came up $.23 short. I doubt I will ever forget the relief I felt when my roommate just happened to walk in at that moment, and could give me a quarter.

After finishing school, I moved to New York, ready to be self-sufficient. New York is expensive, and it was a considerable shock to find myself constantly broke after having grown up in a family that was well-off. That time proved to be a fantastic learning experience – there’s nothing quite like being submerged in a new language to learn it, and I became a quick-study in the “language” of living on a small budget.

One of the first things I focused on was figuring out how much money I could spend each week after allowing for monthly bills. I included everything in this budget from haircuts, to subway passes, to going out with friends, to groceries. This became my self-imposed allowance. I broke down my allowance further into the categories that were most important to me, so that I wouldn’t accidentally spend so much on a night out that I wouldn’t have enough money for groceries. Each week, I would take out my allowance in cash, and fill my Moleskine file folder with the pre-determined amounts in each pocket.

The catagories I used were Food, Personal, Fun, Shopping, Health, and Charity.

There were also some self-imposed rules to follow. I could borrow from the Shopping category for any other category’s use, but not the other way around. Charity money left over from one week to the next could not be used for any other category, but all other left over money could be moved to any pocket (but it usually ended up in the Shopping pocket). Food was for groceries or going out to eat, not drinks. Fun money could be used for absolutely anything I deemed enjoyable -- from a cup of coffee to a skiing trip. Change from any given purchase could be used later that same day for anything, but at the end of the day, any unused change was left at home to be used for laundry.

This strict system worked for me because I needed to make major changes and force myself to think differently about my money. There is something more tangible about using only cash instead of a debit or credit card – one feels the trade of money for goods in a more basic sense. After a while, I learned to be aware of every dollar that left my hands, and no longer needed to only use cash for my transactions in order to stay on track.

Moleskine Pocket Memo Portfolio


  1. The moleskin is a good idea but how do you separate to make those categories? How do you calculate a budget?

  2. There are some good tools out there -- I'll post the ones I used. Thanks!

  3. Hope this helps!


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