For every day of the last 12 years I have counted every single dirham I have earned and every single fil that I have spent – first jotted down into a notebook, and then entered into an increasingly sophisticated spreadsheet.
There are columns dedicated to every type of expenditure – from utilities and school fees, to work lunches and weekend entertainment - and a formula that monitors what proportion of my monthly income goes to each category and how it fluctuates month to month.
My spreadsheet has become so refined over the years that I could tell you, if you were crazy enough to want to ask, exactly how much the weekly grocery shop cost me in April 2014, or how much I spent on café-bought coffees in the 3rd Quarter of 2017.
Perhaps this behaviour would not be considered normal, and it I started so long ago that I cannot clearly remember why I began the exercise. But I think that it was informed by a quote from the Dickens novel David Copperfield, in which the character Micawber states what can be roughly paraphrased as: “Annual income Dh100,000, annual expenditure Dh99,999 – result happiness. Annual income Dh100,000, annual expenditure Dh100,001 - result misery.”
In short, my money-monitoring has been fuelled by a desire not to live beyond my means - and so far it has worked. Which I am thankful for, since the pressure of COVID-related salary cuts would have been a whole lot more painful if I hadn't been doing so.
While I’d be the first to admit that my compulsion to count the pennies has become something of an obsession, the financial strain of family life means that it is increasingly important to be careful with money - in a way that was not the case a decade ago before I had three small children to look after – and this way I have a complete control of my finances, so I can make the most of the limited resources I have.
This couldn’t be more important than in difficult times like the ones we are all experiencing now, with the economic shock of the pandemic having a negative effect on many people’s finances.
While my spreadsheet might be quite old-school, there are many apps available now that will do the same thing for you automatically. Yes it takes some work, but it's worth trying it for one month and seeing how you go - it can quickly become a habit. The ability to know where your money is going is the first step to ensuring that it is being spent in the right way for the benefit of your family and loved ones.
Top Tip: Pay yourself first before anything else by setting aside a proportion of your salary (however small) and only spend the remainder. Do this at the beginning of every month rather than the end.