Six Months with the Kakeibo Budgeting System

What I’ve learned so far.

Six months ago, we got shelter-in-place orders for the state of California. And, like a lot of you, I made some changes. I wrote more letters; wrote more in general; signed up for a great many more classes, and checked in with people more often.

I also adopted a new-to-me budgeting system that I hoped would finally cure me of my fear of my own money. The fact that it was invented by Japan’s first female journalist was a pretty big selling point.

I’m six months in now, and I wanted to tell you all how it’s going for me.

First of all, I’m still at it.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Listen, this is a very big deal. I hate budgeting, and I am straight-up scared of money. But the Kakeibo system has flipped a switch with me. I like spending most of my spending money on books and stamps. I like donating. I like sending people gifts. But before the system, I always felt a little twinge of anxiety whenever I spent, and then I’d close my eyes and press “buy” anyway. Working with this system has let me take total joy in spending the money I do spend, and actually putting money away.

Second, I have met my savings goal each month.

Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Because my income is often uneven due to freelance gigs, I change up my savings goals on a month-to-month basis. I haven’t missed one yet. This is a good feeling—and it’s been amazing watching my savings grow.

So much about “budgeting” screams restrictions of some sort. And, fair play, my husband would say that I’m not actually budgeting, I’m tracking my spending. Whatever.

But my life has actually become more full since I started budgeting. I can make donations to things I care about now, with more confidence than I had before.

I can even start ventures! I started a newsletter all about food and I can afford to pay a writer each issue. As my financial fluency grows, maybe I’ll even be able to pay more writers per issue. That’s pretty exciting.

An illustration from a recent edition of Reads & Eats, my newsletter about food.

I’ve also attended more conferences and taken more classes than I would have done before Kakeibo. A lot of this probably has to do with the increased availability of courses — I don’t have to travel to go to these events — but my Kakeibo notebook tells me I’ve spent $4,000* in classes or conferences so far, and they all are going towards building my skillsets as a writer, editor, and artist.

*A chunk of this was earning my certificate in diversity and inclusion.

Before Covid-19 happened, my husband and I were training for a race. On our weekly long runs, my husband would listen to music while I listened to podcasts. I asked him what he thinks about while he’s listening to music, and he said he spends a lot of time thinking about our future, planning for his retirement.

He gets really specific: What the house we’ll retire into will look like; how much we’ll be able to allot to charity each year; how much will go into future investments. He envisions it, in full Technicolor. He says it helps him to get to where he needs to be, and after six months of this budget, I have come around to a little bit of the same thing.

I don’t really use the spot in my notebook that asks how much I want to save, and what I’m saving for, but I do now have pipe dreams that I didn’t have before, and they seem much more concrete than they did to me in years previous.

Photo by Palash Jain on Unsplash

A big ranch home may or may not be part of the package. Okay, who am I kidding? It totally is. I may not be able to save enough for something on a couple hundred acres, but I can think about it, and even better, I can hold it up as a possibility, no matter how distant it is. I can plan for it, and if I don’t end up getting it, then I have that money to play with. Win, win.

There are a few things I have wanted to do that I didn’t do before, just because I let fear of overspending get to me.

First, I kept on delaying sending a big package to an overseas friend. This included an e-reader, a pile of vitamins, so fun notebooks and some things for her kids. Overseas shipping is expensive, and I know that, so I just kept on putting it off.

But one weekend I looked at my spending and realized I could have afforded it all along. The not-knowing was keeping me from doing something nice for my friend. Kakeibo allowed me to stop that nonsense.

Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

I was also able to send a memorial gift to a friend whose husband had passed away. If I wasn’t working with Kakeibo, I’m not sure I would have felt like I would have felt as confident doing it.

And finally, I’m making some significant contributions this year to political campaigns and donating money and time to some Get Out the Vote efforts.

Photo by Kari Sullivan on Unsplash

I might have done this if I weren’t tracking my budget, but the odds are 50–50, so I’m glad I’m doing it now.

All of this can be summed up in one word: Confidence. And it honestly isn’t that far removed from where I was before: I already track the time I spend on work project pretty assiduously, so it infuriates me that tracking money has escaped me for so long.

I think a lot of this is the unhealthy attitude a great many of us carry around with regards to money. “If you have to talk about it, you don’t have enough of it” is a thing I heard regularly growing up. Or I had it held over me: “If you don’t study [x] subject, we won’t support your college education. Later, as I got into writing as a career, the question was always how much money I’d make with each article or each publishing credit.

And then, in the field of literature itself, there’s a sentiment that one mustn’t talk about money when one should really be talking about the craaaahhft, darling. As if it makes you less of a writer to talk about money, how to earn it; how to grow it.

I’ve never been a fan of that idea. But I’m finally now on track to where I want to be in my relationship with money, and I think I can credit the Kakeibo budget for that.

D&I educator; writing & editing. Author, Pin Ups (9/20). Columnist, The Writer mag.; @gooddirt on Twitter. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!

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