How Japanese 'Kakeibo' will help you save money

If my savings goals for 2018 could be summed up in one word it would be thus: Accountability.

At the moment, there's no-one but myself holding me accountable for hitting any of the big budgeting hallmarks I wanted to hit this year.

Next year I want someone - or something - to be that calculating voice of reason for when I can't. To tell me not to blow the budget on a new pair of shoes and stick to the plan, goddamnit!

Enter Kakeibo. Pronounced kah-keh-boh, its literal translation is household financial ledger, and it's a traditional Japanese journal that resembles the bullet journals that have risen to popularity in recent months. And like those notebooks they are filled with affirmations and inspirational messages to motivate you as you go about your day.

But unlike those journals, instead of blank pages they're full of spreadsheets, and instead of musings and schedules, you're supposed to use them to write down your savings goals and budgets.

Welcome to the lo-fi analogue age, in which anything that could be down on a computer - using, you know, excel or a budgeting app - is done offline, in a notebook. It's like scrapbooking, but with better pens, and less exciting materials to work with.

The idea, according to a new book Kakeibo: The Japanese Art of Saving Money, is to become more mindful in the way we look at our finances. Using a journal in this way forces us to really think about how we are spending our money.

Every month you sit down with your kakeibo and plan out the next four week's finances, including how much you would like to save, what your necessary monthly expenses are divided into four categories - survival (food, transport, medical), optional (takeaway, shopping, restaurants), culture (books, music, movies), extra (gifts, repairs etc) - and finally, what you are going to do that month to reach your savings goal.

Each month, your kakeibo also asks you to answer four key questions:

  1. How much money do you have?
  2. How much would you like to put away?
  3. How much are you actually spending?
  4. How can you improve on that?

Reflection boxes exist at the end of each week and month to help you investigate whether or not you are doing enough to meet your targets.

The idea of a kakeibo was first introduced by Japan's first female journalist Motoko Hani, who encouraged her readers to make their own kakeibo in a magazine in 1904. Today, using a kakeibo promises to help you save 35% on your monthly expenditure, according to Moni Ninja.

How does it do this? By making you more aware of what you're spending your cash on. When you look at a spread detailing just how much you've spent on takeaway that month, you might quickly realise just how much your pad thai habit is adding up. You might also notice that the reason you're not reaching your savings goal is that you're spending too much on Ubers, or that your entertainment budget is too high.

(One of the key Japanese budgeting tips is to pre-plan where all your money is going each month, withdraw that cash amount from your account when you get paid and split the cash up into envelopes labelled with each category. Then you know exactly how much you are allowed to spend on, say, coffee every month.)

Yes, you could get all that from an app, or from just paying attention to where your money goes. But really, the best way to do that is to look at numbers on a page. So old school.