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By Selena Garrison, University of Florida                      

We acknowledge that many families facing financial hardship due to COVID-19 are unable to save money right now. We hope the information provided in this blog series will serve as a helpful resource, during National Financial Capability Month, for Personal Finance Managers to enhance the money management skills of families who have discretionary income.

All financial professionals have worked with clients who were struggling with their personal finances. The most common issue we see over and over is that many people really just have no idea where their money is going. They may know what they get paid, and they may know the amounts of their main bills. However, they may have no idea what they spend on anything else like groceries, eating out, entertainment, gas, vending machines, lotto tickets, cigarettes, etc.

Without knowing where one’s money is going, there is no way to create a spending plan (aka budget) that will work, there is no way to get out of debt, and there is no way to truly save for the future.


How can we help remedy this situation?

The first step when helping people to get a handle on their finances is to have them track their spending. Whether they use an app or pen and paper, have them record every single dollar spent for an entire month. At the end of each week,  have them divide their spending into categories and total up each category. Then at the end of the month, they total their spending from each week to see what they spent overall.

By recording everything they spend, people can finally get an accurate view of where their money is going. Many people are shocked to discover how much they are truly spending in certain categories. Having this information can help them to make adjustments in their behavior so that they can use their money more efficiently.

Let’s look at this example of one week of spending for an individual.

Example for Week 1:

Rent: $800 Groceries :$85 Clothes: $38.56 Car Payment: $320 Coffee: $4.97 Farmer’s Market: $15 Lunch: $15.56
Lunch: $13.80 Vending: $2.75 Vending: $2.75 Lunch: $12.60 Lunch: $11.28
Gas: $49 Lotto: $4 Dinner: $18.78 Vending: $2.75 Dinner: $16.25

Category Totals:

Rent: $800

Car: $320

Gas: $49

Eating Out: $93.24

Groceries/Farmer’s Market: $100

Clothes: $38.56

Vending: $8.25

Entertainment: $18

Lotto: $4

Week Total: $1,431.05

Click here to download Financial Capability Spending Plan Template


 What can we tell from just this one week of spending?

First, we see that this person has both their rent and their car payment due in the same week. This is important, because, depending on their pay cycle, they may need to set money aside in other weeks to help pay for everything due during the first week.

Next, we can see that although they spend $100 on groceries/at the farmer’s market, they also spend nearly that much ($93.24) eating out. For many people, food is their top spending leak. It appears that this may also be the case here. I would talk with the individual about their dining habits and see if they found that extra spending on eating out when they also bought groceries to be problematic. If so, we could talk through ways to cut back on eating out, like packing lunch with the groceries that were purchased.

Last, on the topic of food being a spending leak, this person went to the vending machine three times, spending $8.25. While that might not seem like a lot, over the course of a month with similar behavior, that can add up to nearly $35 on vending machine food. Perhaps they could bring snacks from home to lower that amount.

Over the course of a month, we may discover more areas where the individual might want to adjust spending. Additionally, once they have a full, accurate month of spending available, we have a starting place for creating a spending plan and working to reduce debt or increase savings.

About the Author

Selena Garrison holds an MS degree from the University of Florida in Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, with a specialization in Family Financial Management. Since 2010, she has worked in multiple capacities with thousands of individuals and families to help them get their personal and business finances under control. She currently teaches undergraduate courses on Personal and Family Financial Management at the University of Florida as she pursues her Ph.D. Previously, she served as State Program Coordinator and Lead Trainer for the Florida Master Money Mentor Program, where she trained hundreds of volunteers across the state to work with low-to-moderate-income families on reaching financial stability. She also spent three years with Catch Your Money, working with women on building their small businesses, while taking control of their personal and business finances.

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