The meme “You cheated not only the game but yourself” applies equally well to when you hide certain purchases from your spending tracking.
I don’t know how up you are on your Twitch streamers, but I quite enjoy watching certain people play certain video games online. Specifically Mario games, specifically Super Mario Maker.
I’ve been watching a streamer by the name of CarlSagan42 for a number of years now. Aside from being a wildly-intelligent microbiologist who can hold court talking about viruses effectively forever, he’s also a savant at Mario games, both playing levels, and creating them.
Not too long ago, he created a diabolical level that, among much else, effectively punishes the player for “taking the checkpoint”, the midway points in the level so you won’t have to start all over if you die.
Not only do these particular checkpoints make finishing the level harder, but it comes with a warning:
“You cheated not only the game, but also yourself. You took a shortcut and gained nothing.”
(I know it’s a meme, but this was the first place I heard it.)
And to me, that sums up a lot of things, but it also sums up what happens when you don’t track your spending completely, or try to “hide” things from it.
Because really, what did you gain?
Table of Contents
Let’s recap, in case you’re new here.
I recommend everyone track their spending. I recommend you do it every month going forward, but at the very, very least, do it for a single month so that you know what you’re spending.
Not what you think you’re spending, what you’re actually spending.
I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me that they spend “so much” on going out to eat, only to track it and find that it was hundreds less than they expected it to be.
Or how someone has told me that they have absolutely zero wiggle room in their monthly budget, just none at all, and then they track their spending and magically find extra money.
And once you know how much you spend naturally, only then can you decide what (if any) changes you’d like to make.
But this only works if you don’t cheat yourself.
A hollow victory
Tracking your spending is like a mirror into your deepest desires.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
Well, not always, but I know there are plenty of you who don’t exactly want to be made aware of how much you spend in certain categories. I won’t name names (or what you’re spending money on), but am I right?
And so, the temptation is to, shall we say, not write everything down.
I mean, does absolutely everything need to be there? Will anyone notice if this purchases here, or these subscriptions there, aren’t listed?
In a word, yes.
If you omit purchases, you are in effect, claiming to have more money than you do.
You didn’t grow, you didn’t improve
Let’s say you make $4,000 a month, and you have $2,000 in Bills. Everything else is your Expenses, the stuff you track.
If you forget to write down $500 in purchases, you’re going to think that you are only spending $1,500, meaning that you can devote that “extra” $500 to some other use.
Also, you’ll think that you’re spending much less in a particular category than you actually are, making you unable to meaningfully make decisions on how to change it if you want.
But more to the point, it makes all of your other work more or less meaningless. If you spend exactly as much as you make in a month,, your checking account should have the exact same amount at the end as it did at the beginning. But if you’ve hidden money, that won’t be the case.
In that situation, with the money not adding up, you’re going to think that the whole exercise is pointless. And then you’ll stop.
And at that point, you’ve cheated not only the game, but also yourself. You took a shortcut and gained nothing.
Nothing risked, nothing gained
Now, if you’re talking about a small amount of money that won’t add up to anything, then that’s fine. I personally have a monthly bill that’s between $0.95 and $1.08 each month, and I’ve literally never written it down anywhere. And I don’t feel bad about it.
But if you’re looking to not track something, the question you want to ask yourself is: why not? Is it to save time, is it because it doesn’t matter? Or is it because you don’t want to face up to what you’re spending?
Because if that’s the case, that may be the most important expense to track of all.
Hopefully, you can see the difference.