SINGAPORE - When I tell people about my habit of recording all my expenses, one question that pops up is: "You record how much you paid for your drink, too?"
Why bother, indeed? Drinks cost anywhere from around 80 cents to $1.50 at coffee-shops. They are almost necessities if you order a bowl of laksa or a heavy-going plate of char kway teow.
Yet the dollar that you would otherwise spend on a drink can't get you very far when you are shopping for a new shirt. And when looking at your expenses to see where you can cut them, you'd want to focus on the bigger ones first.
Surely, drinks are trivial expenses that aren't that important in the grand scheme of things - in the same category as, say, spending on the packet of tissues you use to chope your hawker centre table.
Small expenses add up, though.
The $5 latte you grab every morning can amount to more than $1,800 a year. Even the $1.20 you pay for a coffee-shop drink every weekday lunch, could add up to $300 over 50 weeks.
Yet there is little point in avoiding $1.20 drinks at the coffee shop just to save that little bit more if one ends up splurging $1,000 on a gadget one doesn't have much use for.
Where recording the small expenses as well as the big is useful, however, is in building up a discipline of evaluating every expense. Consider how several things have to happen in the process of recording an expense.
You notice or hear the sticker price and reach into your wallet or purse to get the money required. You might think of the price again when you check if you got the right change.
Then, you have to reach for a piece of paper or your phone, and try to recollect how much you paid for the item you bought - bringing the price to mind again. Then, you type the price in, or write it down, and see it yet one more time.
In the process of recording down an expense, how much you paid for an item appears in your consciousness at least three or four times before you finally put it away from your mind. These are powerful reinforcing signals that make you more keenly aware of costs.
Along the way, your brain has plenty of time to figure out whether you made the purchase at the right value or not.
If you keep at this exercise of tracking expenses, this internal thought process will kick in again and again every time you buy anything. The things you used to spend on unthinkingly will start to come into sharper focus.