Activity: Keeping a Spending Log to Cut Back Costs

Going back to school means getting back in the rhythm of the school day, after school activities, and work. When many of us go through drastic changes, whether it’s moving across town, finding a new job, or starting a new grade, we are tempted to take shortcuts to balance out the overwhelming feeling of change. Eating out, buying new odds-and-ends, and driving instead of using public transportation are all conveniences that money can buy — whether it’s in our budgets or not.

Students should start the year off with healthy habits in place. Their financial fitness is just as important as their physical fitness and it takes practice, too. Just like you can’t expect to run a marathon without putting in the time to train, you can’t wake up one day and expect to have money in the bank.

The following activity helps students become aware of their daily spending and open their eyes to their alternatives.



  • Journal


  • High school


  • In this activity students will keep a spending log for a week, and then as a class discuss creative ways they would be willing to cut down on frivolous spending. Following the activity they will brainstorm what they can do with extra money that could help them reach a short- or long-term goal.

Phase 1: Keeping a Spending Log

Students will write down everything they spend money on for a whole week. Suggest they take a piece of paper or notebook with them everywhere they go so they can record their purchases as they make them to get a more accurate reading of their spending habits. Have students make two columns on their paper:

  • Label the first column “Purchases.” Students can be as specific as they think they need to be. It doesn’t matter if they ate a hamburger or a salad, what does matter is they spent $7.35 at lunch.
  • Label the second column “Amount Spent.” Students record the money they spent here.


Phase 2: Looking at Your Spending

Have students write down how much they think they spend in a week somewhere on their log they will be able to find at the end of the exercise. Encourage students to go about their daily lives keeping their current spending habits. At the end of the week, students should review their spending log and answer the following questions:

  • Are there any patterns? (Spending $5 at the vending machine every week day.)
  • Did keeping a spending log expose anything unexpected? If so, what?
  • Do you see any areas where you can cut back on spending? If so, where?
  • Do you think you could keep a spending log regularly or take a step toward checking your online account daily? Do you think it’s important to do so?
  • Was your projected weekly spending amount correct?

After they answer the questions, have them select one area in which they would be willing to cut spending to discuss in class.


Phase 3: Sharing Your Spending

In class, have a class discussion about the areas students feel they might spend too much money. Are there similarities between classmates? Are these purchases driven by an emotion? Peer pressure?

Select a few common overspending problems and write them on the board. As a class, come up with creative ways the student could cut down on costs or cut it out completely.


Phase 4: Setting Financial Goals

What is the purpose of having extra money if it isn’t going to be spent?

Ask students if they feel they need more money. Ask them why they think they do or do not. Whether students feel they are financially secure or insecure have them think of one goal they want to fulfill that setting a little extra money aside could help them achieve. Below are a few examples:

  • Donating to a cause
  • Buying something that helps a cause (Tom’s shoes)
  • Buying a used car
  • Setting aside money for college
  • Traveling
  • Buying Christmas presents
  • Updating their wardrobe


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