In another article, we talked about the benefits of tracking your spending: basically that it will put your spending habits in plain sight so that you become accountable and more motivated to make a change.
It will also give you the starting point for building your budget. Think about it: if you don’t know how much you’re spending now, how can you plan for the future? If your budget numbers are just guesses, what do you think the chances are of you actually living by them?
Hopefully you’ve accepted that you need some way to keep track of your spending. And maybe this isn’t something you have to do forever. Once you get your budget built and you’re sticking to it every month, you can probably relax a little. After all, the goal is to cut your spending – if you can do it without tracking it, who am I to force extra work on you?
And I do understand that it is extra work. It can be a little bit annoying at first, and it’s pretty easy to skip a week, then quit because it feels like too much of a chore to try to catch up.
In this article, we’ll talk about a few different methods you can use to track your spending, and which ones we think work the best
Pen and Paper
Carry a pad around and write the amount and the item down every time you pull out your wallet and buy something. This one is simple, but it will require you to go through all of your expenses on a weekly basis or so to tally up the totals.
Credit Card Websites
If you do a lot of your spending with your credit or debit card, pretty much every bank out there now has a good online banking system that will keep track of all of your spending. Then you just have to total the numbers up at the end of the week or the month.
Keep your Receipts
Every time you buy something, ask for a receipt. Then put it in your pocket. This is just about the same as the pen & paper method without the need to actually write. Again, you need to tally these up weekly or monthly.
There are a few of these out there, but mint.com is probably the most well known and full of features. You connect your bank accounts to their website, it lets you categorize and track all of your spending and look at it in real time. It does require you to give them all of your financial information, however. I’m pretty sure it’s as secure as it can be, but keep that in mind.
As an engineer, this is my favorite method. I use a combination of the above, where I keep my receipts for cash purchases, and I regularly log on to my online banking accounts to get my credit / debit purchases. Then I transfer the data to excel. I have some nice spreadsheets and graphs that help me keep track of everything in the way that seems to work the best for me. Then these numbers are fed right into my budget, so it’s a pretty seamless process to manage all of my personal finance chores.
This method is what we teach in our personal finance course on Udemy. We’ll give you the spreadsheets and walk you through setting it up for yourself – along with budget building and net worth tracking – if you’re interested.
Whatever method you choose, I recommend that you stick to tracking your spending for at least a few months. It’s really the only way to get a clear picture of your spending habits so that you can improve them and take your dollar further!