When I wrote about my success tracking my expenses by hand, a reader said I might want to try the kakeibo method. “Oh no,” I feared, “A more complicated method of what I’m already doing.”
But kakeibo, the Japanese word which translates to “household book,” actually simplifies the tried-and-true method of tracking your budget with pen and paper. The kakeibo method dates back to 1904, according to Fumiko Chiba, author of the guide-slash-journal Kakeibo: The Japanese Art of Saving Money.
That book was released in 2018 at the height of our collective obsession with bullet journaling, which is not entirely surprising – your kakeibo can be as plainly listed or as ornately decorated as you choose.
But let’s not worry about decoration just yet.
The kakeibo system boils your monthly budget evaluation down to four questions:
1. How much money do you have?
2. How much would you like to save?
3. How much are you spending?
4. How can you improve?
The fourth question is open-ended to encourage introspection, but the overall focus of the four questions is to get you to think about saving money without necessarily feeling deprived. Because you answer the same questions each month, you can adapt and adjust as you go, rather than feeling beholden to what may have worked on one spreadsheet you made six months ago.
Unclutter your budget with just four spending categories
Once you take a look at the month ahead and set a savings goal, the kakeibo system offers just four categories for track your expenses beyond your fixed monthly bills. Check ’em out:
Survival: The essentials that can vary in cost, from groceries to gas and utilities
Extra: One-time costs like repairs or gifts
Optional: Fun stuff that you could cut if you had to
Culture: Events like theatre or items like books that enhance your life experience (Yep, kakeibo has a whole category for book lovers.)
It seems overly simple, doesn’t it? But by having only four categories, you have to be critical of how you define and justify your spending. As you progress through the month tracking your daily spending, you’ll have to consider which category you select for each and perhaps why you count it that way.
Your ledger doesn’t need to be pretty
The pared-down requirements of kakeibo means you can adapt it for just about any notebook you choose. If you keep a paper planner that has room for notes, you may be able to squeeze your monthly planning and expense logs in that same book.
There are lots of budgeting-specific planners out there, but you don’t need to spend money on a complex one to reap the benefits of this method. Try a simple two or four-column ledger book that you can pick up at the grocery store for $4 or $5. Or, if you’re into bullet journaling, build your kakeibo into the notebook of your choice.
But don’t get hung up on how it looks. The whole point is to be more mindful about your saving and spending as you go through the month tracking your purchases. Your kakeibo only needs to be aesthetically pleasing enough so you remember to use it daily.