Updated on 07.31.14

Building a Financial (and Personal) Idea Diary

Trent Hamm

Moleskine daily plannerAlthough I (really) like to bloviate about all sorts of personal finance topics, I keep many more thoughts on my own finances to myself. I’ve found that keeping a handwritten diary of my non-numerical financial thoughts has been invaluable (for the numbers, I use a computerized ledger).

I personally use a Moleskine daily planner for my diary-keeping needs. Each page is quite large and lined just about perfectly for my writing style, meaning I have plenty of room on a given page to fill it up with my scattered thoughts and ideas. It also fits nicely inside my jacket and also inside my briefcase, which means I can carry it with me wherever I go with ease. In fact, I often use it as a combination daily planner / diary, which means that I’ll write events in advance on that day, then use that day’s entry page as a place to collect my thoughts.

It turns out that Moleskines are often used for similar purposes, but not necessarily as a personal finance record. In fact, it has much in common with the classic tradition of the commonplace book.

So what do I write about? I simply keep the diary on me during the day and when a thought occurs that I want to remember to look at in more detail later, I jot it down. If it’s an idea that I might be able to write about on The Simple Dollar, I circle it. The thoughts are quite often broken little pieces of information, usually written in a weird shorthand that only makes sense to me, but that’s fine; it’s my diary.

I don’t restrict myself to only financial thoughts; I also use it to record upcoming dates (birthdays, etc.) and thoughts on all sorts of topics – personal issues, politics, entertainment, and so on. I generally don’t write much with each entry, just enough so that I will recall it when I reflect on my entries later.

Quite often, I’ll find later that I don’t even recall coming up with an idea, but I’ve jotted it down and it turned out to be a good one. This happens quite often (multiple times each week), and this phenomenon alone has convinced me that using such a tool is a great benefit to organizing my thoughts.

I also use the diary to record unexpected minor expenses, such as last minute gift items, an unplanned meal out with acquaintances, or a spur-of-the-moment activity. This enables me to keep track of such expenses and match them up with my budget at the end of each month.

Every few days (when I have a bit of free time), I review the last few days’ worth of entries in detail. I read through the points and investigate those points which continue to intrigue me; I also enter those noted expenses in my personal ledger. I often find that the ideas that still intrigue me when reviewing the entries lead me down paths of investigation that I would never have considered without the diary.
In short, I use this Moleskine diary to keep track of my various thoughts and use them as a record for later investigation.
It goes beyond a simple diary for me and becomes something of a memorial to my thoughts, ones that I hope will push me onward to greater things.

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  1. Gordon Epstein says:

    I really really recommend reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen (Available on Amazon in Paperback for $9.00. I think you would go ape on the pearls in that book.

  2. boardmadd says:

    While we are talking about pearls and books, I have to give props to Don Aslett’s book ‘How to HAve a 48 Hour Day” and his notion of a “Done” list rather than a “To-Do” list. I try to use this “Done” list as my financial goals sheet, but instead of just looking to the future, I try tomark down as many “Done’s” on my financial plan each day that I can. The benefit is that you always see a little progress, no matter how small it may be, and it keeps the motivation moving forward.

  3. Thanks for the links in this entry. I love learning new stuff like this!

  4. Sheila says:

    This is a fabulously simple and effective tool, not only for finances, but for health! People who write down everything they eat, usually eat LESS! A diet sword – pen and paper! HA!

    Enjoying your Blog Trent – I’m impressed. And your writing style is easy to follow.

    all the best,

  5. Vesna says:

    I’ve just read this post as a brief pause before I finish reading your “Building a Better Blog” series, and I found it quite close to my heart, since I’ve been keeping an “Idea diary” of sorts for years now. And since I seriously started my personal finance adventure a couple of weeks ago I’ve been keeping a separate notebook just for financial issues. Separating the two helps me keep the financial part in order – being an absolute beginner, it helps a lot. Still, sometimes I miss the comfortable mess of my common idea notebook.;)

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