Ms ZiYou Diary

You have a money spreadsheet, but do you have a diary?

I, like many many people who are interested in personal finances, have a money spreadsheet. It’s a very useful spreadsheet, albeit a bit ugly, showing my financial numbers and those of the past. It also contains some forward-looking elements, with projections into the future. All pretty standard in these circles and something that really helps me on the journey to financial independence.

However, money is only half the battle of FI. The other part is finding happiness and meaning. And that is where my diary comes in. it’s where my often nuanced and subjective thoughts are captured. Where ideas that are fermenting are captured mid-process and crystalised. My own behaviour and beliefs are challenged. Do I know why I act and react a certain way? And what really gives me joy and brings me lasting happiness?

What is a diary?

It’s a very good question … and one I thought I’d better check to make sure my ideas are in line with the dictionary definition.

a book in which one keeps a daily record of events and experiences.

This definition lines up with my ideas: a diary is where you write your daily perspectives on life. In particular your life, and the people and thing that matter to you. In my view a diary is highly personal and always confidential – reading someone’s diary would be a gross invasion of privacy.

My distinction between a diary and calendar

Ms ZiYou Camera Diary

It’s probably important to state here that a diary is not a calendar to me. My calendar is another valuable tool (I use google calendar) that allows me to organise my life. It keeps a record of where I expect to be when and prevent any awkward double booking situations. If I want to know what I did on a day, I’d look at my calendar.

But my diary is something different. It is deeper and more unstructured. And way more subjective and reflective. For example, I love the theatre. My calendar tells you what play I saw on a certain date. But my diary tells you what I thought of it – did I understand the play? How did I feel afterwards? Did I agree with the playwright? Can I feel their own biases? Are they are the product of their times?

Electronic or Paper?

Ms ZiYou Paper Diary

As with many items nowadays, we can go analogue or digital. The choice is personal, depending on what works for you and fits in with your life. As someone with terrible handwriting and a good typing speed, I go electronic.

There are many benefits of electronic, being accessible in many places and much more difficult for someone to accidentally stumble across. Moreover, an electronic diary is searchable and requires no physical storage space. And it’s free – so I am all in.


The present is the key to a good diary in my opinion. My diary is a place to write my current unfiltered thoughts on my life. These can include people, relationships, places, activities, politics and the world in general. My diary is subject and category free. It’s a blank sheet waiting to be filled with words.

Somedays these entries may resemble Bridget Jones’s. Repeatedly I vow not to overindulge in alcohol. Or chocolate. And that’s OK – these diary entries have a place and capture where I am unhappy with my level of inner resolve and addictive behaviour.

Yet other days it’s altogether deeper. How society is today compared to the past. Are we moving in the right direction? As I get older my understanding of other’s lived experiences are growing massively, and I realise just how lucky I have been. And that gets the activist in me going.


An aspect I really love about diaries is the ability to capture the past as it was then. I can capture my feelings and how an event impacted me, without any time to reflect on it. The words convey a raw unprocessed emotion which can be really stark when you look back on them.

The beauty of self-development is being able to recognise these changes. Some old entries I can bearly recognise the writer. Who is she? Why did she write like that?


Using a combination of my current thoughts and trajectory, I love daydreaming and forecasting my life. It’s fun and interesting to capture these thoughts free format in a diary. Whether they are dreams or plans I love capturing them. And truly, I’m not sure at the time if I even could distinguish dreams from plans – my writing certainly doesn’t show much self-awareness in that regard!

Letter to the Future

For years I’ve also been sending myself occasional letters to random or specific dates in the future. I use FutureMe for this – an amazing free resource that has always delivered for me in the past.

Despite writing these letters myself, it is always a pleasant surprise when the letters arrive. And I love reading previous me’s thoughts and comparing previous me’s idea of my future to my real future. And here’s the down-low: previous me is sometimes very cringe-worthy but always worth reading. She really gets me, and lately, her predictions have been getting more and accurate about my life.

In Summary

I believe a financial spreadsheet is the main tool for getting control of your finances. Moreover, the spreadsheet allows you to see the present, review the past and predict your future. However, money is only part of the battle.

I believe keeping a diary is analogous to a spreadsheet, for the second part; finding your happiness and meaning. A personal diary allows you to record and organise your thoughts. Using words to capture and process those complex emotions that lead to happiness.

So if you don’t have one already, I’d recommend adding a diary to your financial independence toolkit.

Over to you

  • What are your thoughts?
  • Do you keep a diary?
  • Paper or electronic?
  • Do you find reading previous entries?

Thank you for reading – please leave a comment below and join in the conversation. You can also connect on Twitter or contact me privately.

10 comments on “You have a money spreadsheet, but do you have a diary?

  1. I’m kinda jealous that you keep a diary, Ms ZiYou! I used to love keeping one – from the age of 11 up to my late 20s I kept one religiously (ie wrote in it daily) – old school, using neat handwriting! I still have them all, stored somewhere in the house but haven’t looked through themn in a long time. Like you, I wrote about my thoughts, ideas, things happening in my life, relationships, books I’d read, films I’d watched, sports results of my favourtite team, favourite tennis player, what I thought about current stuff in the news. My uni friends used to say, after some event had happened, ‘weenie, get that in your diary!’ Yes, the entries occasionally resembled ones from Bridget Jones’ diary, with lots of hangover posts but also posts about being skint all the time.

    I stopped writing when I found that I didn’t have time to write in the diary (or rather I wasn’t making time to do so) and although part of me would love to take it up again, I don’t think my initial enthusiasm would last. Perhaps I just don’t wish to explore my own thoughts in that way, I don’t know.

    My blog is the closest to a journal I’ll get to these days – it skates upon the surface of what I feel as it’s just presenting facts and numbers. I’m quite happy just putting my occasional thoughts on there.

    1. Hi Weenie – it’s only over the last five or so years I’ve had the diary, so I don’t have those amazing decades old ones that you have!

      And yes, a blog is really just an open journal – out there in the world for everyone to read and offer their insight on.

  2. I’ve thought on and off over the years about keeping a diary but it’s never materialised. When I was younger I was too busy reading and then parenting and adulting happened (in that order). I really like the look of Futureme though. Something you can set and forget and provide yourself with a lovely surprise at some point in the future.
    I’ve always relied on my memory, both at work and at home so rarely use a calendar for anything other than annual appts like MOT and dentist. However my short term memory isn’t quite so perfect now so have started using my phone for things I need to remember over the coming day or week. Even to the point of remembering to turn something off in the kitchen like stock otherwise it could end up boiling away for a couple of hours too long! That’s age for you!

    1. Hi Tuppeny – FutureMe is awesome and is always a pleasant surprise when it comes through.

      I am mightily impressed with your memory and not using a calendar – I’d love to do that but life is just too complicated to remember for me.

  3. I went through a period of about three months earlier in the year when I kept a diary. It was the first and last time I did it. It was the oddest experience for me. I would write it in bed before I went to sleep and it sort of sucked all of my feelings and emotions from me and actually drained my creativity as well. I would go to sleep feeling empty and I would sleep like a log (I guess because I had committed all of those random thoughts to paper) but I didn’t like the feeling. It was a little too close to Tom Riddle’s diary from Harry Potter.

    I’ll second the point about a blog being an open journal – just a infrequent one. I think it’s a format that works better for me as it invites comments and so feeds my creativity.

    Finally I don’t actually have a spreadsheet (interestingly Weenie was asking me about this earlier) I just have some rules of thumb that seem to work for me. However I can wholeheartedly agree with your comment about finding happiness and meaning. In fact I would go further as, for me, that it’s the only goal that matters. FI is one of the possible means to that end, but it’s not the only one and if something gets me to happiness and meaning then I’m fine with that.

    1. Hi Caveman – that’s really interesting how keeping a diary affected you. I’m more a morning diary person than evening – far too tired in the evening to do it properly!

      And that’s cool you don’t have a spreadsheet – they aren’t for everyone and some people can easily get by with automating and not spending money they don’t have.

  4. I love the idea of keeping a diary – and I highly agree that the financial aspect is only half of the journey towards FI. We have not traditionally kept a diary, but we will experiment with it on our mini-retirement later this year. Also, I write a letter to myself every three years – it is amazing (and sometimes very moving) to see what past you wanted for future you, but mostly I have been surprised by how little I have changed when I sometimes think that past me was very different from current me 🙂

  5. I have always loved writing, but never kept a diary. I consider myself a creative and in a way, my diary is composed of all the (snippets of) artifacts that I have created/produced throughout my life since childhood. Old drawings and paintings, music, short stories, electronic thingies (small radio’s, transmitters, alarms, doorbells….), websites, blogs, apps. It’s not that I still have everything. Sometimes, it’s only a memory that remains. But I do go over these artifacts every now and then and think about the person I was when I created them. It paints a picture of my development, ideas and values. Very much the same was as diary would do I guess.

What do you think?