How a budget app saved me

This is an extract from Poor Man’s Guide to Financial Freedom: A Realistic, 10-Step Manual to Building Liberating Wealth on a Low to Medium Income.

How a budget app saved me

I’d just moved to Vietnam and was trying to live independently on a certain income.  Wisely, I downloaded and started using a budget app to help me keep track of my spending.  I had no idea how to divide up my budget because it was a new country so I tried to live a somewhat frugal life, recording each purchase for a month to see how things were going.

I knew I was spending too much.  Way too much.  A glance at my bank statements indicated that I was withdrawing almost twice as much money as I ought to have over the first month or two.  But where was it all going?

I suspected that I may have been spending too much on eating out.  Also, I was often taking my girlfriend out to dinner, which doubled that amount.  Grocery shopping seemed more expensive than it ought to be.  Was I buying too much of the pricier fruit like mangoes?  Or those imported goods like raisins and cashews?

I also suspected several other expenses of being the culprit that was breaking the budget: scuba diving lessons and trips, visa expenses, gym fees, phone and internet payments, and various others.

 Or was it the combination of all of these?  What was I to do?

Once I had a good month or so worth of data diligently entered into my app, I pressed the magic button that gave me a circle chart of my spending, and in a fraction of a second I saw my real problem:

Not my actual accommodation.

This one expense totaled more than 50% of my total spending!  The second largest expense was bills at 19%.  Groceries?  Only 10%, so I could go ahead and eat as many mangoes as I wanted.  Eating out?  5%.  The gym?  2%.  Phone and internet?  Point one percent!

Had I not used the budget app I may have wasted time, money and effort trying to eat out less often, looked for a cheaper gym, or inconvenienced myself with the slightly cheaper off-peak gym deal.  Instead, because of the app, I saw immediately that the first thing to do was obviously to find a cheaper place to live.  There was no point in finding any other savings until I had done that.

Without this information I would have had little hope of getting my budget under control and making my savings last.  With it, I was able to do so within a couple of months.  For me, this was the difference between financial freedom and eternal financial slavery – that simple, free app.

Edit: for the record, the app I use is the free version of Expense Manager. It works on Android and allows both monthly and overall breakdowns of spending. Not an affiliate link.

Other apps have more bells and whistles but this one does the trick for me.


  1. SnapperTrx · December 10, 2020

    This really needs to be shouted from the rooftops, as I also had a lot of financial issues until I started tracking my spending and recording everything. When my kids moved out one of the first things I told them was “download an expense tracking app and use it religiously”. Once you see, visually, where your money is going it makes a big impact!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. luisman · December 11, 2020

    Unless you’re actually living in that beach shack (or in mums basement), housing will always be your largest single expense. The 2nd largest expense is usually transportation, if you own a vehicle.
    As I airdropped into the PI, there were no smartphones or apps. I used Excel (or the equivalent in the OpenOffice suite). It was not so easy to record the night entertainment expenses at certain blood alcohol levels. So I always took exactly the same amount when I went out and counted the next morning, how much was left. Public transportation is super cheap here, but it turned out that an ebike is even cheaper.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · December 11, 2020

      I also figured out that a lot of rooms are not listed online. It helps to know people and ask around.
      Was housing really your biggest expense in your first year? Thought it would be number 2.


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