The Modern Pocketbook – A Spending Journal and a whole lot more!

by · 13 comments

What is a Pocketbook?

What exactly do I mean when I say “pocketbook.”

If you do a wiki search for “Pocketbook” you will end up on a page detailing the definition of the purse – this is thanks to the original British use of the term.  I don’t see it this way… here’s why:

  1. A purse is small bag in which money and belongings are carried.
  2. Pocket•book broken down gives us the two words – pocket and book.  When these individual terms are defined then rejoined, we see that a pocketbook is simply a book of exclusive notes carried somewhere on your person.

Therefore… my modern version of The Pocketbook is simply the book I carry – on my person – that helps me record, remember, and regulate the goals, events, and details of my life.

Why not just call it “A Planner”?

Good question.

  1. Calling a pocketbook a planner won’t work because each of us already has a preconceived notion as to what a planner is.  For a select few, I’m sure a planner is defined and used much in the same way as I intend to use my pocketbook… but for most it is not.
  2. More importantly, I like to create my own way.  I like to take existing ideas… simplify them, and make them my own.  I am also a proponent of bringing back old fashioned (perhaps forgotten) ways of life that just plain work.  And to me, a pocketbook is all of that and a bag of chips.

Why Carry A Pocketbook?

“A small leak can sink a great ship”  ~ Benjamin Franklin

Use it as a guide to reinforce your positive habits and as an obstacle that makes it hard to justify your slip-ups.

See your “Pocketbook” as a symbol of your commitment to achieving your goals – financial and otherwise.  While it may appear like a daunting task… always remember that it’s an extremely high-leverage habit once formed and getting started is as simple as you want it to be.  I started mine as a simple spending journal, then watched it slowly and naturally morph into more of a life achievement cornerstone. Whatever reason you come up with for carrying one you need to carry it with pride!

For starters, a pocketbook can help you:

  • Gain control over your goals – Set long term goals, break those down into manageable smaller goals, then slowly and steadily work to achieve those goals by breaking them down further into daily tasks.
  • Gain control over your finances – You’ve heard it is good to record your expenditures for a month or two, I say keep a daily spending journal for the rest of your life as a way to always stay on top of what is going out.  Reread the quote above…
  • Gain control over your time – Some say, “Time is money.”  I take that a step further and say that “Time is everything.”  It is more precious than gold.  You can always make more money, but you can never earn more time.  Therefore one could convincingly argue that how you spend your time is more important than how you spend your money!

Make the commitment to join me in embracing this lifestyle change.  I promise you won’t regret it.

Why not just Use Computer Software?

Computer software is not the most effective tool this Information Technology guru has found to organize and structure his time, finances, etc.  I have actually found more success in the simple and old fashioned exercise of manually cataloging my days.

Sometimes it is necessary to ignore the buzz and just simplify things instead!

That said, I am never an “all or nothing” type of guy.  I use technology when it delivers the best solution.  Down the road I see myself complimenting my Pocketbook system with a solid, simple, software system… but right now I am focused solely on tweaking and perfecting the use of the book itself.

What Do I Record in My Pocketbook?

I’m glad you asked.  I used the above photo in this post because it captures the birth of my pocketbook.  The entries you see there are the actual and inaugural entries of my new virgin companion.

Although it started as a simple spending journal, it quickly morphed into a book that I intend to use as a way to accomplish my life goals. Here is a list of all of the information I am looking to record in my pocketbook.

  • Spending Journal – As I mentioned above, I keep a daily ledger of every penny I spend.  I organize the ledger by month and include the date, amount spent, what was purchased, and where it was purchased.  Keeping a spending journal is a very powerful exercise and as I mentioned above… it was what started me out on this path to apply the daily record keeping and organization of “a pocketbook” to other necessary areas of my life.
  • Long Term Goals – Although I was never much of a goal setter in my youth, it is a practice I have adopted that is turning me into a much more productive person!  I always liken it to running a race:  if I do not know where the finish line is… how can I pace myself or even know which direction to head in?  The answer is simple – I can’t.  That is why I decided to set long term goals for my life, things that I want to achieve before I pass on to be with my Lord.
  • Monthly, Weekly, and Daily Tasks – I then take those long-term goals from above and break them down into achievable tasks for the applicable time period.  For example, at the end of each month I write down all the goals I want to achieve for the next month.  I also do this at the end of each week, for the next week… and break that down further to plan out each days events.  This is a simple yet powerful concept that allows me to break my larger goals down into attainable daily tasks.  The monthly and weekly tasks are usually broad one sentence statements, but the daily tasks are broken down into notes about the task, time estimated time of completion, then updated with actual time of completion.  I also assign a “critical level” to each task of A, B, and C – where A tasks are the most critical and therefore the first to be tackled each day.  I attribute this system to one of the forefathers of time management – Alan Lakein, who laid out these ideas in his book, “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life“.
  • Time Management – Expanding on what I touch on above, I am using my pocketbook to organize my days.  This organization not only includes recording and prioritizing tasks to help me achieve goals, but also the simple yet necessary recording of dates and appointments.  I am the type of guy who needs to structure my days, because if left to myself… I will let my days structure me!
  • Personal and Business – I always reserve a section for both personal and business entries.  The “business” tasks are not things I need to accomplish at my current 9-5 career, but rather my own entrepreneurial endeavors that I am looking to bring about.  For example, I have just begun to use my pocketbook to lay out a more stable and consistent posting schedule for Debt Free Adventure.  In doing this my long term goal is to publish at least one post every weekday.  I break that down into daily writing tasks, which helps me better record and organize my ideas.

Remember… this is a living document!

By no means is any of this set in stone… for me or for you.  A pocketbook is a personal article that needs to be tailored to each individual and their unique goals.  My desire today is to simply give you an idea, a kick in the pants, and a basic outline of how you can get started.

What Should You Use as a Pocketbook?

Your pocketbook can be as cheap or expensive as you would like it to be.  Personally, I use the $10 Day Runner Daily Agenda book.  Some people buy $100+ “planners” while others (including Erica Douglass of Erica.biz) prefer to use a $0.99 spiral notebook, proving there is no correlation between the price of your pocketbook and how effective it is.

For some people carrying a pocketbook with them is more than they want to do, I know it was for me.  That was before I discovered the joys of carrying a rucksack!  Instead of carrying mine in my pocket, I carry it in my rucksack (a.k.a. “man purse”)… which is a whole separate post topic which I will reserve for another day!

Like this article?  Here are 3 free ways to join the community and follow the progressSign up for email updates, Subscribe to my RSS feed, And/or follow me on Twitter.

DFA is passionately dedicated to helping people break the bondage of debt and work toward financial freedom using biblical principles.



Betterment is one of my two favorite ways to earn interest on my savings! They have an awesome program for the Average Joe to save and invest simply and effectively. There are no minimum balance requirements and no transaction fees. Read my Betterment Review or open an account to get started earning now.

1 Craig

Very specific about it and how you use it. I usually just make a mental checklist in my head to things I want to accomplish in the day, and keep track of my finances online at http://www.budgetpulse.com (Disclosure: Also am marketing director for the site). I am curious if you are thinking of translating it online as well maybe in Google Calendar or something like that in case you lose the pocketbook? Also, you mention you do finances, personal stuff, goals , weekly, monthly, long term. How do you separate them all?

2 Matt Jabs

Eventually I will look to supplement my Pocketbook system with some type of software, after all – I always love to maintain a well-balanced system.

Separating the finances, goals, personal stuff etc. is one of the coolest parts of The Pocketbook. Since I create it… I can organize it the way that works best for me. Currently I maintain different sections on my daily sheets and reserve one page each week and one page each month for the goal break down. If and when I find a weakness in the structure… I simply change it.

3 Paul @ FiscalGeek

I have been carrying a Moleskin I got last year that has a laser engraved steampunk train on the front. I think of it much like Professor Jones’ Grail Diary, and that it will inspire me to do great things. Your post reminds me that I actually need to be using it more.

4 Matt Jabs

Good Paul, I am ALWAYS happy to motivate! I bought some moleskin’s awhile back, but will be moving to cheaper “notebook” type options in the future.

5 Foxie

I’ve always wanted a moleskin for some reason… But I rarely ever write notes down. If I need to notate something, my phone’s more handy for that! I have some notes jotted down there, mostly songs I hear that I’d like to buy someday, and I have tasks that I can set if something’s on a specific deadline. Don’t really use it for long notes, though, so that’s a drawback. (Like if I get a good post idea or something.)

For the spending tons of money on one part, sometimes I do spend a bit of extra money on something to ensure I use it. I was thinking of getting a really nice planner-type of thing as a graduation present to myself. My phone is great and all, but making extra notes on paper just can’t be beat for me…. And I only imagine my life getting more complicated after entering the professional world. (Meetings, appointments, etc.)

6 Matt Jabs

Entering data into a phone is cumbersome and disconnecting for me. I tried to “adapt” to it over the last few years… then stopped and realized that it just isn’t the best option for getting things done. Now I am living outside the box by actually writing things down. :-)

I have bought a few moleskin’s in my day and really enjoy them, but they’re too expensive and don’t do anything a spiral $0.99 spiral notebook can’t do.

My advice? Go with a cheap notebook before spending money on a planner. If you can effective use that, then upgrade.

7 Collette

Got turned on to your blog by our mutual friend Get Rich Slowly. Good stuff! I too write it all down in a planner (if I don’t, nothing gets accomplished) and found your way more organized than mine, will try it this next week. Thanks for really brilliant insightful posts that don’t make the rest of us trying to get our acts together feel like idiots.

8 Matt Jabs

Awesome Collette… although it is against my nature, I find myself much more successful if I organize my thoughts and time in a hard copy that I can reference at all times! I also love that my Pocketbook never runs out of battery or “signal.” :-)

9 Kevin@OutOfYourRut

Matt this is a great idea. Somehow I’m able to do this for short spells, like when we’re on vacation, but to do it on an ongoing basis just seems a bit beyond me. Maybe it’s some form of rebellion.

10 Daniel Packer

I’ve been doing this for several months now, but I use pieces of paper from a spiral bound notebook. I know that I would never carry around a full notebook or planner, but being able to fold up a piece of paper, stick it in my pocket, take it out and jot something down is no inconvenience to me. I sometimes have horrible memory and knowing what I have to get done in a give day/week is a huge help.

Using Google docs is sometimes helpful for big reminders, but you don’t have it when you’re out and about, which is when you most often need to remember what the next thing is on your list or when you have a great idea you’d like to write down.

11 Matt Jabs

Awesome Daniel… like you said – you have to do what works for you or you’ll never stick with it!

12 Steve in W MA

Just revisited your site and this article, Matt.

I thought I’d mention that I’ve been doing something a little different with my spending ledger in my “pocketbook”, which is what made me think of this article. . I keep one sheet of my pocketbook it to record my current available budget for different categories at the beginning of the month. Then when i spend cash I also record how much is left in the budget on the next line like this:

-5.00 cash Dunkin Donuts
183.76 food n/b.

I usually do the remaining balance entry after I leave the store. But doing it right there keeps the actual spending plan clear in my mind, which is good.
I’ve toyed with the idea of doing it like this, with the available amount entered first:

188.76 food bal. -5.00 cash Dunkin Donuts
183.76 n.b.

but I haven’t actually tried that yet on a regular basis .and it might not be practical/realistic. The advantage of that is it encourages you to know your rremaining budgeted amount first before you spend the cash but again, I haven’t actually tried that out yet.

Hope all is well with the Jabs’s!

13 Steve in W MA

The posting thing wouldn’t keep my formatting, which is kind of important to how it works and is seen. This is what the entries look like, with periods to hold the space:

-5.00 cash Dunkin
……………………..183.76 food n/b

or maybe like this (the one I haven’t tried

188.76 food bal. ….. 183.76 n/b
-5.00 cash Dunkin

Previous post:

Next post: