Six Easy Ways To Track Your Spending
Tracking your spending is a foundational personal finance habit. It creates a solid base from which you can improve other parts of your personal finances. Without that strong based you’ll find that money always seems to disappear between the cracks. This makes it very hard to get ahead. Every month you’ll find yourself wondering where all the money goes.
Building a solid financial base of financial habits is the only way to improve your finances.
Tracking your spending isn’t sexy, but it’s super important. Like any tall building this is part of the foundation that sits below the surface, unloved and unappreciated, while the beautiful architecture above the surface gets all the attention and praise. The foundation is always there, carrying the weight of the building, keeping it from collapse.
Tracking your spending can be easy, and it can even be fun, you just need to find the right method for you.
Tracking your spending has a big impact. Once you know where your money goes you can decide if it aligns with your values and goals. When you start tracking your spending you’ll almost certainly find some waste. There is always some wasted spending that doesn’t align with your values and goals. But, it’s hard to see it until you see your spending summarized over a few weeks or months.
Tracking your spending lets you change your spending habits slowly over time. You can focus on one budget category for a few months and slowly see the impact of the changes your making. Without tracking your spending it’s hard to see if your efforts are having an impact.
In this post I’ll share six ways to track your spending. Try them out. Find the one that works for you.
Mint is great for tracking your spending. Mint automatically aggregates all your accounts into one simple dashboard. It does takes a bit of time to get Mint to categorize all your spending appropriately, but once it’s setup it requires little work.
Mint makes tracking your spending easy, in fact it’s almost too easy. One of the benefits of tracking your spending is the awareness it creates. You’ll become more aware of trends and waste when you track your spending regularly. Because Mint is so easy it takes away from this awareness.
The other issue with Mint is that it goes against many Terms of Service from financial institutions in Canada. Many banks and credit unions will not support you if you give access to a 3rd party app.
You Need A Budget is a wonderful budgeting app. Not only does it help track your spending but it helps you create a routine around your money. This emphasis on routine puts it ahead of other apps like Mint which only aggregate your spending.
YNAB also has a manual entry feature which is awesome!
Manually entering expenses might seem like a nuisance but on average we only make ~60 transactions per month, so even if it takes 15-30 seconds to enter a transaction into YNAB this adds up to 15-30 minutes per month. For the benefit it provides, spending 15-30 minutes per month to manually track your spending is entirely worth it.
The only downside to YNAB is the monthly fee. But if you need help tracking your spending then it’s entirely worth it.
Google Form + Google Sheet
Google apps are amazing for spend tracking because they can link together. You can link a Google form, say to track your expenses, to a Google sheet where you can summarize everything neatly.
Every time you add an expense using your Google form it shows up in your Google sheet 1-2 seconds later. This is a very easy and inexpensive way to track your spending.
Plus! For you spreadsheet geeks out there, Google Sheets is entirely customizable so you can create any sort of spend dashboard you like.
Go even lower tech and use the notepad on your phone. Every time you make a purchase pull up your notepad and add the transaction. Then once per week, or once per month, sit down and review your spending.
It’s not as automatic as the other options above but it’s easy and you can start immediately.
Pen and Paper:
The lowest tech option is to simply carry around a piece of paper in your wallet and every time you make a transaction write it down.
Tracking your spending using pen and paper might seem like a P.I.T.A. but it will very quickly make you aware of how much you spend on a daily basis. If you’re pulling out your paper 3, 4, 5, 6 times per day you’ll quickly start to realize how much you’re spending and where.
Credit Card Statement:
The last option is to use your credit card statement at the end of the month to summarize your spending. This works well if you put the majority of your spending on your credit card. If you spend money via debit, cash or check, then this option isn’t for you.
The benefit of this option is that it’s easy. The credit card company sends you a nice little summary each month and you don’t have to manually track anything.
But to be frank, this isn’t my favorite option, I prefer methods that happen immediately, and include some form of manually tracking so that you can see the implications of every purchase in real time. Using your credit card statement to track your spending means you only get a good look at your overall spending once per month. This doesn’t help change your spending habits.
If you’re having trouble creating good spending habits, then try another method first. But, if you already have good spending habits and you just need to maintain them, then this option might be for you.