30 Days, 3 Seconds


Here’s a question for you, and it might seem a little weird. It was for me, at least.

How aware are you when you spend money?

Honestly, I have no idea how aware I am when I spend money. I’m not sure what I think about or if I think. Maybe I’m just on autopilot. Who knows?! I’m curious to find out so I’ve decided to try a 30-day experiment where I simply take 3 seconds following every purchase to notice.

And it’s important to point out that I’m not judging or resisting spending…only noticing.

So my noticing would go something like this: “I just spent $7 at Chipotle for this amazing burrito.”

This experiment was set up by financial planner Carl Richards for the purpose of helping people increase their awareness when they spend money. Carl’s hope, I believe, is that we get to the root of our spending so that we can better align our spending with our values.

We’ll see what I notice. Maybe I’m actually very aware when I spend or perhaps I’ll realize I’ve been missing out on a lot of stuff going on below the surface of my spending.

To help me actually do this experiment for 30 days, I’ve set up text reminders with my credit union (just like Carl recommended) so that every time I swipe my debit card I’ll get a text for the amount I just spent, and I’ll read that text. Again, all I’m doing is noticing.

That’s it. Super simple.

Give it a try for yourself if you want to become more aware of your spending. I’ll be sure to do a follow-up post in 30 days to let you know what I noticed.

update: here are the results of the experiment

photo credit: Veri Ivanova


20 thoughts on “30 Days, 3 Seconds

  1. I’ll be interested to hear what you learn! For me, being conscious of every single time I spend money has changed my financial life, no hyperbole. I started using YNAB last October, and as part of that I began recording everything – EVERYTHING. Even just seeing it and being conscious of it (and being able to go back and look at it) significantly decreased my spending, without even feeling like I was economizing! It was both fantastic and also scary, when I thought of all the money I’d spent mindlessly over the years. All told, I’m averaging HALF the spending per month compared to pre-YNAB, between just awareness and conscious (but not super strict) economizing. I wonder if you’ll find a similar result — or if I was just spending WAAAAAYYYYYY too unconsciously before!?!

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  2. This is a great idea! I finally looked down at what my husband and I were spending a few months ago, not in a noticing every purchase kind of way as you have described here, but in a “Did we really spend $700 on food this month??” kind of way. I couldn’t believe how long we had spent so much money carelessly without thinking of it. Maybe this experiment would be a good next step for us as we figure out our financial situation!

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  3. It should be interesting to see how the challenge goes. I find the times when I am most aware of my spending is when I am grocery shopping. Probably because even though I moved to Alberta 4 years ago, I can’t believe how expensive food costs here, and I live in Calgary, not the middle of nowhere. I also pay with cash, but for some reason, i cringe when I pay for groceries here. And its only getting worse and prices go up.

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  4. I’m hyper aware of any spending between me and my wife thanks to the awesomeness that is YNAB. I check it quite often throughout the day so I know where all my balances are. I think I would go crazy if I didn’t know what was going on w/ our money at all times 🙂

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  5. I am aware of the big picture, but not the day-to-day expenses. I can tell you where we are sitting with our annual spending versus our goals for the year, but could not tell you what the price of gasoline is right now. Anything less than $20 – I probably don’t pay much attention to.

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  6. These days, I find myself consciously thinking about every purchase I make; I try not to obsess about things too much because I don’t want to make myself feel guilty about things. However, I make an effort to at least be more mindful of our spending and I can’t help but think about the minor impacts each purchase has on our financial situation…like you said, not to be “judging or resisting spending,” but rather to just be mindful of it. Tracking everything has become incredibly easy since I started tracking things with an Excel spreadsheet over the past few months; plus, we use our credit card to make all of our purchases so each purchase is itemized on our banking website. Overall, excellent post, Ernie. I’m looking forward to hearing how your experiment goes. Good luck!

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  7. Great post. I think it is a great idea. I do that as well but I try to do it before I make the purchase. I try to think, do I really need this, how will I feel if I don’t spend it? 50% of the time I don’t make the purchase. Good luck!

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  8. I’m guilty of not paying attention to it at times. Sometimes between getting in and out of a place, I’ll get home and think “Wait how much was that?” I’m going to start my 30 days today. This is such a good idea!

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  9. Since becoming laser-focused on getting rid of my debt, I’ve become more conscious of every penny spent. Using Mint to check in daily, and my own spread sheet for planning every 2 weeks, and seeing the gradual, steady increasing speed that the debt is disappearing is a huge motivator not to spend.

    Here’s what’s happening – I avoid places where the temptation to spend is likely (book stores, the mall etc) and instead find myself actually tackling the long list of to-do’s at home and enjoying life more as a result.

    Short story – I spend less, and am happier. Win! I suspect you will find the same 🙂

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  10. Once I decided to get serious about tackling debt every extra cent went toward it. After I got out from under that burden I kept the same mindset about spending. I have never resumed spending money recreationally! Now all of the extra goes towards big goals like retirement! Good luck on your debt freedom journey.

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  11. I like this idea, Ernie. It is simple and not overwhelming. I think I am pretty aware of my spending–sometimes painfully aware. Like I could agonize over a $2 purchase for way too long. But who knows? If I tried this maybe I would learn about an area that I’m not aware of spending in.

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  12. We also have text alerts being sent. In fact, we preset the alert amount as low as the credit card company would allow, which for us, is $1. At the end of the day all spending gets recorded on a spreadsheet and we file the receipts. It really does help keep you aware of your spending!

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  13. A very interesting experiment. I look forward to hearing your results after 30 days. I may even give it a try myself! Maybe just a sticker with the word “think” on my debit card to serve as a reminder. I think it would help bring awareness to my actions.

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