When you’re trying to budget, the very first thing you need to do it track your spending.
This allows you to not only identify areas where you can cut back, but also gives you the ability to realistically budget for your expenses so you’re not coming up short at the end of the month.
Typically, you want to track your spending for about three months to get a good idea of where your money is going. Not every month will be the same, so it will be important to budget for expenses that come up sporadically, like auto insurance renewals or water and sewage bills.
Tracking your expenses can sound like a huge task. Back when I was growing up, I was taught to do this through a physical checkbook where I’d write down every penny deposited and spent as I made the transactions in person. Or, as I put a physical check into the mailbox.
And I’m a millennial.
Tech has quickly made this process a lot easier, though there are some old-school hacks you can still take advantage of as you track your expenses in order to identify areas where you can save money.
Let your bank track expenses for you.
If you have a bank account and/or credit card, I have such great news for you: Your expenses are already tracked! Most financial institutions now categorize your expenses as they produce your online transaction history, allowing you to easily view the numbers and charts indicating your spending habits.
Just go back and view the numbers for the past three months to get a good idea of what you’re already doing and where you can tweak your spending behaviors in order to save money.
The other thing to do is review that each transaction is categorized correctly. That way you’ll be sure the portrayal of your spending habits is accurate.
Track Spending in a Spreadsheet
If you regularly use multiple financial accounts spread across multiple financial institutions, getting an accurate picture of your overall spending appears at first glance to be a daunting challenge. You’ll have to import all of your transactions into one spreadsheet in order to compile the data.
Tell us which accounts you’d like to see in your spreadsheet, and we’ll do the rest, turning an initially intimidating task into a walk in the park.
Or, you can let someone do that for you. Here at Tiller, we can link all of your financial accounts to one profile, allowing you to compile all of your data into our pre-formatted spreadsheets with minimal effort.
Track Spending With an App
Budgeting apps are prolific, with many of them tracking your expenses as an inherent feature. No matter what your financial goals, there’s likely a FinTech solution out there to meet your needs.
Here are some apps that will specifically help you with budgeting and tracking your expenses:
- Personal Capital
Pencil and Paper
If you’re not cool with telling a FinTech company your banking or spending information, not all is lost.
While we would assure you that many of these companies are ethical and meet the same privacy standards as a bank, we do understand your concerns. Personally, I’ve been preaching about 1984 since before 2016. (But I do trust select companies like Tiller with my financial information.)
If you can’t get on board, though, you can also use pencil and paper to track your expenses and budget. In the past, I’ve kept a dedicated notebook to this cause so all my financials were in one place and didn’t get lost.
It should be noted, though, that your banking information is almost certainly still available online; you can still use your financial institution’s website or app to at least get a baseline for your spending over the past 3+ months.
This will save you a lot of time as you get to sketching out your budget and savings strategy in the old-fashioned way.
Cash Envelope Systems
If you want to track your spending as you’re shelling out money, you may want to consider a cash envelope budgeting system.
To use this system, you dole out your money into physical envelopes according to budget category. As you spend, you’ll ideally track your transactions in writing on the back of the appropriate envelope.
But even if you don’t, at month’s end you’ll still know how to adjust your budget depending on whether you have any cash leftover in a certain category or not.
Want to hear the biggest bit of unsurprising news in 2019? There’s an app for the envelope system, too. Mvelopes allows you to use the envelope system digitally; it will even import your transactions if you are willing to pay a fee to link your financial accounts.
Mvelopes allows you to use the envelope system digitally; it will even import your transactions if you are willing to pay a fee to link your financial accounts.
Get Started Yesterday
In today’s world, you don’t have to wait three months to view three months’ worth of your expenses. You can go back and retroactively view the digital records.
With spreadsheet programs, apps and the digitization of financial records, you can figure out your spending habits today so you can plan to do better with savings tomorrow.