Building a Financial (and Personal) Idea Diary

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.