In 2017, I decided to quit my job working for a London publisher and move to Japan. I enjoyed my work and had a great social life, but was craving something new and different.
After living in Tokyo for six months, I became fascinated by how small details, mindfulness, and incremental changes were given more emphasis in Japanese daily life.
It was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and it encouraged me to slow down and make some lifestyle improvements — specifically, in my frivolous and impulsive spending habits. So when I heard about a Japanese budgeting method called kakeibo, I was intrigued and decided to give it a try.
Kakeibo, pronounced "kah-keh-boh," translates as "household financial ledger." Invented in 1904 by a woman named Hani Motoko (notable for being Japan's first female journalist), kakeibo is a simple, no-frills approach to managing your finances.
Some people don't struggle with overspending and can live a satisfying life with just essentials. I was never one of those people. Instead, I had a habit of shopping when I felt bored, stressed, or unhappy about something. I also shopped when I was in a good or celebratory mood, with a tendency to go beyond my means.
As many people would agree, changing bad financial habits isn't easy to do — partly because our spending habits are deeply cemented into our daily routine, and the act of spending also includes an emotional aspect that is difficult to detach from.
Luckily, for the past 116 years, kakeibo has been effective in helping people make smarter financial decisions.
Like all budgeting systems, the idea behind kakeibo is to help you understand your relationship with money by keep a ledger of everything that is incoming and outgoing.
What sets kakeibo apart, however, is that it doesn't involve any budgeting software, apps or Excel sheets. Similar to bullet journaling, it emphasizes the importance of physically writing things down — as a meditative way to process and observe your spending habits.
Research has proven again and again the numerous benefits of writing by hand: It can help you make positive changes by encouraging you to be more present and aware, while also acknowledging the triggers behind your bad habits.
According to the kakeibo method, you must ask yourself the following questions before purchasing any non-essential items — or the things you buy on impulse, but might not necessarily need:
While kakeibo was effective in helping me stay on top on my finances, what it really did — that other systems I've tried in the past didn't — was force me to think about my purchases and what motivated me to buy them.
In other words, I was finally able to conquer my fear of being completely honest about my "needs" and "wants." As a result, I got better at making faster, smarter and more logical decisions about whether to spend money on a particular item.
It's important to note that kakeibo isn't designed to cut all joy out of your life. If you're feeling glum about something, then flowers are a fairly inexpensive way to cheer yourself up. Rather than requiring you to do anything drastic, the goal is to change your bad habits through mindfulness and incremental changes.
In order to see significant results in your savings, it's important to stay committed in asking the right questions before making any non-essential purchases.
Here are some simple kakeibo-themed strategies to ensure that you spend more mindfully:
I still occasionally treat myself with non-essentials. This is fine and even encouraged! Remember, kakeibo is about using mindfulness to cut out purchases that might only give you a temporary boost of happiness.
The acts of mindful spending and saving are very much interlinked, and the small changes I've made using kakeibo have had a cumulative effect on my bank account.
My savings are growing at a faster rate than I ever imagined possible. More importantly, I'm making wiser decisions about how to invest that money for things that really matter.
Sarah Harvey is the author of "Kaizen: The Japanese Secret to Lasting Change." Previously, she worked as a publishing consultant in Tokyo, where she fell in love with the Japanese culture. Sarah now lives in London and works as a literary agency. Follow her on Twitter.
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