Where the F Did All My Money Go?

Sometimes, I find myself to be a little bit bored. Retirement can do that to you, and so a few days ago I got out some paper and started to jot down some numbers. I tried to figure out how much money I have earned and spent over the last 50 years or so. Where does the money go? It’s kind of amazing and also kind of scary too that I can actually remember all of this crap. What does that say about me, my money, and my life? For one, I may be a freaking money savant…or am I just a mentally ill moron? Um, let’s go with savant, ok?

At some point, most of us wonder "where does the money go?". Make sure you're spending money one what you truly value...most of the time.

A Rainy Wednesday and This is What I Choose to Do?

So I sat down and began to put numbers on paper to try to figure it all out. I thought hard about how much money I have earned over the course of my lifetime and wondered how and where I have spent it all, leading me to this fundamental question: Where the fu¢k did all the money go?

Certainly I can trace some of it fairly quickly. Especially the part that I have managed to hang onto and saved, socking it away for emergencies, and of course the money in my retirement accounts. That was a pretty easy recall.

I also know I’ve spent thousands and thousands on housing, cars, and vacations, too. I’m just like you and doing those things with and for my family, well, isn’t that the reason we try so hard to accumulate the money in the first place? Ok, there is always the exception of Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi putting others ahead of themselves.

But having said that, it’s always handy that I can go back over ten years and actually look at my tracked expenses in Quicken and see exactly where it went for that period of time. But seriously, can anyone really say they know what happens to all of their money and they know for sure that it all has been spent wisely?

NO! I’m Betting NO!

The answer for almost all of us is a resounding obvious NO! Yes, we can remember a lot of the spending on the big stuff, at least I hope so, otherwise as Desi said to Lucy back in the day, “You got some splainin’ to do!”

Is It a Want or a Need?

We all spend money on necessities, and as such that leaves money for our wants (if we are a little bit lucky at this!). Our needs are our needs. Prioritizing our spending is the way we cope with the aspect of our lives that lets us obtain what is necessary (like food, clothing, and shelter) while still allowing us to enjoy some things that are really silly, fads, self-gratifying, or just plain fun. Realizing that is a good first step in learning to prioritize your spending and hopefully improving your results. You’re never too old to learn (although at 69 I guess I am sorta’ running out of time), but I’ve come up with a really simple way to look at it all right here.

The Truth Can Set You “Free”

Most everything we spend on is a want, even if it is a need. Let me explain. I need a place to live. Do I need a 5,200 sq. ft. “McMansion” home with a swimming pool? I like sports cars, but do I really need one? The decisions we make every day affect what and how we actually spend on our wants and needs list. Necessities are a must, but the extent and appropriateness are factors we can all improve because most of us actually have to! So the focus on money is a required fact of life and is affected by what we truly value.

Do the Things We Spend Our Money on Serve a Real Purpose?

If I already have something that I can use, will this new, shiny thing wind up being just another thing in my closet collecting dust? I have things in boxes in my closet right now that I have never ever used, books I’ve never read, and clothes I have never worn just because I wanted to fulfill one of my “wants”.

Am I “Keeping Up with the Joneses”?

I confess, I once had a brick mailbox built in front of my house simply because I liked my neighbor’s mailbox and wanted to keep up my profile. I had a perfectly good mailbox, and just did it anyway. That $500 mailbox reminded me every day for ten years how screwed up my priorities were! In a way, I got off more cheaply that some to learn that lesson.

Is It a Fad or a Trend That Will Quickly Become Obsolete?

Do I really need a bigger and bigger TV (I mean 70 inches, you’re kidding), or the latest surround sound on my music system? Is a 10-disc CD player really more likely to be useful than all the lesser disc players around? And besides…can you say “streaming” or “download”?

Technology moves quickly these days, so just about anything you might purchase will be surpassed within a few months. Choose wisely.

With Apologies to The Who…”I want it, I want it, but you CAN have it” Sometimes!

Hey, we’re all human, we want things. And if you’ve done a good job on the necessities (including paying down debts, and building up emergency and retirement savings) and there’s still something left to spend, it’s ok to fulfill yourself with some silly, fun, trendy, self-gratifying purchases once in a while. You have my permission. 😉

We all wonder “where does the money go?” from time to time. If we’re tracking expenses, then the answer is only a few numbers away. We should use our budgets to spend money on what we truly need and value, and ask ourselves appropriate questions before making a purchase. But in the end, a few silly purchases to enjoy can be worth it, too. See, now I feel much better.

Do you have a good idea as to where your money goes? Do you track it diligently and think about how you spend, save, and earn it? Do you allow yourself to splurge once in a while? What’s the last fun purchase you made?


  1. We have a good idea where our money goes now, and for the past 7 or 8 years, but before that not so much. Ever look at you Social Security Earning Statement? It may make you want to cry, to see the amount of money you’ve earned over the years, and has passed through your hands.

    I think it’s all about finding balance when it comes to spending. We all want things, you just have you realize you can’t WANT everything. Spend intentionally.

    1. It is pretty amazing, Brian, that once you start tracking your money carefully, it suddenly becomes much more controllable and usually leads to a positive outcome. As far as the Social Security statement goes, it’s proof positive that I am a millionaire! Unfortunately, not in any one year. But if you put it all in one big total…voila!

  2. Caroline

    I have been keeping track of my expenses in detail for the last year and even post it on my blog to keep myself more accountable.
    I thought I knew where my money was going but I spend more than I thought in some categories. Keeping track of it is keeping me from spending sometimes:)
    I do spurge once in a while:) The biggest expense this year was a condo in Mexico. We could have spent a lot less for accommodations but it was such a beautiful condo with rooftop patio. My 3 kids and I enjoyed it a lot, it was worth it:)

    1. I think it’s a great decision for you not only to track it, but making it public gives you the incentive to keep right on top of your expenses. As far as splurging on your vacation accommodations, it sounds like it was a good thing for you and your family, and it’s not something you’re going to do every day, so I’m glad you enjoyed it. Keep up the good work.

  3. We only started tracking every cent in 2015. Prior to that we were clueless.

    Your mailbox story reminds me of our cousin who has a “need” to upgrade everything. He advised me to have our electrician install USB outlets in addition to regular outlets in our home being built. In every room. I was incredulous. I told him that between the two of us we have 5 gadgets and they all came with a charger. Perhaps it would be nice to have ONE? But one of this and one of that could easily add $50K to this build.

    1. Those little niceties in life certainly do add up quickly, Mrs. Groovy. Your cousin’s last name isn’t Rockefeller by any chance, is it? (For anyone under the age of 30, that was a really famously rich family at one time.) I’m glad you’re using a tad of good judgement unlike some of us do. Keep things going in that direction.

  4. Cortne - Hello March Collection

    This is great. And very true. It’s all the little things that we forget about. Me and my husband are currently doing intense budgeting and being very mindful with our money and it’s changed the game!

  5. I really like your point about needs really being wants. Of course we are all guilty of this, but when it comes to expensive things people really need to consider. Cars and houses are the main thing, where people will spend a great deal of money to upgrade this need to match their wants. I find it especially silly with cars being as they depreciate so fast, whereas houses at least tend to appreciate.

    1. Isn’t it odd that we are completely accepting of the fact that when we buy an auto, the minute we roll off the parking lot we know it’s worth less than what it was just a few minutes before? Big decisions should be made with a lot of thought, especially when you can’t easily reverse them, like on a house or a car. The return policies on those just don’t exist in most cases. Thanks for your comments, Tawnya.

  6. “Talking ’bout my generation.” Anyone who sneaks a classic Who verse into a post is a savant as far as I’m concerned. Up until 2015, Mrs.
    Groovy and I had only a vague notion of what we spent our money on. For us, we concentrated on putting half of our paychecks into the market. The rest we just spent as we saw fit. Knowing where it actually goes is the closest thing to a super power most of us will ever experience. Great freakin’ post, my friend.

  7. Prudence Debtfree

    For most of my adult life, I was not aware of where the money was going. Seriously, if you asked me how much I had spent in the last 30 days and on what, I would have been close. My head was SO far in the sand. It’s so much better being aware of our finances now. Not that we don’t still make mistakes, but we catch them quickly. Tracking finances is the single best thing anyone can do for their money-management.

    1. Doesn’t it feel good to really have control of your finances? It’s a feeling that everyone can get, yet so many don’t take advantage of it. Whatever turned the lightbulb on in your head to make it work for you, you can use as an example to help others do the same, Ruth. That’s what I try to do and it keeps rewarding me when it works.

  8. Funny that as I was reading the title of your post, it was the same question I asked myself a couple of hours ago. Then I realized that I’d used my cash paying for purchase from Costco. Forgot to bring my VISA card and ended up paying cash. But getting back to the real meaning of your post, the key is budgeting and tracking our expenses religiously. Deciding where we want our money to be spent ahead of time is the key.

    1. I’m always reminding my family and friends that you have to have a plan and the budget is the basis for that plan. So often in years past, I have been guilty of making the same mistakes of not knowing where the money has gone and I learned my lessons the hard way. Here’s hoping that others will not have to go through the mystery of asking that question. Thank you so much for your comment.

  9. Aside from the large expenses we still largely do not know where our money goes. My wife is a spender. We suck at keeping track of expenses because I get mad when I track what she spends. To overcome this I try to save 40% of our Gross income and let the chips fall. It has worked for 2018 and I hope to carry the success forward into the new year.

    1. It seems likely that if you save 40% of your gross income, that you can cover a lot of the sins of unbridled spending. However, it would still be wise to make sure that each of you monitors what is spent to have more peace of mind and real control. Now I need you to teach me how to make sure I can save 40% of my gross income, because that is kind of awesome. Thanks, Shawn, for your comments.

  10. Hey Gary,

    I absolutely loved this.

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had real numbers on exactly why we’ve spent our money on Over the years!!

    I think so much of it would be spent on keeping up with the Joneses and frittering it away on things that don’t add value or happiness.

    Tracking our income has been eye opening for ya over the last few years and we feel much happier with where our money is working for us now.
    Thanks for the post!


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