It's easy to mindlessly spend right now—here's the first step to take to avoid it


CNBC Make It is posting a new financial task to tackle each day for a month. These are all meant to be simple, time-sensitive activities to take your mind off of the news for a moment and, hopefully, put you on sturdier financial footing. This is day two of 30.

Financial experts often advise tracking your spending and saving so that you know exactly where your money is going. That's partly because the stress of the current moment paired with the ease of buying things online can mean spending money you don't intend to spend

Today, take 15 to 20 minutes to set up a system to catalog where your money goes each day and week. If you haven't completed yesterday's task, start there: Review how your spending has changed over the past few weeks and if it's still in line with your goals.

Then, commit to a method to track your spending going forward. There are a number of ways to do this, but you should pick the one that's easiest for you. Here are a few examples:  

  • Use an app like DollarBird
  • Create a Google or Excel spreadsheet
  • Use a pre-made Excel sheet from a company like Tiller
  • Keep track in a notebook or bullet journal 

"Setting up a system to track your spending and savings is a powerful act of self-care during the current crisis," Andrea Ferrero, co-founder of Pockets Change, a personal finance website, tells CNBC Make It. "I've been a financial educator for over a decade and one of the best pieces of advice I've heard came from a high schooler who said, 'If we don't create a plan for our money, someone else will.'"

Once you start tracking, you'll get a sense of how you are acclimating to new life, and financial, circumstances, Lindsay Sacknoff, head of consumer deposits, products and payments at TD Bank, tells CNBC Make It. 

"Keeping tabs on cash flow during this time is key to understanding your new financial norm," says Sacknoff. "More time at home requires budgeting adjustments to asses where money needs to go and where it can be cut out."

Review your spending

Once you've decided on the system you'll use to track your spending, stick to it. Whenever you purchase something, write down how much you spent and what you spent it on. You can also set up alerts each time your credit or debit card is charged, which can help you catch recurring expenses and subscriptions you may have forgotten about (not to mention fraud). You can do this via your card issuer's app or website, under account alerts. 

At the end of each week or month, tally your spending to see where your money is going and if any of your purchases surprise you. Be sure to include subscriptions, memberships, bills and other monthly expenses. As you review your purchases, ask yourself the following questions

  • How much did you spend each month on necessities? How much on wants?
  • Of those expenditures, what would you consider money wasted?
  • Where are obvious places you're over-spending?
  • What are the things you don't remember buying?
  • What does your savings look like in relation to your spending?

Then, keep it up. "Tracking is a lifelong habit like brushing your teeth," says Ferrero. "You have to keep doing it."

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