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In this episode, one woman walks us through a decade's worth of her budget spreadsheets, and what she's learned about money (and herself) from tracking every purchase since she was a teenager.

Through weekly video essays, "Making It Work" showcases how *real* people have upgraded their personal or financial lives in some meaningful way. Making your life work for you doesn't mean getting rich just for the sake of it. It means making the most of what you have to build a life you love, both in your present and in your future. And while managing money is a crucial life skill for everyone, there's no one "right way" to go about it — you have to figure out what works best for *you,* full stop.

Video by Grace Lee

Based on an article by Samantha Vu

The Financial Diet site:

Growing up, I was always aware of money.

It was always in the back of my mind. I grew up in a lower-class Asian family and didn't have the luxury of not knowing money existed.

As a kid, I put toys back at the supermarket because I saw the price tag and didn't want to ask my parents to buy them. They probably would have bought me anything I wanted. But because I was so aware of money and its limitations, I never wanted to put it on them to do so.

On February 28, 2010, 13-year-old me created an Excel document called Record of Money and saved it to my desktop. I just wanted a place where I could write down purchases so I wouldn't forget about them. I wanted to be able to look back months later and remember that vanilla frappuccino I bought with my best friend Kathy on the first day of school.

I never thought that 10 years later, that habit would turn me into a financially savvy 23-year-old who loves personal finance. And I learned some important money lessons along the way. Number one-- writing down what you buy makes you more money conscious, no matter what.

At 13, I didn't know that tracking purchases was a popular tool financial experts recommended. I simply started doing it myself. Because I write them all down, I never feel lost in my finances.

I know how to budget automatically because it's so easy to see what goes in and out of my bank accounts. The trick is in the act of writing things down. When you do this, you automatically bring your attention to it.

This helps your brain digest what you bought. And if you also write down why you bought an item, you can really evaluate your spending. This is the major difference between an Excel document and your credit card statement.

Even if you simply write, I was bored and I wanted it, you have a record of your reason for buying something. Now, if that item appears again and again, and the reason is always boredom, you know that boredom is a spending trigger. When you see all of your spending in one place, you will be able to better understand your spending habits.

Here's the beginning of my money journey. Number two-- your spending evolves as you evolve. As I got older, my responsibilities and expenses changed.

And so did my record of money. Gone were the days of frivolous lush face masks and $2 lip glosses. When I moved out, rent was a new expense, along with tuition and business expenses, things my 13-year-old self didn't even know existed.

I wanted to know exactly how much my recurring monthly expenses were. So I placed them at the top of the list each month and added the rest of my purchases underneath. I made my document work for me as I grew up.

And I implemented a color system for different categories of spending and totals at the end of each month so I could glance at my screen and know exactly where my money was heading. Number three-- your end-of-month totals provide valuable insight. Being able to look back and see how much you've spent each month helps you actively work on your budget and decide what you actually need.

At the end of every month, I have a few running totals that are helpful. First, I have the overall amount I spent. Next is the total I've spent on food, shopping, shows, experiences, gifts, and transit.

I like to keep tabs on how these categories go up and down. And if I have a particularly high food total for one month, I try to bring it down the next. Make a note of which months you spend a lot on gifts.

Then budget for those months in advance. For me, this is June and December. I also love tracking when I buy airline tickets because they're around the same price year to year.

Once you have this data about your spending, it makes your life super easy going forward. You can prepare for expenses you know are coming up and avoid going over budget or going into credit card debt. Number four-- the more you pay attention to money, the less power it has over you.

You might be the type of person who doesn't really pay attention to money. You might make a lot of money but find that it somehow all slips away. Or you might not make that much money and still feel like money controls you.

I learned that the more I paid attention to money, the less power it had over me. Simply knowing how much I'm spending each month made my life so easy because I knew when I wouldn't be able to afford something. I didn't just put everything on a credit card and try to forget about it.

If you view money as a chore, it becomes one. But if you work on it and turn it into a habit, then it becomes as easy as washing your hair. If your first month of tracking feels like too much work, know that getting good with money doesn't come quick.

But week after week, it does get easier and less daunting. Even if you have a healthy income, knowing where your money is going will help you be better with it. Number five-- it's rewarding to look back on your journey.

After 10 years, I've created this helpful and often hilarious document about my childhood, my travels, my love life, my mistakes, and my accomplishments. In less than 10 minutes, I can pull up the grand total of what I've spent on my life in the past decade. If you're curious, that adds up to only $147,670.07.

On the one hand, this number feels huge. But it also feels quite small in the bigger financial picture. I don't consider myself poor.

But I also don't consider myself rich. I make around $30,000 dollars, and I live a pretty damn good life. Seeing all of my spending laid out in this way puts a lot of things in perspective.

It makes me aware of the privilege I had growing up. But it also motivates me to do better and continue upgrading my life. Now and for the next 10 years, my goals are to continue what I'm already doing and upgrade my earning potential.

I might not make that much now. But at least I can say I am a master of my own money.