Cut Spending With Flickr And A Cameraphone

Here’s an idea for people trying to get a lock on their spending but find writing down everything too fascist. What about taking a picture of everything you buy with your cameraphone and uploading it to Flickr?

Put the name of the item and its price in the subject line. Email it to your Flickr email upload address. Then, at least once a week, go back copy and paste the names of the items and their prices into a typical budget-managing system. Combine with sound budgeting principles, and you could have a fun way to manage your personal finances.

Cameraphones and Flickr are fun. Posting the pictures online makes you publicly accountable for your financial deeds. A tracking process forces you to be more aware of your spending. A built-in review process makes you revisit your purchases, and go, “oh dear, did I really buy that?”

Of course, you’ll want to make sure you have an unlimited text-messaging / photo-sending package attached to your phone or otherwise you could end up three steps forward and two steps back. And if you don’t have a cameraphone, buying one to curb spending may not make much sense.

The idea is hardly novel, artist Kate Bingaman did a project, except she drew pictures of all her credit card bills and everything she bought. Similarly, we just started taking cameraphone pictures of the food we eat and ourselves after every workout, and uploading it to Flickr, along with their caloric count. So far, posting the pictures seems to function as a reward for good behavior. IF we workout/monitor our caloric intake THEN we get to put something on Flickr. We’ll see if it result in weight loss.

Some people might find this annoying, or a waste of time, or ineffective compared to their established method of expense tracking. That’s fine, this isn’t for everyone. It could be, however, for people who like pictures and Flickr and find the prospect of writing everything down too daunting. It doesn’t matter what system you use, the essential thing is its underlying discipline. If it takes a social photo site and a gadget to gets you there, then that’s what it takes.

(Photo: Ben Popken)


Edit Your Comment

  1. PsychicPsycho3 says:

    Never mind the $15 you’ll rack up in messaging charges.

  2. Major-General says:


    Ditto. I was just thinking to myself: “Self, is there a Verizon exec who just can’t quite swing the payments on his new Mercedes this month?”

    This may work for those people who have the unlimited messege plans, but I think I’ve used picture messaging about 4 times in three years, which includes the charges VZW made when I called tech support to figure out why I couldn’t send any messeges.

  3. SBR249 says:

    haha, at about $.25 (poss. more now) a pic msg for me, that’s one expensive way to trim my spending habits.

  4. tylerkaraszewski says:

    I do this, except I use twitter instead of flickr. I just send text, typically something like “7.25 lunch” or “42.35 gas”, anytime I buy anything. It gets posted to twitter, and then I wrote a small script (I’m a programmer by trade) that automatically tallies up all my purchases for me and gives me some nice averages and things. It’s a lot easier to just send text instead of taking pictures, in my opinion. Also, text messages are generally cheaper than picture messages.

    In the last 7 days, I’ve spent $69.48 on food. On the average, I spend $175.89 in any 30-day period on gas. I get this inofrmation automatically as long as I keep texting my purchases to twitter.

  5. icruise says:

    With an iPhone, this would actually be doable (while the iPhone doesn’t support normal MMS messaging, you can upload to Flickr by email, which would be free no matter how much you used).

  6. Alvis says:

    So, to cut down on spending, you should buy a cameraphone?

    What ever happened to SELF CONTROL?!?

  7. Lordstrom says:

    This is a tremendous idea. I will start tomorrow.

  8. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    When it comes to tracking my spending, I just save my receipts and put them in a container on my desk. At the end of the week, I just tally up the receipts and enter them in Excel.

    No need to take blurry camera phone pics. And no need to spend additional money on SMS/MMS fees.

  9. Consumertaz says:

    Does anyone actually read what was written? It says its not cost effective if you dont have the right plan or equipment to start. But thanks to all you geniuses for making redundant comments.

  10. dbeahn says:

    @PsychicPsycho3: Good lord, if you’re still paying for minutes and messages on your cell phone, I think you need to start the financial retooling there. I’ve been with an unlimited minutes-messaging-picture messaging-data carrier for years. $58/mo including tax, handset insurance (which I can drop now, actually) and I’m set. It was totally worth paying the $200 up front for my Razr to have my bill go from $140(avg.) to $58!

  11. dbeahn says:

    @Consumertaz: Yes, the department of redundancy department has a lot of people surfing instead of working today…

    Sorry for the redundant comment about your comment ;)

  12. Eugene says:

    Has no one ever heard of internet banking. Just use your debit card and download the transactions from your web based bank. Even if they won’t let you download you can stil copy and paste from the web site all in one easy step.

  13. Consumertaz says:

    Ok.. I’ve have my morning coffee so i can be civil and constructive now.

    I use the note pad in my cell phone to track the amounts i spend, including ATM withdrawls to track cash. I dont really care where i spend it, just how much. Then i enter it into a spreadsheet weekly where I track my budget and various other things. Gives me a ballpark of how my spending for the week is and takes almost no effort.

  14. dbeahn says:

    @Eugene: Um….the whole idea is to make this MORE work, and to have all your friends be able to see everything you buy. To make you think twice about what you buy.

    Obviously if you just want a list of purchases there are easier ways to go about it.

    Sheesh. Did you even read the article?

  15. mopar_man says:

    Make sure you read the National Geographic book on camera phone photography before starting this.

  16. girlfriend 6.0 says:

    three steps forward and [I take] two steps back

    We come together ’cause opposites attract….

  17. lilyHaze says:

    I do the same. I have a complex excel spreadsheet with different categories (groceries and restaurant are separated, etc). It’s helped me to see what I spend in what and when to spend less.

    I don’t see the point of taking pictures of your purchases. Why waste all that bandwidth/time?

  18. Eugene says:

    Yes, I read it, they are talking about manyally typing in the item and price in the subject when you upload the picture then going back through the pictures and copying and pasting into your budget speadsheet/program. I’v saying save some work by just downloading the info from your bank and dropping that in your spreadsheet program. Then I suppose you could paste in pictures if you wanted to but at least no manuall typing of prices and such.

  19. jaredutah says:

    I have the merchant where I’m buying the item send me a paper message describing the transaction, including the costs associated with the item, they call it a ‘receipt’. I then upload that message to my home via my ‘pants pocket’ where I then copy it to my finance tracking tool using a method known as ‘typing’.

  20. thatsfearagain says:

    Why not just take a picture of the receipt?

  21. hometoast says:

    Are you in the US with that unlimited plan?

  22. psm321 says:

    I’m surprised nobody else noticed the sudden drop of the royal we towards the end of the post.

    “IF I workout/monitor my caloric intake THEN I get to put something on Flickr. We’ll see if it result in weight loss.”

  23. wring says:

    @jaredutah: i loled

  24. allstarecho says:

    Unless of course you have unlimited messaging like I do.. $7.00 a month!

  25. Cal says:

    The irony, of course, is that one would use one’s iPhone in order to save a buck here and there. Penny-wise, but pound-foolish?

  26. witeowl says:

    Oh, no, I just don’t think this will work for me. This totally shatters the little story I tell myself every month when I get my credit card bill:

    “$1,693.37 in new charges this month? That can’t be right. Someone must have stolen my credit card information. I should report it immediately. Wait, no. Just like last month, I’ll just pay it. The poor soul surely needs money more than I do, or he/she wouldn’t have resorted to a life of crime. Now, let’s go play with my new iToy while I ponder the greatness of my generosity.”

  27. Erzengel says:

    i dont know in the USA, but here in Mexico, they wont allow you to take pics of items inside the store. I tried to take a pic of some brand, just to remember it, and the clercks went all paranoid over me, thinking i was a spy or something, kicked me out of the place.

  28. a_m_m_b says:

    already do & it works great :)

  29. Mr. Gunn says:

    Cal: Especially when you consider that many phones, including many free with ocntract ones, can also send email.

    With many phones you have to debrand them to get around the carrier’s attempts to force you to send MMS instead of email attachments, but you can always pop the memory card out and put it in your computer, that is, if your phone uses memory cards.