I had dinner with my friend TJ tonight. He paid for his meal with cash. After we’d settled the check, he pulled out a small spiral notebook and jotted down some numbers.

“What’s that?” I asked.

I’ve started using a notebook to keep track of what I spend,” he told me. “Whenever I pay in cash, I write it down. Otherwise I don’t have any idea where it goes.”

“That’s a great idea,” I said. “I track every penny I earn and spend, but I do it on the computer. I use Quicken. It helps me know what I’m doing.”

“I don’t have the discipline to keep track of my finances like that,” said TJ. “Besides, I’m not trying to track every penny. But since I moved into this new house, money’s been pretty tight. I feel pinched. Keeping this notebook gives me a rough idea of where everything’s going. I’ve always been able to check on things when I use a bank card, but cash has been a problem. Now if I find myself wondering where I spent that $20, I can look it up here.”

“I have trouble tracking cash, too,” I said, “even though I track everything on the computer. If I take out $40 on one weekend, but don’t do my finances until the following weekend, I can lose track of things. I just did my finances on Sunday. I got stuck because I’d spent $3.58 in cash someplace I can’t remember. Maybe I should keep a notebook, too!”

TJ nodded. “The notebook is also a preliminary step. I’ve only been doing this for a few weeks. I may decide that I need to do more. Maybe I’ll set up a budget. Maybe I’ll have to get Quicken.”

This is an example of learning to do what works for you. Everyone can find some method that will allow them to track their spending and make corrections if necessary.The cash notebook reminds me a little of Merlin’s Hipster PDA. Solutions like this are awesome. They prove that high-tech isn’t always the way to go. Often you can improve your life for a buck-ninety-eight.

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