What else could you keep track of?


One of the quickest ways to get control of your finances is to keep track of your expenses. It is both the simplest task (requiring a pen and paper, alternately a text file on your phone or laptop) and also the most difficult (in that it forces you to do the same little thing over and over).

Difficult or not, it works. I have seen people “discover” money they had no idea they had over the course of a single month. Sometimes hundreds of dollars. Being intentional and focused allows you to be more in control of what happens to you.

All of this has made me think recently of other areas of our lives that this could be applied to.

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If you spend less when you keep track of your expenses, then it stands to reason that you would eat less when you keep track of what you eat. And if you’re looking to get in better shape, eating less (or at least eating better) is almost always something we could stand to do.

But there is the problem of how one tracks eating. With expenses, it’s easy: When you spend $5 on a coffee, you write down that $5 expense in your Coffee category (or Eating Out category, or whatever category you put coffee in). But when you grab some pasta from the local trattoria, what do you write down?

The simplest way of keeping track of food is by counting calories. Putting aside how radically oversimplified and possibly wrong this is, it only works if you are eating foods where you know the number of calories. Yes, if you eat prepackaged foods, the number is listed on the box, but that isn’t a good enough reason to eat prepackaged foods. If you make your own food, you could estimate how many calories come from each component, but then it’s no longer a simple process. And a recurring process that is not simple is not sustainable.

Keeping track of food seems to be a core component of programs like Weight Watchers and their “points” plans (where you have a certain amount of points to “spend” on food each day). Hmm, sounds like a budget for food to me!

I can’t comment on the Weight Watchers program in general, though the points idea does seem to get around the issue of calorie counting. But since just writing down what you spend can cause you spend less, perhaps just writing down what you eat without quantifying it will help.


A study from a few years ago stated that the average American walks a bit over 5,000 steps a day, much almost half as much as Australians, and two-thirds of those in Japan.

Americans’ lack of walking shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, since for the past half century we have built most of our places to be accessible by car only. I was surprised about the figure for Australia though, whose places seem similarly car dependent, at least from my limited experience.

But no one will argue with the idea that more walking (or cycling, or just movement in general) would be good for us. Even if it’s walking around the block, or a treadmill at the gym, movement is good for our bodies, an antidote to our normal sedentary lives.

So maybe we could track this. We could get a pedometer and mark how many steps we take. We could even have a “budget” for how much we walk in a given day.

I don’t know what those targets would be though, as this is well out of my area of experience. And not all steps are created equal (a walk in San Francisco is going to require different efforts from a walk in Nebraska). But perhaps the specifics don’t matter. Getting out and walking is the important thing, and even setting an arbitrary goal could make you more likely to push yourself past what you would ordinarily do.

And more

I still think that money is one of the simplest things to track. You know what is coming in, so you know what must go out. You set the specific category targets, but the larger targets are set for you. But there are certainly other aspects of our lives that we could track.

I should caution that we can’t keep track of everything, and too much tracking may border on the obsessive and unhelpful. That said, I say a little more tracking could help us make the progress we want.

But enough about me: what in your life could be better managed by tracking?

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