During mundane times, money can be a massive factor in marital strife. According to a recent study, the way a couple handles money problems is the number 1 predictor of divorce.

 A recent informal poll by “Money Magazine” suggested that couples fight twice as much about money than they fight about sex. 

Squabbles about money, time, and values continue to impact couples during our endless global pandemic.  

Now, more than ever, couples ache to clarify their values and find a way to slog forward in a world that frankly, for many, doesn’t work anymore.

That’s why I found the notion of Kakeibo (I will also use the alternate spelling, Kakebo) for couples so attractive. The practice of Kakebo can help you to clarify your values, and this alignment will promote a happier marriage.

What is Kakebo?

Kakeibo is a Japanese word that translates as a “household financial ledger.” It’s a very low-tech way to manage household finances. Kakebo was developed in 1904 by a woman named Hani Motoko.

As Japan shifted to become a modern industrial society, Hani was among the first generation of women who sought to shape her own life in modern Japan.

Hani not only shaped her own life, but she also shaped Industrial Japan in the process. Over the course of a long and influential career, she was a significant thought leader who shaped the values and mores of Japanese family life.

Hani and her husband Hani Yoshikazu started a magazine called Fujin no tomo (the Women’s Friend) in 1908. She became a strong influence on bringing modernity and Western ideas into the Japanese home. Her most enduring legacy was Kakiebo.

The Spiritual/Psychological Discipline of Kakeibo

Hani was the grand-daughter of a Samurai, and he was her primary caregiver. She was also Japan’s first female journalist, and a devout Christian. Because of this last fact, some might say that Kakebo offers a spiritual approach to budgeting, while others might call it psychological.

But in any case, Kakeibo focuses on developing an emotional awareness of the process that underlies how we choose to spend money.

We live in an age where technology perpetually tempts, undermining our ability to slow down and thoughtfully consider how we make our daily financial decisions.

Spending habits are deeply embedded in the pattern of our daily life, and the act of spending money includes an emotional dimension. Online marketing offers inducements that fire rapidly in our brain, which is difficult, if not impossible, to slow down and critique.

However, the lockdowns from COVID drastically shaped our spending habits. Online sales of alcoholic beverages surged 80%, as we also re-prioritized our spending habits across the board as our wants and needs shifted. 

The emotion of “wanting”  in our technological age is a mere fraction of a second from the reality of “owning.” And during lockdowns our wantings shifted with our circumstances. 

Kakebo slows down this process of value clarification by merely starting with a pen in hand.

Kakeibo is More Than Just a Longhand Ledger

Hani Motoko thought that an unexamined financial life was a luxury. Her notion that “luxury is the enemy” became deeply ingrained into the mindset of Japanese women as a result of her influence.

What makes Kakebo unusual is that it starts as a simple longhand ledger.

There are no apps, software, or computers to speed up the process. That doesn’t seem to stop some folks from attempting to cash in on the interest in Kakebo by marketing complicated Kakeibo apps and software programs.

It’s amusing. Because adapting Kakebo to the computer age profoundly contradicts the very process itself. Kakeibo is more than just making entries longhand in a ledger.

It’s also a process of inquiring, noticing, and parsing the values that underlie our impulses to spend. 

Kakeibo is a meditation on the meaning of money in your marriage by thoughtfully answering questions in your own handwriting. 

How Technology Defeats the Purpose of Kakeibo

Research has proven in multiple studies that writing in longhand is a fundamentally different experience than typing on a keyboard. Here are a few of the specific benefits of writing in longhand:

  • Writing in longhand slows down our thought process and increases present moment awareness.

  • The sequential hand movements involved in handwriting integrate and activate the parts of the brain that include memory, language, and higher levels of cognition. This integration offers significant benefits.

  • Writing in longhand also activates the same parts of the brain as meditation.

  • Handwriting also calms the brain and helps release creativity.

  • Writing by hand is a proven boost to memory retention.

  • Writing your goals by hand increases your motivation and accountability.

Kakeibo Budgeting is a Cognitive and Behavioral Pattern Interrupt

Kakebo requires you to write down everything you buy and streamline your budget by grouping purchases into four categories:

  • Essential Needs. Things you can’t live without, like housing, food, etc.

  • Desires. Purchases you enjoy but don’t need, like new clothes, or going out to a restaurant instead of cooking at home.

  • Culture and Growth. Things that expand your world educate and uplift, such as art, books, or travel.

  • The Unexpected. Expenses you weren’t anticipating, such as car repair or a sick pet.

A Method of Constant Self-Examination

During the month, kakebo requires ongoing engagement with questions that are both goal-oriented toward savings and relentless self-examination.

How much money do we have?

How much money do we want to save?

How much are we spending?

How can we improve our savings rate?

But also leave room for strategic planning:

Are our current jobs appropriate for living during an ongoing pandemic? Or do we need to discuss expenses related to a career change?

Has our quality of life become more expensive to maintain because of the pandemic? Will moving to a different city enhance our access to resources?

The four-category Kakeibo system helps develop an ongoing awareness of how you are spending your money as a couple as opposed to how you would ideally spend your money if your spending were more perfectly aligned with your values.

The Kakebo discipline brings daily mindfulness to money and curbs impulsive spending, which, upon reflection, may not be aligned with your core values as a couple.

According to the Kakeibo method, you must ask yourself important questions before deciding on a discretionary expense.

Kakebo and Generative Conversations

Here are a few Kakebo questions modified for a couple to work on during Generative Conversations:

  • Can we live without this expense?

  • Based on our financial situation, is this something we can afford?

  • What is the benefit or downside of delaying this decision? Is there any benefit to acting now instead of later?

  • Will we actually use this? How will we use it?

  • Based on how our lives have changed during COVID, how can we explore otherwise unanticipated expenses such as job training, or relocation costs?

What’s interesting about Kakeibo is it pays attention to both the exterior physical environment as well as the interior emotional experience:

  • Do we have the room for this in our home (a parallel question for an expense that would require a time-commitment might be, Do we have time to commit to this)?

  • How did this spending idea first enter our awareness?

  • What is our individual and collective emotional state as we are considering this right now? (are either, or both of us, feeling expansive? Fearful? stressed etc.)?

  • When we discuss completing this transaction, what emotions come up for us? (proud? happy? excited? neutral)?

  • Do we feel that this expense is correcting a problematic mood for us? Are we spending this money to change our state? How long will our emotions from this purchase last?

  • Would an investment in job training or an advanced degree be advisable? Over what time frame? 

  • How does our present home compare to other options? Would we save money and increase our quality of life by moving?

The goal of Kakebo is not to inhibit emotional decisions, or prevent emotional purchases. It is rather to increase the awareness of the role that emotion plays in the purchasing decisions for both spouses. It also helps align financial decisions with your larger, long-term values as a couple and family.

How Hani Changed the World

It might not be too much of a stretch to suggest that the incredibly high savings rate in modern Japan is due to the profound impact of Hani’s cultural legacy on Japanese household economics.

Hani’s idea of Kakeibo, first published in 1904, has had an incredible financial impact worldwide. Japan’s public pension investment fund is now the largest single global investor in the U.S. stock market.

In addition, a Japanese bank manages the world’s largest global technology investment fund. This is all the more amazing considering that Japan also suffered the loss of a world war and the impact of two atomic bombs on its homeland.

But there’s more. Japan is also the most extensive international investor in Australia and all of non-China Asia. Japan’s domestic surplus savings has had a massive positive impact on the global economy.

Hani Motoko is perhaps the most influential (as well as the most obscure) economic thinker of the last century.

Kakeibo for Couples

Kakeibo fosters an awareness that disrupts impulsivity. With a Kakeibo mindset, you might change your technology experience. For example, instead of passively accepting re-marketed ads, you might decide to get an ad-blocker or unsubscribe from advertising emails.

Kakebo is also about expanding our awareness of how emotions are involved with discretionary expenditures, and that can include an appreciation of how marketers use emotional triggers to entice us to spend impulsively.

I’ve discussed how money can be a contentious issue in several previous posts. If a couple has an ongoing problem handling money, it can be a severe marital stressor.

I’ve discussed how money can be a contentious issue in several previous posts. If a couple has an ongoing problem handling money, it can be a severe marital stressor.

Good communication is essential for making financial decisions as a couple. The Kakeibo method encourages transparency and openness about values, values that you share, and values that might be unique to either of you independently.

Every couple eventually has crucial discussions about what matters most in life. The goal is to decide, not slide into a course of action. If emotional gridlock emerges, good couples therapy can help you acquire the skills to work through your differences.

What I appreciate most about Kakebo is how it can be adapted to science-based couples therapy.

One of the Gottman interventions for solvable problems is called the 2 Ovals exercise. I tell my clients to take a large sheet of paper and draw a donut. In the center (the donut hole) write down all the non-negotiable aspects of the decision, and in the larger exterior oval, jot down all the elements of the question where you are more flexible.

I think that the Kakeibo questions can help a couple clarify their values ahead of conducting the 2 Ovals exercise. 

I appreciate how Kakebo slows the decisional process and focuses on more in-depth, long-term values. I think it’s a useful tool for couples facing important decisions to work together because it requires both spouses to clarify their values ahead of time.

But for many couples struggling during these uncertain times, the time to clarify values is now.

A sign of the times we live in is the wholesale dissatisfaction many have for their jobs and lives. There’s a seething discontent that is bringing many couples back to kitchen table issues.

And for couples with good communication skills, Kakeibo promotes a slow, deliberate noticing. What do we value? How do we spend our money? Are we in the right place? 

The greatest benefits of the slow and careful process of Kakeibo will be for couples with good communication skills. But for couples who become flooded and overwhelmed easily, we can help with that.

Give Kakeibo a try at your kitchen table today.

Originally published January 12, 2020.

Are You Tired Of Emotional Gridlock on Money and Values?


Berninger, V. “Evidence-Based, Developmentally Appropriate Writing Skills K–5: Teaching the Orthographic Loop of Working Memory to Write Letters So Developing Writers Can Spell Words and Express Ideas.” Presented at Handwriting in the 21st Century?: An Educational Summit, Washington, D.C., January 23, 2012.

James, Karin H. an Atwood, Thea P. (2009).The role of sensorimotor learning in the perception of letter-like forms: Tracking the causes of neural specialization for letters. Cognitive Neuropsychology.26 (1), 91-100.

James, K.H. and Engelhardt, L. (2013). The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Trends in Neuroscience and Education. Article in press.

Mangen, A., and Velay, J. –L. (2010). Digitizing literacy: reflections on the haptics of writing. In Advances in Haptics, edited by M. H. Zadeh. http://www.intechopen.com/books/advances-in-haptics/digitizing-literacy-reflections-on-the-haptics-of-writing.

Motoko, Hani. Kakebo: The Japanese Art of Saving Money: Discover the Path to Balance and calm. Short Books Limited, 2017. ISBN 1780723431, 9781780723433

Slape, L. “Cursive Giving Way to Other Pursuits as Educators Debate Its Value.” The Daily News, Feb. 4, 2012. http://tdn.com/news/local/cursive-giving-way-to-other-pursuits-as-educators-debate-its/article_c0302938-4f94-11e1-af3a-0019bb2963f4.html

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Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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