A Lesson in Bookkeeping from John D. Rockefeller

Written by Jesse Mecham  |  on


“No less than his business life, Rockefeller’s private life was ruled by bookkeeping entries. Since he found numbers so clean and soothing in their simplicity, he applied the business principles…to his own personal economy. When he started working in September 1855, he paid a dime for a small red book, anointed Ledger A, in which he minutely recorded his receipts and expenditures. Many of his young contemporaries kept such record books but seldom with such exacting care. For the remainder of his life, Rockefeller treated Ledger A as his most sacred relic.” (Chernow, Ron (2007-12-18). Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (Kindle Locations 1321-1325). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

My first experiment with logging every expense was as a teenager. I know I was at least sixteen years old, because I drove past a Wendy’s fast food joint, thought I wanted a bacon burger, and decided against it. I didn’t want to have to write it down on my sheet of paper later that evening.

The process was simple: I logged every expense on a piece of paper. When the paper filled up, I totaled it, and started a new piece of paper. The results were predictable: more time passed between the starting of every new piece of paper and less money was spent per piece of paper as well. I was spending less over a longer period of time.

Achieving the result of less spending doesn’t require anything fancy (not even software!). Write down what you spend and watch the magic happen.

Your Next Step

Budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. So what do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress?