Guide to Kakeibo: The Japanese Budgeting Method

By Jacqueline DeMarco · September 15, 2022 · 9 minute read

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Guide to Kakeibo: The Japanese Budgeting Method

Sticking to a budget can be challenging, but one of the best ways to succeed is to find a system that works for you. Following the right method that meets your needs and preferences can go a long way to getting your spending and saving on track.

One Japanese budgeting method that’s gaining a lot of attention these days is the kakeibo (pronounced kah-keh-boh) method. Essentially, this budgeting method involves keeping a journal of all incoming and outgoing money to encourage a more mindful approach to spending.

Let’s take a closer look at how this unique Japanese money management method works, including:

•   What does kakeibo mean?

•   How does the kakeibo method work?

•   What are the kakeibo categories?

•   How can you properly use kakeibo to budget better?

What Is the Kakeibo Method?

So, what is the kakeibo method? Kakeibo translates to “household financial ledger” and is a very simple budgeting method. All you have to do to embrace the kakeibo method is keep a journal and log all of your incoming earnings and all of your outgoing expenses. By keeping this journal, you, the spender, will become more mindful of each purchase you make. This can help you focus more on your goals than on impulse purchases.

At its most basic, the kakeibo method could be thought of as “slow budgeting,” meaning it slows down the pace of managing your finances. In a world of apps and websites, it may suit those who want to unplug a bit and let the details of a budgeting program really sink in by working with pencil and paper, although there are digital tools that can make kakeibo work for those who love one-click convenience.

How Does Kakeibo Work?

The kakeibo method works by creating a kind of detailed line item budget at the beginning of each month based on your projected income and spending, while keeping savings goals in mind. As you spend money throughout the month, you will keep a diary or journal of sorts where you track every single penny you spend.

At the end of the month, you can review your journal to see the progress you’ve made on your savings goals and if you stuck to your original targets. This reflection period can also help you adjust your monthly budget or behaviors as needed in the upcoming month.

History of Kakeibo

Kakeibo was invented in 1904 by Hani Motoko, who is often referred to as Japan’s first female journalist. She designed this system as a way to make a budget for beginners. Specifically, she was creating a budget system for homemakers to keep track of their household spending. The concept she designed is simple and gives people control over their budgets while helping them become more aware of their spending habits.

Properly Using Kakeibo

There are four important questions you can ask yourself in order to use this Japanese budgeting method properly.

How Much Money Do You Have to Spend?

First, it’s important to write down how much income you expect to come in. If you are a W2 employee, you can simply look at past paychecks to figure out how much you bring home after taxes in a month. If you are self-employed or work variable hours, you can look at multiple months of past income to get a general idea of how much you earn.

How Much Would You Like to Save?

An important part of any budget that’s easy to forget is adding savings goals as a fixed expense. You can ask yourself how much you want to save each month and add it into your budget so you don’t accidentally spend that money.

If you’re wondering how much money to save each month, financial experts typically recommend 20% should go towards funding your savings goals. This is part of the popular 50/30/20 budget rule, which you’ll learn more about below.

How Much Money Are You Spending?

While it can be hard to nail down exactly what you spend in a month, you can start with the “needs” in life. What are the basic expenses of living? These include the basic things you need to survive, such as:

•   Housing

•   Food

•   Basic clothing

•   Utilities

•   Healthcare

•   Transportation for work and school

•   Debt payments

As you watch your budget, kakeibo encourages you to see how your discretionary spending is evolving. For instance, you may realize that during the start of the pandemic, you signed up for a variety of streaming services which you forgot about. You might opt to unsubscribe for one or more of them.

However, it also (as you will see from how expenses are categorized, below) encourages you to think about how to use your dollars to make your life more enjoyable.

How Can You Improve Next Month?

Any budget is a work in progress. A key element of the kakeibo method is journaling spending to encourage mindfulness. At the end of the month, you can look back at your spending to see where you can improve.

In this way, you become more intentional with your money. By getting granular with your understanding of your spending, you will better realize the impact of unplanned, impulsive or compulsive spending. And you will hopefully be better able to rein it in.

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Kakeibo’s Category System

The kakeibo method involves tracking spending in four different budget categories. Here’s how they stack up:

1. General

This category consists of essentials that you can’t cut from your budget like food, utilities, healthcare, rent, and transportation. Now, while it’s true these expenses can’t be cut entirely because they are necessities, they could be decreased if needed. You could look for ways to decrease your heating bill in winter, or even move to a smaller home or one in a less expensive neighborhood.

Recommended: How Much Should I Spend on Rent?

2. Wants

Wants are purchases someone enjoys like travel, clothing, and dining out, but that aren’t essentials. Sometimes, it’s easy to blur the lines between needs vs. wants and believe that discretionary expenses are musts. A few examples:

•   Thinking you need your fancy takeout latte every morning when you really could have made a cup of joe at home for a fraction of the price.

•   Saying you “had” to take an Uber when, if you’d woken up a bit earlier, you could have used public transportation.

•   Insisting that you “must” buy new clothes every fall, even though you might have a closet full of wearable garments.

Do a little soul-searching as you categorize your spending, and properly identify your purchases.

3. Culture

This unique budgeting method carves out space for cultural activities. These could include:

•   Museum admission or membership

•   Tickets to a concert, play, or dance performance

•   Books

•   Admission to a local garden or zoo

Thanks to this category, the kakeibo budgeting method can get you thinking about spending towards quality of life and valuable experiences, rather than just material goods.

4. Unexpected Extras

This category includes purchases that aren’t recurring and may come as a surprise. Some examples are:

•   Birthday or holiday gifts

•   Car repairs

•   Unexpected medical bills

These kakeibo categories can help you get a clearer understanding of where your money is going. This can, in turn, make it easier to adjust spending habits and meet savings goals. While it can feel a bit tedious to write down every single purchase, doing so will help make spending become much more mindful.

How Kakeibo Is Different From Other Budgeting Methods

Each budgeting method puts its own spin on money management. The kakeibo method is different from other types of budgets because it focuses more on creating better spending habits than strictly sticking to a budget.

By making you aware of your spending in detail, you become better attuned to your money and more aware of how impulse spending can derail your budget.

Benefits of Kakeibo

Having a budget that illuminates your financial situation and helps you avoid overspending can be a key step in financial self-care. Kakeibo has helped many people with this. Some of the specific benefits associated with this method include:

•   Makes spending more mindful

•   Simplifies budgeting into four distinct categories

•   Encourages realistic savings goals

•   Emphasizes making slow but steady progress

•   Celebrates small achievements.

Disadvantages of Kakeibo

There are also some disadvantages associated with kakeibo that some budgeters may find discouraging.

•   Can be time-intensive

•   Detailed record-keeping is required, which can be tedious to some people

•   May not provide enough structure to motivate some

Who Is Kakeibo Suited for?

The kakeibo method is best suited for someone who wants a simple budgeting method, who needs to make their spending habits more mindful, and who wants to work towards savings goals.

It may also be best for people who don’t get impatient with record-keeping, as it does involve very detailed tracking of expenses.

Alternatives to Kakeibo

If you feel the kakeibo method isn’t the right budgeting system for you, try one of these budgeting systems instead:

•   Envelope budgeting method. This technique relies on budgeting out purchases for the month in cash envelopes labeled with each intended spending category. So you’d distribute your income into envelopes marked with things like food, clothing, etc. When you’ve spent the money allocated in a given envelope, that’s it; no more is available.

•   The 50/30/20 rule. With this type of budget (briefly mentioned above), 50% of expenses go toward necessities, 30% goes toward lifestyle spending, and 20% goes toward saving for financial goals. There’s also a similar budgeting principle called the 70/20/10 rule for those who have higher living expenses.

•   Zero-based budget. This budgeting method requires budgeting out every single dollar of income that comes in a month. This doesn’t mean someone has to spend all of that money; it’s possible to allocate money towards a savings goal.

Banking With SoFi

The kakeibo method is a simple budgeting technique that can help consumers break bad spending habits and become more mindful with their money. It may not work for everyone, but it’s worth a try if someone is ready to devote time and energy towards spending less and saving more.

If you’re looking to save more, see how a SoFi Checking and Savings account could help. When you open our bank account with direct deposit, you’ll earn a competitive APY and pay no fees, which can help your money grow faster. Plus, you’ll spend and save in one convenient place and have access to tools that can help organize your money, set savings goals, and save your change with Vaults and Roundups.

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How do you do kakeibo?

The kakeibo budgeting method is fairly simple. All someone has to do is write down all of the money they have coming in each month (income) and, as they spend it, record where it goes. This method involves tracking spending in four different spending categories: general, wants, culture, and unexpected extras.

Is there an app for kakeibo?

While it’s possible to manage a kakeibo budget with good old-fashioned paper and pen, some people might want to record their spending digitally. There are a variety of apps on the market designed to help people manage their kakeibo budget.

How do you make a kakeibo journal?

All anyone needs to create a kakeibo journal is to grab an empty notebook they have on hand or buy an inexpensive one. There’s no need to get fancy here; a blank or lined notebook does the trick.

Photo credit: iStock/mphillips007

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