There are all kinds of budgeting apps and strategies these days (we’ve written about a few), but Kakeibo is different. Pronounced kah-keh-boh, Kakeibo was developed in 1904 by Japan’s first female journalist, Hani Motoko, for an article in a women’s magazine. What sets Kakeibo apart from modern budgeting apps is the fact that this system relies on writing everything down by hand; the direct translation is literally “household financial ledger.”
While this practice has been around in Japan for over a century, Kakeibo found a new Western audience when writer Fumiko Chiba published the guide “Kakeibo: The Japanese Art of Saving Money” in 2018. The appeal, proponents say, is that Kakeibo brings mindfulness and the art of reflective journaling into the world of personal finance. If you use what you learn through this system, you can save money in small increments by removing the mindless aspect often associated with spending. If that sounds like something that might appeal to you, here are the essentials you need to know to begin your own Kakeibo journey.
The first — and perhaps most enjoyable — task is to select a journal in which to track your income and expenses. Since you will need to carry this around with you (in order to write everything down), pick something small and sturdy. You could use something bigger, but you’ll need to come up with a system of reminders to write things down later or else you run the risk of losing track. Once you have your journal and a writing utensil, you’re ready to begin.
Step 1: Budget. At the beginning of the month, write down your monthly income after taxes and monthly expenses. Take your fixed expenses from your income to determine how much you have leftover as spending money.
Step 2: Set Savings Goals. Kakeibo encourages setting realistic monthly savings goals, so that the practice can be a positive experience. This isn’t about chastising yourself for buying those shoes; it’s about celebrating when you avoid making a thoughtless or unnecessary purchase.
Once you’ve set yourself a monthly goal, set aside your savings by subtracting your goal amount from your spending money.
Step 3: Track expenses. This is the most important (and most difficult) step! You need to track everything. Write down all of your purchases in your journal. The idea is that by using pen and paper, you are forced to slow down and be present. You must think about how your spending will affect your future.
Step 4: Assess. At the end of the month, assess your spending by dividing your spending into four pillars or categories:
- Needs: Essentials like housing, groceries, utilities, car payments etc.
- Wants: Non-essential pleasures like eating takeout, hobbies, toys.
- Culture: Activities like museums, theater and books.
- Unexpected: Any costs that you don’t usually plan for, like medical bills, home or car repairs.
Add up all of the money spent and deduct that from your total budget to see how much you saved.
Step 5: Reflect. Every week or month (the time increments are totally up to you), you need to answer four questions about your spending:
- How much money do you have?
- How much money would you like to save?
- How much money are you spending?
- How can you improve?
Use this time to look at what you spent. Can you see any patterns that might reveal a bad — or even a good — habit? Do any purchases stand out? The idea is to reflect on your goals, whether you met them, and the reasons for your successes or failures. Then, try to think about how you could carry your successes into next month, or improve on what you have started.
Is Kakeibo For You?
Like any budgeting strategy, the methodology has pros and cons. For example, if you struggle to form new habits, remembering to track every little expense could be a deal-breaker. You could opt to “cheat,” and log your expenses at the end of the day by looking at a banking app or credit statement, but that robs you of the chance to be thoughtful about every purchase, thus defeating the whole purpose.
Additionally, sorting your “wants” from your “needs” can be difficult, as the categories are pretty subjective. Many practitioners of Kakeibo say that this is the hardest part of the system, because on a bad month they can find all kinds of ways to justify some of their questionable purchases. (One would hope that they would be able to see this about themselves upon reflection, and correct accordingly.)
Kakeibo might be perfect for the right-brained people out there, who struggle to adhere to other systems that rely on staid logic and linear thinking. The methodology is simple, realistic, and celebrates small wins while appealing to a more holistic analysis of habits. When you break down your expenditures into the category system, you can give every purchase a second look, which can help you see how your spending is reflected in values and priorities.
Journaling is typically appealing to those who are artistically inclined and may prove to be an incentive; you can make your ledger as colorful and interesting as you like if it helps you reflect on your expenses. In fact, the original Japanese Kakeibo books came with illustrations of a “savings pig” fighting a dangerous “expenses wolf” all month long — you could take that imagery and really run with it.
Finally, taking the time to write things down by hand has numerous benefits. Research has shown time and time again that it strengthens the connections made in the brain, which can help you make positive changes.
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