I Tried Kakeibo Budgeting and Here’s What It Taught Me About Money

‘Kakeibo’ is picking up speed as one of the hottest new trends in the budgeting world (yes, budgeting can be cool…). The kakeibo is a traditional Japanese budgeting log created by Japan’s first female journalist, Hani Motoko, in the early 1900s as a simple way for Japanese housewives to take control and manage their household finances. 

Combining a mindful approach to journaling your expenses with a firm structure for calculating what you can afford, the kakeibo is equally appealing to bullet journalers and spreadsheet fanatics alike.

Your kakeibo can be recorded in a notebook, digitally or in a pre-printed book but the general concept remains the same, whatever your preference.

Budgeting using a kakeibo is relatively simple: 

Writing down your daily expenses, setting goals of how much you’d like to save, carefully weighing up what you can afford, and regularly checking in with yourself holds you accountable and enables you to see where you can make improvements.

Getting started with kakeibo

It’s easy to get going with kakeibo!

At the start of each new month:

  • Note how much money you have coming in.

  • Subtract how much you have going out (fixed expenses such as rent and utility bills).

  • Look at what remains and ask yourself: How much would I like to/can I realistically save?

  • Work out how much that leaves you to spend weekly, recording your expenses and making notes throughout the week to ensure you are sticking within your budget.

The fun part comes at the end of each month, when you check in with yourself to ask how you found ways to save, whether or not you met your goals and how you can make improvements.

You can get as deep as you like here, a sort of brain-dump journal for all things money based.

My experience

Now, for the record, I am not historically good with money. If you don’t know me, suffice it to say that I am a recovering spendaholic, who once upon a time built up something of a debt mountain, which I have been gradually dismantling ever since.

Over the years I have tried various ways of reigning in my spending, so I was more than happy to give kakeibo budgeting a try… Here are my key takeaways:

Saving isn’t about spending nothing, but about spending well.

Let’s be honest. Budgeting can be dull. Not being able to spend anything or go anywhere because “you are on a tight budget right now” can feel very prohibitive. You will quickly lose momentum on your savings journey if you never allow yourself anything. 

With kakeibo, while the emphasis is definitely on saving money, it isn’t about denial. Rather, it’s about ensuring you don’t waste your money on frivolous things.

If you save your money now, avoiding the things you don’t really need, you will be able to afford better quality items when you do choose to purchase something. 

You can even tailor your kakeibo to include a section to help you save money for a particular item. Having something in mind that you really want is a great incentive toward helping you save.

Want vs need

Be aware of the distinction between the things you ‘want’ and the things you ‘need’. You NEED to eat, but you don’t need to eat at expensive restaurants. You NEED clothes, but do they have to be the latest designer brand?

On the other hand, you can meet your basic needs with food which is bland and clothes that don’t flatter you – and this isn’t ideal either.

Considering the difference between wants and needs can really help you to illuminate when the two combine, creating harmony between that which is useful and pleasing to you. 

When you spend, do it intentionally.

I was overspending

Kakeibo requires you to write down all of your expenses as part of your daily routine. Believe me when I tell you that if you have never written down ALL you are spending, then you are likely spending waaay more than you think! I was surprised to see how all the small things really added up over time.

The beauty of this technique is that once you realize you are going to have to write down every penny you spend, you really start thinking about whether or not you need something before you buy it. Which leads me to my next point:

Kakeibo gets you financially organized and aware of what you are spending. 

When you log every item and start being more mindful about when and how you are parting with your cash, you think about money differently.

I could never fathom how there always seemed to be such a huge discrepancy between what I earned and what I had in my bank account at any given time. When I stopped wasting my money on small unnecessary purchases (because the act of having to record the expense made me pause), it naturally followed that there was more cash available at the end of the weeks.

I am the master of my money, not a slave to it

I don’t know about you, but I used to think cash management was really complicated:

  • “I’m hopeless with cash.” 

  • “I can’t make my money last.” 

  • “I don’t understand where it all goes.”

These sorts of statements are no longer part of my vocabulary. Kakeibo helps to hold you accountable and realize that you really are in control of your own finances. I no longer feel like cash pours into my life and out again before I’ve even had a moment to appreciate it.

In short, it has the power to turn you from an overwhelmed, out of control spendthrift to a money-hoarding badass in charge of their own financial destiny!

Money can be mindful

This I think, is my biggest takeaway from using the kakeibo budgeting journal. 

It is simply a more mindful approach to budgeting than we perhaps are used to in the west, and I think that is part of its appeal in the modern world, and why it is a system I feel is very deserving of a place in our culture. 

The more I have considered my money, the more I have come to believe that our experience with money and feelings towards it are all wrong. 

It is too often deemed “the root of all evil”, vilified and shunned, and yet obviously, also craved. It’s a bizarre push and pull –– we all want more of it, but also relentlessly swear we don’t need it to be happy. 

It’s true: Happiness is found in so many more places than your bank account. Money is not necessary to be happy, but does that mean we need to forswear it all together? 

Kakeibo for me is about balance.

Using kakeibo budgeting can be almost meditative, handwriting your goals and why you are saving for the things you are saving for, spending only on things which are both high quality and bring you joy, bringing you a greater awareness of how you can work with your money, rather than against it. These are the things I found to be most enlightening.

Ultimately, we can save and use our money for the things which are most important to us, and which enrich our lives. And it starts with 4 simple questions:

  • How much do you have?

  • How much do you need?

  • How much are you spending?

  • How can you improve?

How deeply you delve into financial journalling is up to you, you might simply calculate how much you have available and leave it at that, but I certainly found that the more I connected with my cash, questioning when and why I wanted to use it, the better my relationship with money became, and this has enabled me to save for the first time in a long time.

All in all, I can recommend this approach and I’m sure I will continue to use kakeibo budget journaling methods in the years to come. I hope you have been encouraged to give it a try and find it as helpful as I have!


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