How a Tiny Pocket Notebook Can Change Your Life In a Big Way

How a Tiny Pocket Notebook Can Change Your Life In a Big Way

May 16, 2024

In 1990, with a Teaching Assistantship from New York University as a Ph.D. student, I came to the USA. Financial, that cost ALL of my parents’ life-savings, and put my family in debt for twice as much. I became an “extreme saver” on that $12,000 a year stipend, and paid all the debts back within a few months. But years later, with professional growth, the demand of a growing family, combined with the pull of the great American Marketing machine, I started to indulge myself and my family in gadgets, clothes and skincare! Sure I was still saving some, but I lost accounting for how much I was spending, or on what. So in 1999, we hired a Financial Advisor, who gave me a 30-day assignment to identify what, where, how, and why we were spending our money. I carried a little notebook and an Ikea pencil everywhere I went. Every time I was ready to spend money, I had to write it down. A few days into it, I started to pause when I went for that notebook – do I really need to buy this? And I started to put the item back down instead of going through the hassle to find my notebook. Then I started to go to the store less. 30 days later, I was shocked that I spent nearly $500 less than the month before.

Today, I’m a financial advisor helping others to plan, save, and invest for their retirement and futures. And I share the “little notebook” assignment with some of my clients, who are equally as thrilled with the realizations 30 days into the exercise.

So I want to share a few tips for the New Year to help you strengthen your budgeting skills and build a stronger financial foundation:

  1. Set a Financial Plan. We make plans for vacations to make it more enjoyable. We have plans at work to be more successful. So if we want to be financially free one day, we need to invest in a solid and evolving financial plan. Assess where you are, set goals, and develop a roadmap, and adjust course along the way.
  2. Pay yourself first.Consider spending as giving money to someone else. A grand for that shiny new iPhone, a few thousand dollars to visit that exotic country, or just a cup of Joe from Starbucks on our way to work. Why not pay yourself first? Save what you need to save first, and then decide who else you’d like to pay for their goods or services with the rest of your income.
  3. Eliminate high interest debt – High interest (like credit card) debt doesn’t give you anything or any good experience – get rid of it! Or better yet, auto pay each month’s balance in full and stay away from such bad debt.
  4. Buy what’s really important to you. Only pay for things and experiences that can leave a long-lasting impact to enhance your life. How do you know if it is important?Time can help. Don’t be in a rush to part with your money! Leave that item on your notebook, or in your online shopping cart, for a few days. If it is still important, buy it then. Chances are, many of them might not be after the moment is over.
  5. Quality over quantity.When you do decide to pay for an item or an experience, make it last. Quality items and experiences will enhance your lives, and reduce the need to buy more or more often. In the long run, quality in important areas could save money and make your lives more enjoyable.
  6. Make savings fun.Watch your savings grow, invest responsively to grow even faster. Set targets and reward yourself a little when you reach major milestones!
  7. Remember – many of the treasures in life can be free! Spending quality time with friends and family, or gift something you made maybe more treasurable than giving an expensive gift. 

Overwhelmed? Get help from a qualified professional. Just like a GPS helps you to navigate through the roads to arrive at your physical destination, a good (and properly updated) financial plan can help you get that confidence and help you to arrive at your financial destination as well.


Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a registered investment advisor. Member FINRA/SIPC.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Center for Financial Planning, Inc. owns and licenses the certification marks CFP®, and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in the United States to Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., which authorizes individuals who successfully complete the organization’s initial and ongoing certification requirements to use the certification marks.

LPL Financial and the CFP® Board are not affiliated entities.

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