Minimise that spreadsheet- ‘kakebo’ is about to make keeping track of your finances far more inspiring. Here’s your cheat sheet to the Japanese art of saving money…
The steady flow of wellness trends sailing over from foreign shores appears to know no bounds- from hygge to lagom to ikigai , sourcing our zen from overseas is very du jour. The next wellbeing buzzword making waves, however, is anything but faddy or flash in the pan as far as ‘in things’ go- it was spearheaded in 1904 for starters. Here’s your guide to the Japanese ‘art’ of budgeting known as kakebo, and how to make it work for you, your bank account and your peace of mind. Doing your expenses is about to get a lot more satisfying.
What is kakebo?
Or technically, what is ‘a’ kakebo. Invented by Japanese journalist Hani Motoko at the turn of the 20th century, ‘kakebo’ literally means ‘book of accounts for household economy’. I know what you’re thinking. This sounds dry, dry, dry. But bear with me. This is a philosophy, not simply a statement of funds in and funds out.
In the manner of Marie Kondo of The Life-changing Magic of Tidying fame, filling in your kakebo is both a practical exercise, in that you write down your finances and get them in order, but also a wellbeing enhancing activity, as the Japanese believe that mindfully saving, spending and monitoring your money leads to balance and calm in all areas of your life.
The kakebo was devised by a pretty sassy sounding Japanese reporter who also happened to be the only girl to go to school in her year, and one of the first to attend Japan Women’s University in Tokyo. Born in 1873, Hani Motoko was the first officially recognised female journalist in the country, established the world’s oldest women’s magazine in circulation and founded a school for girls to improve women’s education and independence. On the side, she found time to print her kakebo, a tangible means of accounting that combined keeping a financial journal with encouraging proverbs and affirmations and gentle yet revealing questions (“what area of your spending has surprised you the most?” Key life stuff like that). A kakebo encourages you to look to the future, focus on the present and reflect on the past, but not in an overwhelming manner, and with plenty of wisdom and motivation sprinkled along the way, making it a lot more pleasurable to use on the daily than your average Excel doc.
How does it work?
There are various stages to breaking down your finances when using a kakebo, and you chart your funds on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, with an annual overview and ‘time to reflect’ self-questionnaire after twelve months. You can begin a kakebo at any time, but now seems as good a time as any seeing as most of us are feeling a bit broke post-Christmas .
1. Write down your monthly projected income and expenses such as bills and other regular outgoings. If you’re not too sure on one or both, it’s advised to underestimate your income and overestimate your costs. After establishing your projected income and expenses, you can then divide the difference into spending money and savings goals.
2. Use your weekly chart to record your spending as you go. A kakebo splits spending into four different categories: general (i.e, transport, food, prescriptions), leisure (entertainment, Zara hauls, pub trips), culture (activities that enrich you intellectually- think books and art exhibitions. Not so much the pub trips) and finally unexpected extras such as repairs, gifts and emergencies.
3. At the end of the month you add up your spending to see whether you’ve stuck to your initial targets, analyse whether said targets are actually realistic and reflect on your achievements, efforts and where you might improve. Plus you can see which categories are costing you the most dearly and identify any potential weak spots (*Zara klaxon*). The review sections of the kakebo are also where you’ll find your motivating affirmations, and they’re pretty high brow. Think pearls of wisdom from Buddha rather than cheesy Insta inspo quotes.
4. Continue as above until the end of year, when it’s annual self report time. A kakebo gives you the template and tools to plot your financial year in a pie chart and graph if that’s your jam, while your year-end questionnaire steers you to take a step back from the numbers and mull over the benefits of your new super responsible accounting habits, while quizzing you on why you might have had a mare of a month, when you were most in control and felt optimistic about your financial situation and when you were at your happiest throughout the year. It’s basically a bookkeeper and life coach rolled into one.
Why do I need it?
Unless you’re already plotting your financial projections onto a finely tuned and regularly updated multi-tabbed spreadsheet system, chances are a kakebo can help you, plus, Microsoft Office doesn’t deliver such nuggets of insight as “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (Lao Tzu)”. If you wince when taking a speedy scroll through your bank balance, a kakebo is probably for you, and if you generally want to get your financial affairs into order in a fashion that isn’t overly daunting, establishing a habit of noting down your aims, strengths and successes can help you to feel more empowered about money, rather than running for the hills every time a bill comes in.
Not that it’s easy. Laying everything out in black and white and taking stock of where you’re really at, disregarding credit limits, is undoubtedly a scary process. A bit like anything worth doing in life, it can be time consuming, painful and to start out with seemingly more harrowing than helpful, but a few months and packed lunch boxes down the line, you’ll likely feel a lot more sorted, driven and proud of your responsible adult self. The overall aim of a kakebo is to get you to a place of truly valuing things, thinking about how and why you spend as much as what you actually spend it on. Heavy, but ultimately enlightening, particularly if you engage in the “should I buy it?” flow chart created by Motoko. Your ASOS orders will become a lot more streamlined.
Is there an app for that?
Yes- but that slightly defeats the point. A pen and paper system is intended to make filling in a kakebo more mindful and contemplative, but to be honest, whatever works to get you back in the black. There are even entire kakebo templates categorised by meal planning, food groups, social activities and spendy events such as weddings, but all of the above can literally be accounted for in Motoko’s 1904 original, which has handily just been translated and updated for an English speaking readership- Kakebo: The Japanese Art of Saving Money will probably be the best £9.99 you blow this year. As long as you log it, obvs.