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I love a good money challenge. I find them a fun way to push and hold yourself accountable.

We've used them to also keep us motivated when we were paying off our debt, saving for a vacation, or find creative date night ideas.

Honestly saving money just to save money can get old.

A challenge can mix things up and a great challenge can change your perspective and open up an opportunity to adjust a habit.

How Much are Your Wants?

One of my favorite people in the personal finance space – J Money – shared a simple (and eye-opening) challenge about tracking your wants that can help you control your spending habits.

I did it a couple of summers ago. Even though we're pretty savvy about spending, this challenge showed us that we have some areas we need to stay on top of better.

If you two are looking to refresh your finances, go ahead and try this challenge out.

Control Spending Habits by First Tracking Them

We've all heard about how tracking your spending makes you aware of what you're actually spending versus what you think you're spending.

Years ago, we came face to face with how much our date nights plus lunches out were costing us.

Seeing those numbers gave us the clarity we need to make smarter choices. We found cheaper ways to have fun while still going out occasionally.

But sometimes it can seem overwhelming to look at EVERYTHING. So why not take a step back and try it from a very specific angle – just look at what you're spending on your wants.

Skip the bills and just jot down (or use an app) and see how much you're spending on those extras.

Tracking Our Spending

When I did the challenge, here's what we saw with our spending:

  • Monday: $3.27 (bag of lollipops)
  • Tuesday: $8.75 (busy morning -car got inspected and I grabbed lunch on the way home from a doctor appointment)
  • Wednesday: $0
  • Thursday: $0
  • Friday: $25.25 (I meet up with a friend about every other month for lunch plus we picked up some sides for a get together)
  • Saturday: $53.12 (Our family went out to eat with friends after helping with a move. )
  • Sunday: $8.17 (grocery run for the week – grabbed smore sticks for our fire pit (2x $1.70) plus snacks)

Total for the Week: $98.56

Daily Average: $14.08

All Spending Isn't Bad

One thing I want to highlight to you is that it's not bad to spend on wants.

This challenge is not about deprivation. The root of it is awareness.

We all have things we like to spend money on that aren't essentials. Now if you're going over your monthly budget, you should start by knocking out your excess spending.

However even if you are sticking within your budget, there is a fantastic reason to still take this challenge.

The real benefit of this challenge is to review and analyze how much value you get out of your purchases. 

We feel good about our dinner out on Saturday. We enjoy hanging out with our friends.

Now that trip to Hardee's on Tuesday….that's something that has to stay once in a blue moon. If we did that more often our waists and wallets wouldn't be happy.

For you, you may find that eating out isn't really a big deal for you, but you may spend more than you like to when you shop at certain stores (*cough* Target*).

The point is when you're aware of what you're spending and why you can then talk about it.

Is this something we need to include in our budget because it's aligned with our goals and brings us joy or should we trim this back?

Easy Apps to Track Your Money

The question I get often is how to actually track your spending.

I kept it low-tech for the challenge and just reviewed receipts in the evenings. It allowed me to quickly scan and see those little extras tucked inside those grocery and Target runs that somehow get missed.

You may want to keep digital records and thankfully, there are some great choices out there like Zeta, Mint, and Personal Capital.

They allow you to track your money quickly and easily.

Do you prefer spreadsheets? Tiller can be a smart option. They can automatically pull that data from your bank and put it into your spreadsheet for you.

Thoughts on Controlling Spending Habits

However you decide to do, just try it out for one week (or month) and then review the results on your next money date.

I think it'll be a fun and eye-opening conversation that can identify those wants that bring you a lot of joy and you want to keep and those ones that could be trimmed back or even eliminated.

How many of you have tracked your spending? How long did you do it? What did you learn about yourself? What changes (if any) did you make?

Which money challenges have inspired you?

This post was originally published in July 2018. It has been updated in July 2021.

About Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..