I have had very little success with managing money. I have gone bankrupt once ($50K in credit card debt) and since then I no longer have credit cards (just a debit card) but my spending is still totally undisciplined. On a good month, I simply spend everything I make... on a bad month I dip into the leftover money that I got returned to me in the bankruptcy when my property was sold. So, basically a basket case.

I have tried talking to a financial professional but he said "keep track of your expenses for a month and then come back to me". I asked him why he can't just use my bank's online banking site, since I use my debit card for everything, but he said that the bank's site is not detailed enough, since it only says which stores, etc. I paid and not exactly what I bought. I keep telling him I just am not disciplined enough to keep track of my spending and he said, "well I can't help you with that" and that was the end of it.

Any ideas on getting out of this rut?

  • 4
    Do you have a trusted significant other or family member? Give them your money and collect an allowance.
    – MrChrister
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 5:28
  • 3
    This is a real issue, and it is great you are thinking about doing something about it. Post here lots of questions and get encouragement and advice.
    – MrChrister
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 5:32
  • 5
    Not reprimanding, but are you so lazy or aloof that you want to put yourself on the road in the future, even after you have been once ? Self discipline is the only way. People can only help you to a limit, after that it is all yours to walk. Jot down what you spend and at the end of the month decide if an expense could have been done without, and don't repeat it again.
    – DumbCoder
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 11:09

11 Answers 11


Do you have direct deposit of your paycheck?

If so, almost every employer will allow you to split the paycheck into two accounts.

You could open one account for savings, and one for spending. Put $x from each paycheck into the savings account, and the rest into the spending account.

Keep the savings account totally separate, with its own ATM card. There should be no way to get money out of this account except by using the SEPARATE ATM card.

Now, get a dish of water. Put the ATM card in the dish of water. Put the dish of water in the freezer.

alt text

If you are ever tempted to spend your savings, you'll have to wait for the block of ice to defrost. Hopefully, while the ice is defrosting, the urge to waste money will pass :)

  • 2
    Freeze that credit! Also, the account I save money into is a credit union a town over. It is pretty hard for me to go fetch my money, but I could if I really wanted to.
    – MrChrister
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 5:26
  • 1
    Very good advice to split your money into separate accounts, that has helped me to follow a budget. You can get a free online Schwab checking account with ATM.
    – christo16
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 10:20
  • 2
    I have a torch blower; this wouldn't help me much. ;) Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 20:26
  • This is so creative.
    – Jason
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 0:17
  • 1
    A hammer would be faster then defrosting.
    – Andy
    Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 2:30

I hate to sound harsh, but he's right.

No technology, innovation, service or product can overcome your own lack of discipline.

That doesn't mean you should give up, though - just like everything else, financial discipline is a learned skill, not something we're born with. Everyone can learn to be financially responsible.

If you find you can't keep track of your expenses, try merely saving your receipts. Whenever you get home, pull them all out of your pockets, and look over how much you spent. Once you get to the point where you're consistently keeping your receipts, start keeping a register (either paper or electronic) that you update when you empty your pockets. From there, you can begin tracking how much you spend in various categories, and being setting budgets and adjusting your spending habits.

It's not easy, but it's something that we all have gone through. Keep at it, and you can succeed in turning your finances around.

  • +1 it's all about self-control, especially with widely-available credit.
    – msanford
    Commented Dec 11, 2010 at 7:01

mint.com does a decent job categorizing your spending for you, it will do exactly what you asked your advisor

I would also put some %% into saving from your every paycheck before you deposit the rest to checking(spending) and make a rule, you can't touch the saving account. Just like you are have enough courage not to use credit cards.

  • 6
    Also, put what's left from your bankruptcy into a long term CD, this you can't touch it
    – Vitalik
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 1:26
  • My wife and I set up our accounts on mint.com just last week and have been dialing in our budget. So far we're really enjoying the transparency and immediacy of it (they have iPhone/Android apps) so we both know exactly where we are financially at all times. Take a look if you haven't already. Oh yeah, it's free. Commented Feb 4, 2011 at 6:41
  • I'm finding Mint really useful too but I was already reasonably good at budgeting Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 17:09

Perhaps you take it a step further and go cash only. Cash only will make it just another step harder to spend your cash.

Also split your money into multiple accounts. Checking that auto pays bills, a savings, and an investment account.

You have to want to change to change. Post a blog and public calendar with your expenses and that might make you think twice about spending your money. If you don't want to tell everybody else, maybe you don't spend it.

Perhaps see a shrink too. You need help identifying patterns before you do them, and having insight into your motivations could help. I am not saying go forever, but perhaps a few sessions or a couple of months. You might be addicted to spending. Join a group and talk about it.

  • 1
    +1 for the psychological part of the answer. Sounds like the OP has a problem that goes deeper than simply managing finance. (I'd give another +1 for going cash if I could.)
    – bstpierre
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 16:40
  • @bstpierre - I personally view talking to a shrink like going to a doctor for a cold. You don't go forever, but if my mind isn't running like I want, I need some pro's opinion.
    – MrChrister
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 16:57

I have the same problem. The people above are right to an extent. You have to be more disciplined. But there is no reason why you can't get there in stages. If you try to do too much too fast you'll just give up. You need to find a system that removes some of the passive barriers affecting you. You need to think what in particular is overwhelming you. For me it was sitting down at the end of the month to write it all down. Writing it all down at the end of the week or even each day didn't work either because it was too much and I had forgotten what stuff was. I'm like you. The bank account is a record so why do I have to retype it or worse, hand write it out? Bleh.

What I ended up doing was divide my expenses into four categories: food (to include all medical) shelter, transportation, spending -- with the first three being needs and the last being wants. Eating out is spending.

I have four checking accounts with four debit cards. I saved up some money. I put a paycheck's worth of money in each because I didn't know how much I spent each month in each category, but knew I didn't spend an entire paycheck in any one category per month. Voila. No more work. At the store you just put things in the basket by category. At Target you pay for the food and toothpaste with the medical card and the DVD with the spending card. The cashiers don't care that you pay separately. And if you are buying so much crap that separating items by category is a problem, why the heck are you buying so much crap?

At the end of the month you will now have a record of how much you spend on transportation, housing (electricity would be paid online from this account for example), medical and fun. That's all anyone needs to help you get started. You can then see if your housing is 35% or less (or whatever percentage you feel is right). The person trying to help the author above is right. A Target charge doesn't indicate whether you bought some oil for the car or cold medicine or a lock for the cabinet door that broke. But when you pay for each of these things under the right account, you do know how the money is allocated.

Doing it this way requires little discipline. Before you put the item in the basket, you just ask yourself, is this a want or a need (which is something you should be doing anyway). If it's a need, is it for my car, house, or body. The house is what I use if I can't figure it out (like paying for the renewal of my professional license). That's it! You have to stand at the register for longer but so what.

If you are spending all your salary and you stop when you have no more money (assuming you've run through all of your savings, which you will soon if you don't change), then you have no more money to spend. So if you are honest when you put things in the basket(need vs want), you are going to run out of spending money real quick. Your spending money account will be empty but you will still have food money. Set your debit card up so that it denies your charge if you don't have enough money.

Once you realize how much you truly spend for needs in each category, you will only put that much in each account. Therefore, You can't use the house card to just "borrow" from it till next month. If you do, you won't be able to pay your bills. If you have so little discipline that you knowingly spend your bill money, then there is a deeper issue going on than just finding the right budgeting/cash flow system for you. Something is seriously wrong and you need to seek professional help.

When someone is trying to help you, the first step is to determine what category you are spending too much in. Then when you realize it's the house category, for example, you will need to figure out why you are spending so much in that category. A bank statement wont tell you that. So you can do what we did. On every receipt --before you walk out of the store-- write down what each purchase is on the receipt. Then you can hand over the receipts to whoever is helping you. Most items are easily recognizable on the receipt so you wont have to write everything down. You should be doing this for insurance purposes anyway.

Again, if your receipt is so blooming long that this is onerous, probably everything you just spent is not a need and maybe you need to turn right around and return stuff. Maybe you need to go to the store more often so there are only a few purchases on each receipt. Groceries are groceries. You don't need to detail that out. For IKEA when you have to purchase pieces to a set, we get a separate receipts for each. So the brackets and shelving for the bedroom will be on one receipt and the brackets and shelving for the other room will be on another receipt. Even at the store I can't figure out what all the little pieces are!

But really, if you are making a decent enough salary, then you are probably spending too much on wants and are calling the items needs. So really your problem is correctly identifying needs from wants. Define a NEED. YOU. Make up your own definition of need Dwell on it. Let it become meaningful for you. Oranges are a need. Chocolate is not (no, really it's not! LOL!). So when you are putting the stuff in the basket, you don't even have to think about whether it's a need or not after a while.

Wants go in the child seat if at all possible (to keep the number of items smaller).

When you are ready to check out, add up the items roughly in the want pile. Ask yourself if you really want all that stuff. Then put some stuff back! At this point ask yourself is the 8 hours I will have to work to pay for this worth it? Am I really going to use it? Will using the item make me happy? Or is it the actual buying of the item that makes me feel powerful? Where will I put it? How much time will I need to maintain it? Then put some stuff back! Get some good goals, a kayaking trip or whatever. Ask yourself if the item is worth delaying the trip. How will I feel later? Will I have buyers remorse? If so, put it back!

These are controls you can put into place that don't take a lot of discipline. Writing the items down on the receipt is a more advanced step you can take later.

If you are with friends, go first so that you can write down the items while they are checking out. If you are private and don't want to share your method with your friends, go to the bathroom and in the stall write it down while they wait. Writing the items on the receipt while in the store is sort of a trigger mechanism for remembering to do so. That pulling out of the card triggers your memory to get out your pen or ask the cashier for one.

The side benefit is catching someone using a cloned copy of your card. In the medical account if you see an Exxon charge, you know it's not yours. Also, while that one account is shut down, you have three others to rely on in the meantime.

My spouse hated fumbling for the right card. They all look the same. Color code your cards. We have blue cross blue shield so it feels natural to have the food/medical account with a blue sticker (just buy a little circle sticker and place it on the edge so half is on the front and half is on the back -- nowhere near the strip). I've never been given a hard time about it. Our car is red so the car card is red, etc. If you think four cards is a lot to carry, ask yourself if you would rather carry four cards or keep track of every little thing?

Good luck. I know you will find a system that works for you if you keep trying.

  • Thanks so much Laura! I wish I could give you 2 upvotes! I hope you can stick around this site and help others like you helped me! :)
    – Bart
    Commented Jan 2, 2011 at 1:18
  • This is great advice.
    – enderland
    Commented Mar 10, 2013 at 16:49

By not saving some of your income you put yourself at risk of the following:

  1. Job loss. You will have no money to pay for basic items if you were to lose your job. You may have to use charity, friends, and family to help you with food & shelter.
  2. Retirement. You will have to work until you die.

If you are comfortable taking on those risks, then continue what you are doing (I'm not being sarcastic here...some people are perfectly comfortable taking on these risks). I plan on working until I die so I am not as concerned with saving for retirement but I do save some money for temporary job loss situations.

Saving money presents its own set of issues (e.g. Where should I put the money?, Should I invest the money?, What type of investments?). If you have no interest in researching answers to these type of questions then I would suggest what others have already suggested: have part of your paycheck automatically siphoned into an account that can only be accessed by a trusted family member.

  • 7
    +1 for highlighting the risks. Pay checks or deposit notices should come with mandatory warnings printed on them, such as Spending All Your Money Each Pay Is Bad For Your Financial Health. Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 18:13

You have to track your spending for a month, down to the cent.

Without those records, the person trying to help you has no real data.

Even a week would be a start. Heck, try just doing this today. See if it works for you.

Throughout each day:

  • Start with some predictable amount of cash ($20, or whatever you want, really).
  • Take a brightly colored Post-It and put it into your wallet. The one that's about the size of an index card is ideal. Best idea is to fold the Post-It around your cash so that you can't help but see it when you take the cash out.
  • Carry around a pen or pencil. Each time you spend cash, write it down (what it was, and how much) if you don't get a receipt.
  • Every time you use your debit card, be sure to get an itemized receipt. If you don't, write it down as if it were cash.

Each evening:

  • Look at what you've written down from what you've spent cash on. When you subtract the total of those purchases from the cash on hand you started the day with, it should match. If it doesn't, figure out what the difference is right then. It won't get easier to track down later. It shouldn't be that hard. Just mentally go back through your day and you should remember. If you just forgot one thing, the amount should tell you what it was you bought. ("75 cents off? Oh, right, that was a Snickers bar from the vending machine.")
  • Put that Post-It and the receipts in one place. Paper-clip or staple them together. Put today's date on it.
  • Congratulations! You just have a record of everything you spent for that day.

At the end of a month (or week, or whatever period you want):

  • Go through your daily records and categorize the expenses by type. Then stuff will start to jump out at you. ("$45 per month on coffee? No way!")

Each day you do it successfully it will get easier. Let us know how it works out! Best wishes!


Create a meaningful goal for yourself which would distract you from impulsively spending all your money and help you to direct it towards something more meaningful. Maybe you're curious about just how little money you can live off of in one year and you're up for a challenge. Maybe you want to take a whole year off from work. A trip around the world. Or create a financial independence account, the money that is put into this account should NEVER be touched, the idea is to live off of the interest that it throws off.

I strongly suggest that you listen to the audio book "PROSPERITY CONSCIOUSNESS" by Fredric Lehrman. You can probably find a copy at your local library, or buy if off of amazon.


It's hard to be disciplined when the money is right there to be spent. So what you should do is have two bank accounts.

One for savings and one for spending.

Figure out how much you need to spend per week and have your pay automatically deposit that much into the spending account and divert the rest into these accounts.

Never touch your savings account unless it is an emergency or whatever. In fact, if you really want, you should put it as a termed deposit which you can't touch.

As the only thing you see is your spending balance, you'll be forced to get used to living within your means. After a while, you're going to forget that you have that savings account at all.


Apart from what others have contributed.

  • Look at all your usual spendings. Can they be cheaper? (Telephone, Electricity, Gas, Car, Mortgage, Loans, Insurance...)

  • Whenever you are tempted to buy anything, ask yourself: Do I need this? If the answer is 'Yes' go ahead and buy (food, basically). Otherwise, restrain yourself.

Most things in life can be bought cheaper. Most things in shops are useless. For example, how many pairs of shoes do you need? You can drink water from the tab. You don't have to go to restaurants or bars, and if you do, you could budget yourself to some amount. If the restaurant is more expensive, walk.

My 0,02€


I would suggest having your money auto-deposited into a savings account. Then use cash weekly to pay for everything you purchase. Forget the ATM card, because you can burn through your whole paycheck and then run out.

Set a certain budget (say $200 per week, just making up a number), and that's all you get. Withdraw $200 from the bank / ATM, and then walk away. No buying online (because it isn't restricted), no buying on a card. All expenses (beyond utilities) comes out of that cash.

When you want to spend more, you need to wait until your next cash "paycheck". If you want to spend more (on whatever you end up splurging on), you will need to cut back in other areas (cheaper food, etc).

As others have mentioned, freeze that ATM card, and don't use it at all.

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