You’re surviving, but are you thriving?


With the new year upon us, most people are detoxing from too many holiday parties, too much holiday travel, and and way too much holiday food/drink/board games (or whatever else you did to excess).

I don’t begrudge anyone excess, of course. But now all of that has rolled to a close.

And with it, time for me to give you some simple instructions. We’ll talk about why after. And also, cake.

Two steps

1. Write down everything you’ve spent money on since the beginning of the month.

  • Round to the nearest dollar.
  • Don’t worry if it’s not 100% accurate.
  • Exclude things like rent, phone bill, electric bill, and anything else that you pay the same time each month.
  • Put each item into a rough category. Things like “Food”, “Transportation” etc.

2. Do this every day for the rest of the month.

  • I don’t recommend using Mint, but if you must, then copy the numbers from there into another format, like a text editor, notepad, or spreadsheet.
  • Again, rough numbers are okay here.
  • Continue putting each purchase into a category of your own choosing.


This isn’t really a lot of work, but it might feel like it. And it’s probably no fun.

But I’m asking you to do this because a fascinating thing will happen when you do. Over time, you’ll start to notice patterns. You’ll see what you’re spending your money on, and what areas you spend more on that others. And at the end of the month, you’ll have a good representative sample of your spending habits.

So why do you care?

Because awareness of one’s actions is the first step to analyzing one’s actions. And perhaps changing them.

You may think? “Why bother? I’m doing fine. I can afford to live my life each month.

If you’re in this place, then I applaud you. You’re more on top of things than most people. You’re surviving.

But the question is: are you thriving? Are you doing as well as you could be? You’re doing fine for today, but what about tomorrow? Are you sure that you’re acting in a way that maximizes all of your goals, not just your day-to-day ones?

Are you acting in line with your priorities?

Let’s bake a cake

Let’s say you’re trying to figure out how to bake a cake, but lack a recipe. (I could tell you a recipe, but everyone has different ingredients and likes different types of cakes.)

You start with some ideas, and then try it out. Based on the taste test, you think “hmm, could use less sweetness” or “it’s hard as a rock“. (That’s me; I’m no baker.) You take the feedback and put it back into the next cake you make. The goal is to make the best possible cake you can over time.

What does the “best possible cake” mean? Is it best tasting? Healthiest? Most sustainable ingredients? A combination of these things? Only you can say, which is why you’re baking the cake and not me.

Every month you bake a cake with your money. But chances are, even though you’re “eating” the result, you may not be thinking, “how could I make this the best possible?” Instead, you may say, “hey, it’s just cake” and then start again, throwing ingredients in however you feel.

It’s time to start asking yourself: what is the best possible “cake” I could make? More importantly, what does “best possible” mean to me?

Start thinking about the answers to these questions over the next month. Then, when you have your representative sample from those two steps listed above, start asking what ingredients you may want to change.

Then next month: start again.

Happy baking!


  1. Emily

    Hiya, this is Emily, we met at the Basic Income meeting. I can vouch for this system! I started tracking my spending in mid-November using an app for Android called Dollarbird. It’s not everything I ever wanted from an app but it seems to meet my basic needs, and it’s free. I can’t say that anything in my spending habits really surprised me, but it makes me feel better to have data instead of what I had before, which was a vague sense of unease. We know from food tracking and activity tracking that the mere action of tracking something can make you change your habits. If I have the option to spend nothing in a day, I probably won’t make an optional purchase, because I want to “maintain my streak” on the app’s calendar. I know stuff like that motivates me personally. Last night, I also found myself randomly thinking about my financial priorities, which are shelter, and having opportunities to connect with other people. I think it was tracking my spending that jumpstarted my thoughts on all that.
    TL;DR I’m a convert!

    • Mike @ Unlikely Radical

      Hi Emily. Thanks for writing in. That’s great! It is so true that just tracking can lead to behavioral changes, even in not-so-obvious ways. And mindfulness in one area certainly leads to mindfulness in another. Keep it up, and please let us know what else you discover!

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