I’m in my mid-forties and have always hated thinking about money.
Enter the Kakeibo system.
About a year ago, I discovered a spreadsheet-based budget that allowed me to get rid of my severe allergy to thinking about money.
Here’s what you need to know about me: I’m in my mid-forties; I have been a freelance writer for most of my life, and have never had a good relationship with money, even when I had a lot to spend.
And here’s what you need to know about tThe Kakeibo System: It was invented by Hani Motoko, Japan’s first female journalist, for housewives to keep track of their household expenses. (The word itself means “household account book.”) You start by adding up your income and its sources. Then you take out the monthly expenses first and then what you want to save. After that, you divide each month by week, dividing what you have spent in compartments: needs, wants, culture and contingencies. And along the way, the Kakeibo model asks soft, thoughtful questions: What do you want to save for? What are your spending goals and how will you achieve them?
You can upload your own copies of the Kakeibo Worksheet here or here.
This technique worked for me on several levels: first, it allowed multiple streams of income. Second, he spoke my language. (A set Category to spend just on culture? Sign me up!) Third, I need to buy a new notebook.
I am still not an expert on the system. Sometimes I wait until the very end of the month before starting the next month’s worksheet. And I made some adjustments, like tweaking one of the formulas so I could see how many After I saved what I had originally planned for savings. I added a fifth expense category, for gifts, because I buy a gift for someone almost every week and it doesn’t seem to fit into any of the other categories.
Changes like this that are indicative of the true value of Kakeibo to this user: it allowed me to define what is important to me. In short, it helps me understand who I really am. And somewhere along the way, that fixed a key issue in my marriage.
Over the past year, I have noticed a change in the way I think about money. I think first about how much I can reasonably expect to save each month, in part because the system prompts you to imagine that number first. I used to focus on how much I could safely spend before my money ran out.
This shift in mindset turned into something else: As I mapped my savings in the first semester, I realized that donations were an integral part of my spending. I wanted to honor that, so I added the category to my ledger. Tracking how much I spent on gifts – and seeing how often I buy them – lets me feel the gratitude I felt when I bought the gifts again, and it reminds me of all the things for which I must be grateful for. (This is also where I put my one-time philanthropic expenses.)
I also look at all my accounts much more often: savings, investments and checks. They have become artifacts of progress, rather than things to worry about or avoid just because of inertia. And because a certain amount of money goes into my savings or investment accounts each month, I find myself being much more proactive about my money.
I’m moving my money a lot more now – from low interest savings accounts to low to medium risk investment accounts like you might find at Betterment. And I went from my pushy, hands-off financial advisor (“I’m not the type of advisor who’ll call you quarterly” – why did I ever think that was good?) To an advisor who wants to know what are my goals and values are, and wants to help me achieve them quarter after quarter.
It was this last big change in my operations that led me to a completely unexpected change: the opening of a door that had always been closed between my husband and me.
When Hani Motoko invented the Kakeibo system, she and her husband published a magazine called Woman’s companion. They had met while working at the same newspaper years before, and marriage equality would remain a priority for the couple for the rest of their lives.
I believed that my husband and I had and valued equality as well. We share all the housework, and he doesn’t mind chores like washing or washing up or vacuuming. We share the household expenses, although he earns more than I do, and more regularly in his paid work, so he provides health insurance and generally takes the lion’s share of big things like home renovations and cars.
Until I started the Kakeibo system, I would have said that we also share our emotional burdens. But having better control of my finances allowed me to see that this was not true: because I would literally break out of hives every time my husband tried to talk to me about the budget, we couldn’t plan for our future. together.
Now when I think about it I imagine Jim, working alone in the emotional coal mine, groping for any ideas I could choose to drop about my finances or what I wanted to do with my money, patting myself gently with the softest metaphorical cotton swab when he really needed an answer.
There has been a lot of writing and sharing about shame: it’s crippling. And the truth is, I was deeply ashamed of my lack of understanding of both my financial aspirations and my needs. Coupled with my cultural background on money (“If you have to talk about it, you don’t have enough,” was a common refrain in our household growing up), any conversation about money was a non-starter.
So no, Jim and I weren’t on an emotional equal footing. He bore the full weight of responsibility for our future. I think about it a lot now. I think about how he used to bury his head in his hands every time I was quiet during a money conversation and moaned, “I just want you to know what’s going on with your money. silver.”
Now that I know more about what’s going on with my money – and I’m happier to acknowledge its existence – we can discuss together things like where we want to retire and how we’re going to do it. We can talk about long term charitable contributions and our priorities.
We can even talk more than before about our interests and aspirations. Does this sound rudimentary? That’s right, but you’d be surprised how much money is going into all of this.
Historian B. Winston Kahn wrote that Hani’s goal “was not for women to play the same role as men, but for husbands and wives to complement each other.” I can see now that this is what Jim wanted for us from the start.
In the old days, I had to be brave to talk about these things. And Jim tried at one point to sit down at regular intervals so that we could spend real time on these important conversations. But these techniques never worked, as I was afraid to look at even the basic information I needed to connect with him at this level.
Once I found a budget that fit me at basic levels, like putting my expenses in buckets that fit me, I could look at the numbers without cringe. And I realized that what I was watching – and starting to understand – was a key part of who I was.
I know I could overtake the Kakeibo system someday. But I had tried and failed several systems before, even the one Jim has been using for years and swears by. The important thing is that it works for me here, now, and I can see myself being happy about it for years to come.
It can work for you too. But if it doesn’t, keep trying. Having more control over your money will allow you to better understand who you are and what you need to be the best you can be.