I used to keep track of our spending on tediously hand-lettered sheets of graph paper, which accumulated into a dusty pile, stored under my dresser. It was a lot of work, but I derived great satisfaction in plotting each month's income and expenditures on a master graph.
Then I entered the workforce full time, and tracking our spending became less of a priority. I had a general idea of what we could "afford" and our expenses always seemed to fall into that range, so I didn't worry about it, and the stack of graph papers became increasingly dusty and were eventually thrown away.
Over the past several months, I've become dissatisfied with the direction in which my life is headed. Am I really going to slave away in a cube, in exchange for financial stability, but have nothing to show for it at the end of my life except a giant pile of wine corks and a "Thanks for all your years of service" certificate? I realized that I didn't even know what our monthly living expenses really were, so couldn't effectively set a savings goal.
Since the end of June, I've been tracking our spending (on spreadsheets this time, not graph paper) and I finally have a grasp of what we spend for variable expenses like food, clothes, household supplies, the dogs, etc. (A lot.) Now that I know what we spend, I can get a better handle on where we can cut back--food for sure, and how to save more.
We are always poor in September because of tuition bills and other school-related expenses, and we have some major maintenence expenses looming over us right now. Remember when my kitchen sink pipe burst on Easter Sunday and leaked water all over the breaker box? Yeah, me neither, until our A/C kept tripping the breaker and we called an electrician who discovered that the breakers have been quietly corroding ever since. We need to replace the entire breaker box. We also need an arborist to come over and assess the walnut tree that looms so menacingly over the house and which dropped a massive limb on our roof during the derecho two years ago. If it's healthy, it will need some serious pruning, and if it's not, the whole tree will need to come down.
Then there's the problem of identifying a goal. It's much easier to stick to a savings plan if you have a concrete goal. I would like to do some serious traveling, but that is a bit vague. Stay tuned, as there will probably be more frugal lifestyle-related posts coming as I try to sort through this.