Financial Planning in my Bullet Journal

As the “Finances” prompt comes for the #planwithmechallenge, I wanted to share how I make finance tracking work in my bullet journal. Many of us strive to get our finances in order, and have many goals that center around this thing called “having money.” Mr. PPP and I have similar hopes – we want to travel (a LOT), we want to have hobbies, to be generous with family and friends, own a home, yaddy yadda.  So how does that fit into a bullet journal? Here is how I use our goals to break it down to our everyday lives. My strategy is a huge mix of digital and analog, so perhaps it will work for you too.

As you expect, I start with the purpose, the big and higher level “why” of it all.  We have a long conversation surrounding this question: What is the life we want to have? What does it look like?  You could skip this step, but you’d be executing a half-baked plan, or it could take you longer.  If you are okay with that, carry on!

So one day at lunch, I was struck by an idea – and I invite you and your loved ones to take part in this activity as well. Know that we are in our twenties, dual income with no children – that makes a huge difference in what this looks like, but try to take the framework and apply it to your own context.

  1. We each had a piece of paper.  On our own, we answered the question: “What are my top 6 financial goals (in order of importance)?  What is the timeframe you’re hoping for?”
  2. Compare lists. What do you notice? If there are differences, where do they come from?  Can you come to an agreement on a shared timeline and vision for your lives together?

Magically, 5 of the 6 goals we had matched with some variance in desired timeframe (don’t ask me how that happened, and I wish I had saved those slips of paper to show you).  We both wanted to save money for travel, paying off his student loans, bolstering our emergency fund, having some cushion for a someday-child, purchasing our first home, with a differing sixth.  However, I wanted a house but a few years later than Mr. PPP did – we had to ask, why is that? (I have fear, he has excitement and a business acumen) Through that conversation we refined our intended timeline, and agreed on a new frame. This is an important step so you’re aiming for the same thing.

Here’s the first collection I created as a result of that conversation.

When creating a budget, first figure out what you are trying to save money for - and you might track that in a collection in your bullet journal //
When creating a budget, first figure out what you are trying to save money for – and you might track that in a collection in your bullet journal //

I should be clear about this – we wholeheartedly believe that “a plan is simply today’s best guess.”  Nothing we’ve ever decided has been set in stone, rather, “this is the choice we’d make given the information that we currently have.”  We are always ready to reassess and reimagine when new events occur or when we have new data. Never get so stuck in your plan that you ignore the possibilities along the way!

Since I’m married to an Excel spreadsheet fanatic, we created a spreadsheet to break down our finances to assess where we were beginning. Guided by our larger goals, we estimated how much we would need to save for each, and by when (so if we wanted to buy a house by Spring 2017, we’d need 10% ish by January 2017).  But the incredible part is that he did some math wizardry and calculated how much we would need to save each month in order to meet each of those goals in the future! We would include this as a monthly expense in addition to things like rent, food, gas, etc to guarantee that we were paying ourselves as well as our bills.

To spare you the details, he took our income and subtracted all of our expenses (including savings) to see what was left as discretionary. I take my number and whittle it down even more by identifying how much I need to save for my own financial goals, like being part of weddings and girls trips.  What’s left is my real target for the month. If there’s not any left, we go back and decide what to prioritize.

By the end of this process I have two numbers – our shared expense target and my personal expense target.  This is where I really use my Bullet Journal – my monthly tracker.

Once you have your budget numbers, you can track expenses in your bullet journal in categories or with a visual tracker //
Once you have your budget numbers, you can track expenses in your bullet journal in categories or with a visual tracker //

I break down our expenses into general categories so I can have a snapshot of where we’re at, and if our estimates for these areas are accurate.  The top row is for shared expenses in a really basic way – how much and where.  Bottom row are mostly my own categories.  In the middle are two bars for me to color in how much of the monthly allotment has been used.   Since I’m very visual, it helps me realize that shit, I gotta stop buying pens.

You’ll notice I added another column in my categories.  This is another experiment.  I have been logging my expenses but very reactively – I’ve already spent the money. I’m trying to use this new column as a projections column.  Often times there are already events upcoming where I know I have to spend money – planned happy hours, hosting people over, birthdays – so I tried account for these expenses from the beginning to give myself the REAL number this month.

Every time I make a purchase I keep the receipt in my wallet until I write it down, and then I’ll toss it.  If there might be a return involved, I put the receipt in the Midori pocket in my Foxydori.

On the weekly level, one of the items on my weekly tracker this month is “No Spend.” This is to incentivize me to not spend money to begin with, to create more cushion for my other spending/savings.  We’ve also used in the past as a really robust and free app to track our spending – but I still love writing it down.

I play around with my financial trackers a LOT.  Here are the very different layouts I’ve tried so far.  Read more about how they’re set up here, here, here, herehere, and here.

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So there you have it.  The actual execution is simple – the intention and the refining to GET to the execution is the hard and arduous part that is likely well worth it.  Are there tips and tricks that you have to motivate yourself to spend smart?  let me know down below in the comments!




19 thoughts on “Financial Planning in my Bullet Journal

  1. I like your system…and the line, “Since I’m very visual, it helps me realize that shit, I gotta stop buying pens.”

    Pretty ingenious. I feel inspired. Thanks!


  2. Hi I just have a question on this..Do you dedicate a whole bullet journal to planning finances like this or do you just add it in with your monthly spreads each week? I want to start adding or using a finance part instead of using a binder. Any tips of how to get that going or started? I have a spare bullet journal bigger than the one I use for my tasks and basically planner but looking for input.
    Thanks! Greatly appreciate any tips you could give!


    1. Hey Serena! I have so many thoughts on this. I use a lot of Google Spreadsheets to do the heavy lifting – it’s just easier to do the math. Like I say in the post, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes calculation before I get my personal discretionary fund. For example, we take all our income first, then subtract all our expenses INCLUDING what we want to be saving for our goals. Then there’s a number left over, which I calculate as spending money for the month. Knowing that, I can track what I’m spending and hopefully keep under that number. I’ve tried a lot of different spreads for that – I JUST updated the end of the post, so take a peek!! 🙂 Keep the questions coming.


  3. Hi, what about if I want to save up for something? Not necessarily as big as a car or house but still something that costs a significant amount like say, $1000. What do you think is the best way to track (and stay on track) til I reach that joyous goal? Great article by the way! Will definitely talk to my partner with a clearer frame of discussion in mind!


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