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Kakeibo: The Mindful Japanese Budgeting System That Can Help You Save

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woman updating her kakeibo

Modern payment technologies like debit cards, Apple Pay and one-click checkout have made the physical act of spending money effortless. We no longer have to pay such close attention to our spending, as in the days of cash transactions and balancing checkbooks. But while modern technology is convenient, it can also lead to mindless spending, making saving difficult. 

The Japanese tradition of using a kakeibo, which translates to “household finance ledger,” offers an easy solution to mindless spending habits. This budgeting system combines tracking purchases with the habit of mindfulness in order to reign in unnecessary spending and help you achieve savings goals.

What Is Kakeibo?

Created in 1904 by the Japanese journalist Hani Motoko as an accounting system for housewives, kakeibo is designed to give you control of your budget and make you aware of spending habits. It’s a simple system that asks users to answer four questions:

  1. How much money do you have available?
  2. How much would you like to save?
  3. How much are you spending?
  4. How can you improve?

Kakeibo four questions

Although a kakeibo is a simple ledger, it’s a fairly ingenious method to many Westerners, especially young people who are accustomed to keeping up with their finances on their computers and phones. Kakeibo requires you to write down everything you buy and streamline your budget by grouping purchases into four categories: 

  • Needs. Things you can’t live without, like food, toilet paper and shampoo. 
  • Wants. Purchases you enjoy but don’t need, like a takeout meal or pair of new shoes.
  • Culture. Things like books and museum visits. 
  • Unexpected. Expenses you weren’t anticipating, like a doctor’s visit or car repair. 

The four category system helps kakeibo users become more mindful of their spending habits  and avoid wasting money on things that don’t align with their goals. 

kakeibo purchase categories

Why Use Kakeibo? 

A kakeibo is an excellent tool for those who are interested in minimalism à la Marie Kondo. Its special attention to mindfulness separates it from other budgeting systems, making it a good match for those who want to ensure their money goes toward the things that bring joy to their lives. 

Some benefits of kakeibo are: 

  • It simplifies finances by grouping spending into four distinct categories.
  • It encourages realistic monthly savings goals.
  • It pays attention to present, past and future.
  • It encourages saving small amounts daily rather than occasional big sums. 
  • It celebrates small achievements. 

How to Use Kakeibo 

Kakeibo combines planning, journaling and keeping a ledger to bring mindfulness and intention to your spending habits. Here’s a step-by-step guide to using your kakeibo.

1. Establish your budget. 

At the beginning of the month, write down your monthly income and fixed expenses. Subtract your expenses from your income to determine how much you have for all other monthly spending.

Kakeibo printable step one

2.  Set your savings goal for the month. 

Savings goals are an important part of kakeibo. The method encourages setting realistic monthly goals and jotting down what you are saving for. Once you’ve decided your goal, set aside your savings by deducting your goal amount from your available spending money. 

Kakeibo printable step 2

3. Keep track of your spending. 

Each week, as you make purchases, jot them down in your ledger. Similar to the recent trend of bullet journaling, kakeibo requires you to track your spending in real-time, with pen and paper, which helps you slow down, pay attention to the present moment and think about the future impact of your spending.   

kakeibo printable step 3

4. Calculate money spent in each category. 

At the end of the month, determine how much money you spent on needs, want, unexpected expenses and cultural purchases.

kakeibo printable step 4

5. Calculate money spent and saved. 

Add up all of your purchases and deduct the amount from your total budget (step 1). This number is the amount you saved. Compare it to your savings goal amount.

kakeibo printable step 5

6. Assess your performance.

Another component that separates kakeibo from other budgeting methods is its mindful approach to reflecting on your performance. Did you meet your goals? If so, jot down what went well this month and how you can carry your success forward. If not, write down the reasons you didn’t meet your goals and how you can improve the next month.

kakeibo printable step 6

Tips for Mastering the Kakeibo Method

Remember to be mindful. 

The thing that makes Kakeibo unique is the added component of mindfulness. Pay close attention to your spending and think about whether or not your purchases make you happy. 

Write down your spending as you go. 

Keep your journal with you throughout the day and jot down your spending as you make purchases. This will help you be mindful of how your money is spent. 

Embrace setbacks.

Didn’t meet your goals for the month? Try not to be discouraged. Reflect on your reasons for overspending and move forward without judgement. 

Make sure your family joins in.

Kakeibo works best as a personal budgeting system, but that doesn’t mean your partner or children can’t join in. Add one extra step at the beginning of the month to assign each person a spending budget and savings goal. Everyone can keep their own kakeibo as long as they have their own goals.  

Kakeibo Journal PDF

If saving money and sticking to a budget has been a challenge for you in the past, kakeibo could be a great fit. The analog method of recording your purchases encourages you to pay closer attention to your spending than is required with digital methods. Kakeibo also stands out from other budgeting systems by emphasizing mindfulness and prompting you to both plan in advance and think about your past performance. 


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