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Buster Benson in Seattle is doing 9 things including…

care about my finances for one year

3 cheers


Buster Benson has written 10 entries about this goal


Do you want to be rich? Seriously. Is it something you daydream about? If so, is it in the “but I never will” way or is it in the “I gotta find a way” way or is it in the “it’s inevitable” way? I have to admit I think I will one day be rich, but I don’t know how. I’ve had two close calls, close enough that I daydreamed about it in the “it’s inevitable” way. The first time was when my father had started his software company and had raised $10 million in venture capital and were close to profitability. We even had the dinner table talk about what we’d do when we had more money. It was inevitable. And then the cancer came back, and the company fell apart without him. And then there was walking around Snoqualmie. Amazon’s stock was going up $10/day and everyone who had been hired 2 years before me was rich. I figured it would be two years for me too, since I knew nothing about the stock market. And then the bubble burst.

There is no third close call. There are a few far calls, and there are also dips and possible bankruptcies and a whole lot of debt, more than I’ve ever had before by several orders of magnitude, but the daydreaming is still there in the “I gotta find a way” way. Well actually it’s not “I gotta” it’s “I wanna”. In a “why not?” sort of way. I’ve got love, I’ve got friends, I’ve got health, I’ve got motivation, I’ve got youth and the endless possibility of the universe. Why not want everything when it doesn’t make you less happy with what you have? This is the secret to wanting more, I think. Wanting more while feeling grateful for what you have and not taking your own happiness, ecstasy even, for granted. With that secret, it’s not about escaping poverty, or hating anything about your current life. It’s about not underestimating the depth and the breadth of possibility in this life. This is not a practice life. Experience, and wanting, and trying, and getting or failing, and feeling, and sharing these thoughts and those experiences… that’s what I want more than anything else. To make the best of what we have, even when what we have is already amazing beyond our wildest dreams. And giving something back.

It’s strange that I feel guilty for wanting to be rich. Should people feel guilty for wanting to be healthy? For wanting to be in love? For wanting great friends and a great job and a perfect life? Most people reach homeostasis with money and create a philosophy that prevents them from wanting more, or wanting less. Why not gamble and strive and tumble around just to see what it feels like? Is it vaguely hedonistic? Is hedonism still out of fashion?

I don’t know why I’m thinking about this. Probably because I’m nervous about money this year, and how my goal to “care about my finances for a year” has really led to some interesting experiences (it’s actually been almost 2 years of caring at this point). But this article was entertaining as a reminder of just how much social, economic, philosophical, and emotional treasure and trash there is around this topic:

Strange Currencies: I dated a rich man; both of us paid the price, by Lisa Carver

A neurotic form of caring

When I started this goal I think I was a different person. My beliefs and feelings about money have taken a strange turn from the “can barely pay attention to them” to “can’t stop thinking about them”. I went from frugal to incredibly risky in my investments. When talking to my life coach last week about my 10 life categories and rating myself on each one and then deciding which ones I was interested in working on, money/finances were scored around a 7 and were at the top of the list of priorities for work.

What would a 10 in money be? I think I’m sometimes a 10, but then sometimes I’m a 3. A 10 in money, for me, is realizing that money is merely a tangible representation of energy and focus. You breathe it in and you breath it out. Lots of money can electrocute you, or it can power a giant beautiful machine. Being in debt is like being at the bottom of the ocean with no air… you can’t breathe, you’re trapped… but actually, it’s not exactly like that because there is no reality to debt. It’s all mental. You can’t die from being in debt. If you feel like you’re in debt, you can’t breath. If you feel like you have more than enough money, you’re powerful. Energy and focus create and spend money, not vice versa. I think. If you take a deep breath and build a giant beautiful machine, you’ll exhale money like air, and if it’s a valuable beautiful machine, you’ll inhale money back in. You spend money to make money, and make money to spend money. It’s self-defined in that cycle, and has no other meaning. That’s what I think having a 10 relationship to money means.

Caring about finances for a year has turned into doubling down on my ideas about money and putting those ideas into practice. It’s a big gamble about there being no real gamble when it comes to money.

Oh boy

Caring about finances took a giant step forward this week with the adoption of the goal to track everything I spend for a week. It’s been quite fun… especially since other people are doing it as well and many of us are sharing our private money lives. Someone said that money is the last taboo… it’s sort of true. We may know who our friends are sleeping with and yet have no idea how much money they make, how much debt they have, how much they have saved up, etc. And yet, I personally have no reason to keep it hidden.

As I track my spending, I’ve found that becoming more conscious of my spending makes me include it in my aesthetic. I don’t know how to put it exactly. Do you know how, when you go into an elevator, and there are already people in it, you sort of take a part of the elevator that balances it out… that makes it seem “right”. I think that’s an aesthetic act. Same when sitting down in a movie theater… part of your choice of seats has to do with the preference for where you want to sit, and part of it has to do with making sure you’re not going to block anyone if you can, and giving people space. If it’s packed, you can sit right next to a stranger… however, if it’s not packed, you might prefer to give strangers at least a couple seats of personal space. When you organize books on a shelf or magazines on a table, you place them in a certain way. On the other hand, when you’re not paying attention, you might throw a book onto the couch, or jam mail into a junk drawer. That’s how I treat spending typically… I jam my money into junk drawers and don’t really think about if I’m spending too much or too little, focusing instead on enjoying the by-products of money. However, now that I’m paying attention to it, I’ve been treating my spending more like organizing books on a shelf, or sitting down in a half-crowded theater. I don’t want to spend too much on one day, and I like to keep the total spending for each day nicely balanced in relation to the days next to it. If I spend a lot on one day, I seem to make sure to spend less on the days following, and if I spend very little on one day I want to spend more on others. It’s nothing scientific or logical, it’s merely aesthetic to me. I want the trail of my spending to look nice. That’s the only way I can put it at the moment.

To help with this, I’ve added a sheet to my spreadsheet that tracks the total amount I spend each day in relation to the amount I “make” each day (averaged over all days). And I’ve created formula to tell me if I’m living within my means for that day, as well as for all days together. And I’ve created a formula to tell me if I’m living within 80% of my income so that I can make sure to save and give money away accordingly. This information feels like adding new instruments to the orchestra of my finances… it makes the spending feel more right, and helps me know when the song is going well versus when it sounds bad.

Save 10%, give away 10%

The 10% rule is a pretty well-known rule for getting control of your finances. Save 10% of every paycheck, and it not only helps you save money, but also helps you gain confidence in your ability to save money. I’m pretty sporadic in my savings, sometimes saving much more, sometimes much less, so I’ve decided to formalize this rule and also to introduce some new rules about donations and charity money (which I currently give almost nothing to).

As of last month, I’ve decided to begin officially saving 10% of my income and giving away another 10%. I found an easy way to use my confusing set of checking and savings accounts, and automatic transfers, and scary balance notifications to make sure I can keep track of all of this. Basically, every paycheck goes into savings. 80% of the paycheck gets transferred into my checking account, and 10% goes into my charity fund, which I have some interesting plans for. Then, by the next paycheck, anything that’s left in my checking account is transferred back into savings, and I bring in a new 80% from the new paycheck. Simple and easy does it.

Ever since I started caring...

I’ve spent more money each month. Well, that is about to come to an end as there is not really any money left to spend. I have money invested and money put away for secret projects and such, but my checking account has nearly hit bottom. Taxes didn’t help, nope. So, this next couple months will be interested because I will have to transition from maniac spender to maybe depressed spender? I don’t know what it will do to me, as my motto of “in it to win it” and “accept all offers” almost directly contradict being frugal with money. All this comes at a time when I have a big wedding to attend, a 30th birthday party to throw, and a road-trip to plan.

The weird thing is that I sort of believe I’m a little invincible these days. There’s a way to wiggle any problem into a strength, so I have a couple ideas on ways to be a frugal spender my way… aka the crazy way. They include:

  • Don’t cut out the most expensive and extravagant things that you enjoy… cut out the things in the middle that aren’t very expensive but which also don’t do much to make life exciting and fun. I’m thinking… dinner during the week. And, books.
  • Combine spring cleaning, my yearly purging, and the philosophy of simplicity and save money not by lowering costs, but by getting rid of needless things… like my fridge.
  • Intention manifest me some money.
  • Okay, I think I am going to stop buying everyone drinks all the time too. Or, cut it in half. Buying drinks for friends is so enjoyable (probably my favorite use of money ever) that I think I should stop being such a hog and now let my friends buy drinks for me.

Money problems aren’t for me… they are for other people with more and less money than me. Those that have responsibilities and dependents and can understand abstract concepts and think about the future.

A month of caring.

Attention is a funny thing. It’s like back when I was trying to be more honest in highschool, and I would see how long I could go during the day without lying or being dishonest. And, I think that the very act of TRYING to be honest made me be more dishonest for some reason. Everything became more tangible and I saw more opportunities than when I wasn’t trying at all.

That’s sort of what happened to my finances during this month of caring too. Of the ten categories of spending, I spent more in eight during January than I did in December.

Categories I spent more in:

Auto/Gas: Used FlexCar more than the previous month… I think to pick up friends who were visiting from Japan for a tour of the city.

Charity: Well, I don’t spend much on charity but I think tickets to the Paul Auster reading got classified as charity for some reason.

Entertainment: Ended up paying for a bunch of tickets to Ride the Duck, and two shows. Money well spent and thoroughly enjoyed.

Groceries: I think my juice fast is responsible for the bulk of the $100 spent on groceries this month. It’s usually closer to $40.

Clothing: Andy Warhol mentioned that he’d rather watch someone buy underwear and socks than see what art they made… as it told more about the person. So I went and bought new underwear and socks. And a few new shirts, and a scarf, and some other things. Clothes are a basic need, right?

Utilities: I switched my phone bill over to use my debit card rather than my credit card, so this is simply being tracked for the first time. In any case, I spent $100 on phone stuff this month… and enjoyed every penny.

ATM Withdrawals: I took a bunch of money out for the Vancouver trip, but ended up spending $200 more in cash than I did last month.

Checks Written: I think the rise in this is due to the increase in my condo dues. Lame!

I tied in the Household category, where, for some reason, my NetFlix subscription is billed to.

Categories I spent less in:

Restaurants: I spent significantly less in restaurants this month than last month. That’s odd. I don’t remember spending less… and the Hideout bills (which are usually the biggest) ended up being almost exactly the same month to month. A mystery! It could be that I went on fewer dates this month than last? Or maybe someone forgot to charge me. There’s no way to know.

Caring is fun. I think it increases the pleasure of spending to more tangibly feel the money come and go. I’m going to simply watch how things go one more month before experimenting with spending LESS and spending MORE.

Nah, why wait. This next month, I’d like to spend 20% LESS than I did in January.

I'm going to stop using my credit card.

I only have one credit card (American Express), and though it gives me a tiny bit of money back for using it, it’s really not that useful. For example, I think I got $85 for all of my card usage last year.

Keeping all of my charges on my debit card will let me track everything through the Wells Fargo account summary charts, and it will make me feel the hit of bigger purchases a bit more.

I already knew this, but now I'm vividly remembering again...

Quicken sucks.

2005 spending habits, sloppily summarized.

I bank with Wells Fargo. I just noticed that they do spending reports for you, both on a yearly and monthly basis, breaking your spending habits into 19 categories. Here’s how I fared in each category… with a few meta-categories that I added as well.

Airlines/Transportation: 0%
This number is wrong since I usually put plane tickets on my credit card. Unfortunately, American Express’s Yearly Report is still showing data from 2004 instead of 2005.

Auto/Gas: 0.2%
This just had gas and insurance charges up until June, when I sold my car.

Bills: 2.3%
This is for various utilities, tickets, and bills paid online with Yahoo Bill Pay. It doesn’t count credit card bills though.

Building Supply/Wholesale: 0.1%
Almost nothing spent on tools and hardware stuff. Most of this went into fixing my shower in October.

Charity/Community: 0.1%
I barely give to charity at the moment. Started donating to the Clean Air Act people in August with a friend. Yup, I’m an uncharitable bastard. Will fix this perhaps, now that I’m trying to care about these things.

Contractor/Business Services: 0.5%
It looks like all of my online web hosting and internet stuff goes into this category. That, and mailing things at the post office.

Entertainment: 0.8%
Watching movies in a theater, plays, going to the zoo, and museum admission goes into this category. Quite a few charges, but since they’re all so cheap it doesn’t add up to much.

Groceries: 1.6%
Obviously not a big shopper at the grocery store. I went to the grocery store about 65 times, but the average amount spent is close to $20… which I think means I was usually buying wine, breakfast bars, and maybe limes.

Health Care/Pharmacy: 0.1%

Household: 0.9%
This is grossly understated, since I put all of my big furniture expenses on the credit card. I’d guess it’s closer to 7 or 8% of total expenses… mostly in the form of kitchen table, chairs, curtains, and lamp.

Lodging: 0%
A few nights in a couple hotels… doesn’t add up to much.

Mortgage and Condo Fees: 23.1%
A good chunk spent on a roof over my head.

Office Supply/Stationary: 0%
Looks like I bought some blank CDs at Office Depot in February.

Personal Services: 0.1%

Pet/Veterinary: 0%
This makes sense, since I don’t have a pet.

Restaurants: 17%
This is the doozy. In a year with only 365 days, I managed to rake up 385 restaurant charges. It would be interesting to group and sort them by most frequently visited, most money spent, etc. It can all be done in Excel, I suppose, but I don’t have the will to at the moment.

Retail/Department Stores: 3.4%
Clothes, books, movie rentals, and miscellaneous online purchases. Biggest purchases include a couple trips to the Apple Store, and a few new shirts.

Savings: 10.1%
Just realized that I was including transfers into savings in the total money spent.

Utilities/Telecom: 0%
Doesn’t look like they’re properly categorizing my cell phone bill. I’d suspect that this is actually close to 1% of my spending.

ATM withdrawals: 9.4%
That mysterious black hole filled with americanos, taxi cabs, and happy hour drinks.

Uncategorized Credit Card Bills: 30.5%
Oh well. That’s a big chunk of uncategorized spending… maybe American Express will update the yearly spending summary soon so we can factor this stuff in.


Okay, this was a fairly unsatisfying exercise. The amount of unknown spending that is happening in my life is pretty high, and until I can figure out where the other 50% of my money is going, I’m not sure how helpful the Wells Fargo summary will be.

One obvious conclusion, however, is that restaurants are staying in business largely because of me. And, that there are a lot of empty categories that I’m guessing other people spend money in that I do not: auto, groceries, insurance, pet, maybe utilities.

Looking at this, I wonder how much more satisfaction and caring I can squeeze out of my financial situation. Manually categorizing each purchase for a year seems like a sentence worse than death, especially if it only confirms that yes, I eat out a lot.

I would like to know, roughly, whether or not I spend more money on restaurants than other people spend on groceries. Which lifestyle is, ultimately, cheaper?

I've never really cared.

I don’t spend enough money to have to care about money, but I think that’s a silly excuse to completely ignore it. The problem is that it is just so BORING. My philosophy has alwyas been that if there’s money in my bank, EVERYTHING IS OK. It also helps that other than furniture, clothes, and alcohol, I don’t really buy much. Not having a car, a television, a gadget obsession, or any dependents surely helps.

There is something fun about money though. Somewhere DEEP down in its psychotic mind. I somewhat facetiously believe that my personality and my life can be interpreted through my monthly statements. I am what I consume. Since I only have one debit card and one credit card, it should be fairly easy to monitor it and learn more about myself through its grainy xeroxed receipts and online downloadable importable statements.

So, I’m going to do that. For a year, starting now. I’ll begin by looking back on the previous year briefly and seeing what kind of financial jungle I happen to currently inhabit. Yes, I know, sounds really fun! Join me!

Buster Benson has gotten 3 cheers on this goal.

  • junipurr cheered this 7 years ago
  • wooleyduck cheered this 7 years ago
  • sojourn cheered this 8 years ago


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