Instead of choosing from the dizzying array of online budgeting tools, here’s a novel thought: The best solution to keeping track of your money may be writing everything down with pen and paper.
The bullet journal — or BuJo, for short — is an analog organizational system that can help you find the “calm in the chaos” (at least, according to the creator of the bullet journal, Ryder Carroll).
What sets the bullet journal apart from other lookalikes is it’s completely customizable. Each page has tiny bullets to use as a guide to track whatever you want. You can set goals, write down to-do lists and track your finances all in one place.
Unlike pre-designed planners, bullet journal budget trackers allow you to create spreads for your particular financial goals and tasks, including the visuals that will most inspire you to reach them.
So if you want to buy a house, for instance, you can color each brick of a house as you save for a down payment.
And if you’ve ever missed a reminder amid the constant pings from the calendar on your phone, you’ll appreciate that bullet journals offer a physical, visually pleasing alternative for tracking your bills.
And you don’t have to be creative to get started.
Alicia Geigel teaches bullet journaling workshops at Whim So Doodle in St. Petersburg, Florida. She typically shares layout ideas to get people comfortable with tracking their lives both personally and professionally on paper. Now she’s finding people are interested in using the bullet journals for their personal finances.
Currently, she is using her journal to save $2,500 for a trip to Italy.
“Since I do it every night and try to make it part of my routine, it just reminds me of the path I am trying to save on,” Geigel said.
If switching to a bullet journal system is too much for you to take on all at once, consider starting with just one or two of Geigel’s tips:
Tip #1: Create A Monthly Budget Tracker
Unless you check your bank account every day, it’s difficult to know exactly what’s coming in and out of your budget at any given time. So write it down.
Just like a checkbook, write down your scheduled bills on the left and record expenses on the right. Every time you spend money, deduct it from your balance — this will hold you accountable. There should be no surprises when you look at your bank account.
Tip #2: Design a Visual Savings Goal
Determine an object that motivates you to save money. Is it a jar? A piggy bank?
Design a savings goal you can track visually. Each time you put money in your savings account, shade in a portion of the object. It’s quite satisfying to see it come to life.
Tip #3: Draw a Line Graph to Show Debt Payoff
Nothing is better than seeing your debt disappear. Draw a line graph to chart your debt payoff. Create a line for your credit cards, mortgage or car loan — as you pay them down, mark your progress on the graph.
Seeing the line go down can give you an extra push to pay it off faster.
Tip #4: Try a No-Spend Challenge
Try a no-spend challenge by creating a calendar. Check off the days you didn’t spend money. Even if you have a setback, by seeing your successes on paper, you’ll want to do it more often!
Tip #5: Use a Habit Tracker
Whether you want to break a bad habit or develop a new routine, a tracker can help you get there. Let’s say you want to pay bills on time. Acknowledge when you do it by filling in a box. The more boxes you see, the more it encourages the habit.
One of the great benefits of using a habit tracker in your bullet journal is that you can start to see patterns you might have missed before (like those budget-breaking lattes that sneak in around mid-week).
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to use a bullet journal. Figure out what works best for you. Before you know it, your finances will start to turn around.
Christie Post is a former supervising producer and host at The Penny Hoarder. You can see the videos she produces on YouTube. Subscribe and give her a shoutout @christiepost.
Staff writer Tiffany Wendln Connors contributed to this post.