One question I get asked very frequently is about the “how” of achieving a simpler life. People often write that they desperately want to change their lives but don’t know how to start… or that they started making changes with great enthusiasm, and a month or two later found that they had fallen back into their old routines.

I think the most important thing is to realize that simple living isn’t simple in the sense that it is easy, and that creating a conscious and deliberate lifestyle isn’t a process that is going to happen overnight. The rewards of a simpler life are tremendous, but getting there requires a great deal of motivation and self-discipline… and also a lot of WORK.

Orange day lilies growing in front of our stone wall

There are so many aspects of the simple lifestyle that are much more important than money, but because the eventual goal of a simpler life is to be debt-free and have the financial freedom to enjoy that lifestyle… the first step in the process is to find out how you are spending your money now. Almost everybody knows how much money they earn, but most of us have had at least some experience with wondering “where all the money went.” You will never be able to take control of your finances (or your life) if you don’t know where your money is going, so before you try to make any lifestyle changes, you must track your spending.

  • Keep a written record of all the money coming in and all the money going out for one entire month.
  • It doesn’t matter if you use a simple pen and notebook method, a PDA, or software installed on your computer… the important thing is to keep a daily record of what you spend. We use a program that came pre-installed on our computer… there are many similar free programs available.
  • Get a receipt for everything you buy. Use the receipt rather than your memory to record the amount.
  • Record your expenditures at the end of every day. We keep a heavy zipper bag in the car and all receipts are put into that bag. When we return home after a shopping trip, we bring the receipts inside and record all the amounts. It’s as simple as that.
  • Keep track of every expense, no matter how small… lots of little expenditures add up quickly.
  • Don’t forget to record the bills that you pay once a month, like electricity, telephone, etc… and don’t forget any bills that are automatically charged to your credit card or deducted from your bank account.

If you are really serious about working toward a simpler life, tracking your spending for at least one month is the first step. What to do with this information is step 2…