Last year I received a surprise in the mail.

Sounds pretty cool right?

Nope. I was gifted a hefty packet from my bank that outlined every single purchase I had made in the last year.

After more than a decade of banking, this was the first time they had ever sent me an annual review of my spending.

I sat down and reviewed every purchase line by line and was horrified to see exactly how much money I’d spent on $25 happy hours, clothing sales, and new skincare products.

As someone who considers herself thrifty, the numbers shocked me.

All my purchases, both big and small, stared back at me in cold black ink. I hardly ever make purchases in cash, so this was a pretty good picture of what I’d spent.

One Week of my Spending from the End of 2018:

Day 1Lunch with friends$14.57
Day 2Lunch with friends$14
Day 3Clothing$36.17
Day 4Train Tickets$20
Day 5Train tickets$20
Day 6Clothing$144.82
Day 7Train tickets$20
Day 8Travel-related food expenses$31

The savings safety net I’d built had created a false sense of spending security.

I was by no means blowing through all of my disposable income, much of that still went into savings, but I was not being as prudent with my money as I could have been.

I didn’t want to completely eliminate shopping trips with my mom and yoga with my best friend, but I knew I had to give more thought to purchases before I whipped out my credit card.

Meeting friends for dinner and drinks could happen once a month but not every weekend.

I needed to buckle down.

Knowing that next year I could be looking at very different numbers motivated me to create stricter spending habits.

Moving forward, I’ve decided to conduct an annual review of my spending at the end of every year.

You can do this too! Your bank may not send such a helpful (and horrifying) review of your purchases each year but you can review your spending by looking at your credit and debit card statements as well as your past monthly bills.

See where you overspend

After reviewing my spending habits, I had a heart-to-heart with my friends and explained that I needed to cut back on pricey social outings.

Of course, they were more than happy to accommodate.

We traded bustling restaurants for quiet dinners at home, walks on the beach, yoga in the park, and the occasional museum day.

By being honest about where I was overspending, I was able to take control of my finances.

See where you save

Give credit where credit is due.

I realized that I essentially spent no money on entertainment last year. I don’t pay for cable or a streaming service and thanks to an aversion to loud sounds. I avoid movie theaters and concerts like it’s my job.

Aside from the occasional book not available at the local library, I wasn’t spending anything on entertainment.

When discussing my findings with my loved ones, I found that most spend a hefty amount on entertainment each month.

This made me feel a little less guilty about indulging in those craft cocktails with friends after work.

I also saw that aside from eating out socially, I cooked all my meals at home. I packed a lunch every day for work and never ordered takeout. These are habits I plan to continue.

Eliminate surprises

I ignored certain purchases in my budget because I assumed I didn’t have choice.

I didn’t think twice about how much my commute was costing me. I charged my train ticket and ignored the mounting costs.

I had to drive 40 minutes round trip just to get to the train every day (aka used a decent amount of gas) and I I spent over $3,300 on train tickets in just one year.

My train pass alone was $280 a month, which would have been reasonable if I hadn’t been spending almost as much on my car too. In 2018, I transitioned to a job that allowed me to work remotely and I saved thousands of dollars by skipping my lengthy commute.

I don’t consider myself to be a big shopper, but I was surprised to see how much clothing I’d bought in the last year.

Each month I bought a piece or two on sale and those numbers added up fast. A $40 blouse here. A $50 pair of shoes there. By the end of the year, I’d spent over $1,000 on clothing I didn’t need, or really even want.

It was disappointing to open my closet and see rarely worn clothes that could have paid for a nice vacation.

Get Creative

Now that you have a complete view of your spending habits, look at it as a challenge to spend less next year.

Where can you cut back?

Recurring monthly subscriptions and services are an easy one to scale back on.

Hint: those five movie and television subscriptions can be paired down to two. Can you forgo that monthly gym membership in favor of yoga in your living room? Nama-stay home for your next workout.

Try hosting a BYOB book club every month that will cost a lot less than dinners out with friends. If you find ways to get creative, chances are you’ll have a blast doing it and will be able to indulge more on the beach vacation you’ve been daydreaming about.

Set a New Budget

Whether you’re unhappy with how much you spent last year or proud of your frugality, now is the time to reevaluate your budget.

By setting a stricter budget, it will be easier to stay on track when a shiny new purchase comes your way.

Check your spending against your budget at the end of every month. See where you need to make adjustments and review your purchases.

This way, at the end of the year, you won’t be in for as big of a surprise as I was.

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Jacqueline DeMarco is a writer and editor based in Southern California. She has written on everything from finance to travel for publications including The Everygirl, Apartment Therapy, LearnVest, among others. In her spare time, she enjoys going anywhere she can spend time with animals.

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