YOUR MONEY-Financial obsessives track every penny, every minute
(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)
NEW YORK, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Most of us can't recall where we spent every single dollar last Tuesday. But Corey Maass can.
He spent exactly $20 for a haircut, $20 for a dress shirt and $15 for dinner. Maass knows that because every single day, the Nashville-based software developer uploads all his spending to a smartphone application he created just for that purpose. His app, The Birdy (thebirdy.com) gives him instant readouts of his spending without him having to connect to his bank or wait for his credit card statements to upload.
His creation forces him to confront his spending with daily emails and text messages that require him to respond with his spending data, which he sometimes enters more than once a day. Because he can get instant analytics, Maass knows exactly where he's dropping his cash, where he's spending too much -- and where he needs to cut back.
Call it financial lifelogging: The Corey Maasses of the world are obsessed with taking their financial temperatures at all times, just as some people use mobile devices and applications to track every calorie burned, every heartbeat thumped and every moment of REM sleep.
"Before, I was making bad decisions because all my spending was emotional," says Maass, 36. "I would justify spending $200 just because I was in a bad mood, and then the next day my spending would be based on the fact that I felt guilty. Once I started tracking I could see all that, and I was able to take the emotion out of it. But I needed the numbers to do that."
There is a whole social movement emerging around the idea of data-driven life management. Adherents of the Quantified Self philosophy (http://www.quantifiedself.com) aim at self-improvement through number-crunching, whether it's analyzing one's health, moods or finances. Apps like Intuit Inc.' s Mint, BUDGT and Spendee are making it easy for those who want to know where every penny is going at all times.
Some apps requires users to turn over financial account passwords and then scrape the spending data from them; others, like The Birdy, require users to enter the information themselves. Either way, habitual tracking can have surprisingly positive effects on one's personal balance sheet.
"The simple act of tracking shows you two things," says Charles Duhigg, a New York Times staff writer and author of "The Power of Habit." He is a close tracker himself who can estimate his net worth in any given week to within 50 cents. "It shows you patterns that you might not be aware of. And it encourages reflection about whether you really need to buy all these things."
Such intense budgetary review actually works: After all, researchers have found the simple act of financial tracking usually leads to a decrease in spending. Australian academics Ken Cheng and Megan Oaten of Sydney's Macquarie University once had volunteers write down every single purchase for four months, which led to marked improvement in their financial lives. They also found that positive financial habits started bleeding into other areas, with the volunteers improving their behavior in everything from house cleaning to exercising.
Konstantin Augemberg, a New York City statistician and quantified self adherent, has been tracking not only his finances but pretty much everything else on his site, www.measuredme.com, in order to better himself daily.
"I look at the calories I'm taking in, the money I'm spending, the moods I'm in, or how I'm using my time," says Augemberg, 36. "Then I look at the data for trends and patterns, to get some interesting insights about myself."
One such insight: Augemberg found he was spending 20 percent of his paycheck on going out to eat (a common weakness of New York City residents). Alarmed by those outlays, he has since reduced that spending to 6 percent.
Monitoring every penny spent may help, but it's probably not good to apply the principles of extreme tracking to longer-term investments, experts say.
Constantly checking your 401(k) or brokerage-account balance is likely to make you anxious to trade, and studies have shown that frequent traders -- hampered by fees and poor market timing -- typically lag the broader market in their returns.
"If someone is checking their 401(k) investment statements daily or even weekly, that's a red flag," says Michael Williams, a planner with ALTIUS Financial in Denver. "The biggest issue with someone checking and potentially trading their 401(k) so frequently is they make the monumental mistake of equating activity for wisdom."
(Follow us zReutersMoney or at http://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance; Editing by Linda Stern and Dan Grebler)