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The Best Way To Budget? Try Pen And Paper—How Bullet Journaling Can Fix Your Spending

Bullet journaling is a new and trendy way to track your spending. Using pen and paper can make you more active in your budgeting and can be fun too. Here's how to start keeping a bullet journal.

You can hear it in the swell of retro-inspired music. You can see it in the resurgence of vinyl records and vintage cameras. You can feel the hum of simple circuitry in the air.

Analog is back.

Analog products fill a very real, very legitimate desire to untether from the digital world we’ve been enslaved by. In a society where the speed of information is ramping up at an exponential rate, the world of analog is a reminder to slow down and connect to your surroundings.

The analog approach can be implemented in a variety of ways—even budgeting. The bullet journal community has embraced this pen and paper approach to money-management, developing simple and time-saving methods to track and organize your finances offline.

What is bullet journal budgeting?

The goal of bullet journaling is to make pen and paper to-do lists more functional. By using unique symbols to denote tasks, events, and notes, the process is built for simplicity and efficiency. Some BuJo fans have started using the system to manage their finances, creating daily expense logs and monthly budgets.

Traditional bullet journals have specific rules, but those who use them to track their finances have created their own strategies. Some check both their savings and checking accounts, while others include frugal reminders to pack a lunch or avoid Starbucks. Proponents also use the BuJo format to log their business and personal expenses.

The benefits of going analog

In an era where screens dominate our work and home lives, more and more people are embracing an old-fashioned approach to managing their finances. A Harvard Business School study found that those who wrote down their goals along with a concrete plan were more successful than those who didn’t.

“I find that putting pen to paper makes the numbers more real,” said Cait Flanders, who paid off  $30,000 in two years. “When I write down what I spend every single day, it forces me to look at the numbers and ask myself if I’m happy with them. It also usually makes me want to spend less and put more money towards my goals.”

Some people also feel uncomfortable giving bank and credit card information to budgeting sites like Mint. These sites encrypt your information, but many people still feel they’re not secure enough. Sure, someone could steal your notebook, but it’s not going to give them access to your bank account.

Other people enjoy making their bullet journal budget an artistic exercise. They can draw pictures, use fun colors, and choose a design that fits their personal aesthetic preferences.

Bullet journal devotee, Jennifer Aston of Eat Sleep Stay Weird, writes down her paychecks, tips, and purchases. She posts her bullet journal every month on her blog to show readers how she stays organized. Aston had tried digital spreadsheet budgets before, but never stuck with them.

“About five years ago I began to keep a small journal where I only tracked my monthly bills to make sure that I paid things on time,” she said. “That evolved into a bill tracker and a budget/spending tracker and later I incorporated it into my bullet journal.”

How to budget offline

Curious about starting your own bullet journal or analog budgeting system? Here are some methods to use if you’re just starting out:

Make it a daily habit

Listing all your expenses can be overwhelming if you wait until the end of the week or month. Instead, carry the journal with you to write down transactions as they occur, or keep receipts and get into the habit of reconciling your notebook every night. Create a reminder in your phone so you won’t forget to do it every day.

Transition gradually

While giving up digital budgeting cold turkey might work for some, it will be a shock to the system for most people. Consider moving towards an analog approach slowly, swapping out digital tools for pen and paper as you become more comfortable with the methods you’re planning to use.

Do what works for you

Some people write down everything they buy, while others only use the notebook to see when their bills are due. Your bullet journal doesn’t have to conform to what you see online. Use it for your specific needs, and expand it when you’re ready.

“I can customize them to meet my specific financial goals and expenses and therefore have a better grasp of what is going on in my life financially,” Aston said.

Examine your goals

Your goals will inform how you want to use an analog budget. If you want to be debt free in two years, monitor your loan payments every month. If you want to save up for a new car, draw a thermometer-style tracker to see how close you are.

Make it fun

What’s more boring than a spreadsheet full of numbers? With bullet journals, you can use interesting colors and drawings to bring life to your budget. For example, draw a picture of a car next to your auto loan payoff goal. Having a visual will make it more tactile and entertaining than an Excel document.

“I have had more success with maintaining and tracking my budget through my bullet journal than I ever have before,” Aston said. “I think that is because I find the bullet journal entertaining and the trackers I use are more interactive and fun.”

Plan your expenses

Not only can you use a bullet journal or similar system to write down what you’ve already spent, you can also project future expenses. For example, if you know you’re going to a baby shower in a couple weeks, write down that event and how much you might spend.

Seeing what you’re going to buy at the beginning of the month will prevent surprises from sabotaging your budget.


There’s a reason people are straying from technology and going analog, even with their budgets.

Using a bullet journal can be fun and still help you keep track of your budget.

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