If you ever wrote the words “Dear Diary” as a kid, your younger self might have been onto something. Writing can be a powerful form of self-care. In fact, journaling can boost your mental and emotional health.
Journaling can improve your financial health, too. We interviewed two money experts who have used journaling as a tool in managing their personal finances. Here are five financial moves they made — with the help of their money journals — that you can use, too.
1. Set and tackle money goals
Ryland King is a money coach and founder of The Hidden Green, an online personal finance resource for young professionals. But he wasn’t always a finance expert.
After college, King was nearly $7,000 in debt and didn’t have any budgeting or money management skills. He tried to improve his finances but had limited success — until he tried building on a habit he already had.
“I’ve always been someone who’s written and loved making to-do lists every day,” King said. So, he started using his lists to set and track monthly targets, including one or two achievable money goals.
King’s listed targets reminded him of the goals he was working toward and nudged him to make small but necessary changes along the way. “I’d look at it every day or every other day, and it gave me a little reset,” he said.
2. Become more money-conscious
In addition to being a powerful goal-setting tool, money journaling can increase your awareness of your day-to-day financial mindset and management.
King noticed he had a habit of mindless spending. When eating out, for example, he’d order extras such as guacamole and chips, or super-size his meal.
Money journaling kept King’s goals at the top of his mind and highlighted how his daily spending wasn’t aligned with what he wanted to achieve really. “It’s not about sacrificing,” he realized. “It’s about being conscious and saying, ‘You know what, I’d be happier if I had this extra bit of money to throw toward the loans and debt.'”
3. Manage financial stress
After a big move, Sarah Li Cain felt burned out and overwhelmed. A money coach and co-host of the Beyond The Dollar podcast, Li Cain decided she needed to try something new to get out of her rut: Include money topics in her usual journaling habit.
“I wanted to see if writing down rants and worries about money on paper will help me alleviate some of the anxiety I felt about it,” she said.
Journaling about her finances, she found, was a powerful way to regain perspective and manage financial stress. “[Before this,] I didn’t allow myself time to unwind and explore the negative feelings I was having around money,” Li Cain said. “Journaling gave me the excuse to pause and reflect, and I felt so much lighter as a result.”
4. Identify money lessons to learn
A money journal can act as a safe space to reflect on what you’re learning about money management — and about yourself. Writing in a journal can give you the time to explore money hang-ups, experiences, or decisions in a new light.
Often, journaling can help you work out which actions to take or changes to make with your money. “It was a way to see what it was that I was constantly worrying about and whether or not I could address those worries,” Li Cain said.
Similarly, King took the time every week and month to check in with the money goals he had set. He’d reflect on what had gone well (or not), and what he could learn from his efforts. The process helped him identify two things: what wasn’t working for him and which strategies were most effective for his financial situation and personality.
5. Celebrate financial progress
King also found that journaling set reference points that proved his efforts were paying off. Even when he didn’t follow his financial plan perfectly, he could look back and see how far he’d come.
“That was a really positive feeling, and it helped me continue my push forward week over week and month over month,” he said.
Li Cain had a similar experience. “The biggest lesson I learned was that I simply wasn’t giving myself enough credit for all the things I have already accomplished,” she said. Now, she makes a point of journaling about her financial wins and celebrating her hard work.
How to start your money journal
If you’re interested in the benefits of money journaling or looking to get out of a financial rut, consider giving the technique a try.
Here are some tips to help you kickstart a money journaling habit:
- Try different formats. You could make to-do lists like King’s or write for a set time like Li Cain does. Others use a money journal to track money going in and out, record money affirmations, or explore their values and beliefs about money.
- Make it a habit. You’ll get more out of journaling if you’re consistent. As Li Cain stuck to her journaling goals, she felt more comfortable — and honest — with her writing.
- Find what works for you. Experiment a bit to see what kind of journaling fits your personality and the flow of your life. You’re more likely to stick with a journaling habit if it feels natural.
- Push past any discomfort. Money journaling can help you make progress, but it also can cause you to confront some difficult feelings or truths about your finances. Stick with it anyway, King advised, and you’ll start to see progress.
Keeping a money journal doesn’t have to cost anything, and anyone can do it. “You don’t have to be a writer,” King said. “Literally go get a piece of paper right now, or an old journal, and just start.”
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