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Tracking My Spending (or not…)

February 17, 2011

For most of 2009, I meticulously tracked my spending.  In 2010, things were a bit more spotty, and in 2011, it seems I’ve completely given up.  Oooops.

I don’t have to track my spending to make sure I have enough money in my accounts, or to make sure my budget balances at the end of the month.  I’m used to a lifestyle that allows for savings with my current income.    Still, I think tracking spending is important.  It isn’t so much about keeping to a budget, but with seeing where my money goes, and making sure it lines up with my values.

And… I’m pretty sure there are some  areas where I’m current spending money on things I don’t truly value.  But if I don’t track it, I don’t have to deal with it.  And it is SO MUCH EASIER to get a $5 footlong from subway and eat half today and half tomorrow (see, frugal!) than to actually have groceries on hand that make for good work lunches.  Even though I used to do it all the time, I just can’t get back into it.  If I don’t actually SEE that I spent more  than I want to on lunches, then I don’t have to change it.  Right?!   (No.   Not at all.)  That is obviously not a real solution.  But there it is.

The other big issue I’m having is that we didn’t completely merge money when we married, yet we sort of did… and it turns out that is just a confusing strategy.  I wasn’t in a hurry to change something that was working for us, but it is now clear this is NOT working for us any longer.   Now, I’m in a hurry to fix it.

February has 12 days left in it.  My goal is to have our accounts merged and be ready to track our joint spending/income by March 1st.   I know a lot of you track your spending.  Do you do it the old fashioned way (spreadsheets)?  The newer ways (Mint.com or yodlee.com)?  Or the prehistoric way (pen and paper)?  What’s your secret to success?

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2011 5:35 am

    I use a spreadsheet and my biggest secret to success is to gradually evolve what and how you track things. I think sudden overhauls tend to fail for the same reason that New Year’s Resolutions fail, because they’re just too overwhelmingly daunting. My suggestion would be to work on one thing per month in terms of merging your finances or getting more particular in tracking things.

  2. February 17, 2011 6:10 am

    I use my excel spreadsheet as well and track everything about once a month. Having only one main account makes it quite easy for me.

  3. Melissa permalink
    February 17, 2011 7:01 am

    I somewhat use Mint, but it gets messy and I find I spend a lot of time “fixing” things. I also maintain a Google Doc spreadsheet that tracks my cash flow, as well as my savings metrics.

    • February 17, 2011 8:47 am

      That’s what I thought about mint too, when I tried it. It wasn’t worth it. I used to use google docs, and I think I’ll go back to that!

  4. February 17, 2011 8:36 am

    I used to use a spreadsheet, but I’ve gotten really basic with my tracking. I keep a draft post on the blog for my spending report and update it daily with any spending that happens. Of course, if you’re not planning on publishing your spending, that method wouldn’t really help you. I just like to keep it simple.

    I’m glad you recognized that, even if it’s not stretching you thin, spending that is out of line with your values is just… Kinda worthless. I mean, a person might enjoy eating a candy bar every day, but if she adds up the amount she spent on snacks in a month and decides the money could have been spent better on something she cares about, then it’s still smart to track that spending and nip it in the bud instead of spending blindly because she could still put some money away in savings.

    Tracking spending can be a pain, but I really enjoy knowing where all of my money is going. Being able to add everything up at the end of the month and say “I feel good about all the money I spent,” is more important to me than maybe buying new clothes every month or going out to eat for lunch three days a week.

  5. February 17, 2011 9:23 am

    For that kind of frugal spending where you eat half one day and half the hour, multiply the single cost ($2.50) by 270 (that’s 3 meals a day).

    $2.50 x 270 = $675/month as a “grocery budget”

    It isn’t perfect as a calculation, but it helps keep my eating out monster in check 🙂 Especially since I’m getting lazier as I keep moving

    • SP permalink*
      February 17, 2011 10:53 am

      270? Most months have ~30 days, so the multiplication should be by 90. It actually comes out to a very reasonable $225/month. Unless you are in one of those crazy 90 day months 😉

      (I noticed because I know that even when I pack my lunch, it costs upwards of $2-$3 each day. It really isn’t that much cheap, but it’s just better than the same old sandwich ever day. And some days I don’t choose the $2.50 lunch. that’s what really gets me.)

  6. February 17, 2011 10:47 am

    I used paper and pen…I have a moleskin book that I keep it all in. I know it’s prehistoric, but it totally works for me. If it ain’t broke…

  7. February 17, 2011 10:59 am

    I use Mint, and like Melissa, I find that there is some messiness to it. However, I actually LIKE that about Mint, because it forces me to double check everything and make corrections where necessary.

    This is the perfect set up for me because it automates 75% of the tracking process while requiring input from me about 25% of the time. If I had to do 100% of the work, I’d burn out, and if I had to do 0% of the work, I’d probably stop paying attentino.

  8. Elizabeth permalink
    February 17, 2011 12:08 pm

    Google docs spreadsheet that I update semi-monthly – it’s nice because the bf and I can collaborate on the sheet when needed, and it’s available wherever we are.

  9. February 17, 2011 1:50 pm

    I track my spending to the penny. I enter my transactions into YNAB at least three times a week and at any one time I generally know exactly how much money I have available to spend in any one category. I started this last year and can still not believe how almost $3k / month flew out of my hands EVERY MONTH before I purchased my house…I had no rent, no car payment and not a penny in the savings account to show for it. Still absolutely mind boggling for me.

  10. February 17, 2011 4:30 pm

    I work out a budget every two weeks (in excel) when I get paid, and I update my account totals (also in excel) at the end of every month. So far it seems to be working well.

  11. February 17, 2011 7:25 pm

    Wow, that’s cheap! Footlongs here are $10. Also, six inches just doesn’t do it for me, I’m hungry again soon. We discussed this the other day and decided Subway needs to make a 9-inch sandwich.

    • SP permalink*
      February 17, 2011 9:14 pm

      I smiled at your comment of a 9 inch sub, and T asked why i was smiling. I explained “she said 6 inches didn’t do it for her, and they really needed to make 9 inches”, neglecting to explain I was talking about subs. (i assumed he had already read this.)

      He was really confused and said it sounded sexual. lol!

      anyway, you could always get extra meat (for a price). Some people I know do that.

  12. February 18, 2011 6:52 am

    I get a receipt for EVERYTHING. Once my wallet starts getting full, I enter it in a spreadsheet. It’s easier for me to remember that way and I onlly have to do it once a week or so. I also use the receipts to check against my credit card bill to make sure I’m not getting over or under-charged for anything.

  13. February 22, 2011 7:27 pm

    I use a pen and paper to track my spending. As soon as I get home each night I transfer everything to the paper and put the receipts in a box. I also figure out how much I will get for the next month and try to pre plan how I will spend that money. it’s not always perfect, but I’ve been doing pretty good.

  14. February 23, 2011 8:14 am

    I have a spreadsheet AND I use Mint.com to track my spending as well. I like using both and because I check them every day it is second nature for me and I do not think it is a hassle to enter my receipts.

  15. February 25, 2011 8:57 pm

    I use Mint.com. I enter cash expenses pretty much within a day or 2, but most of my spending is online transfers and credit cards, so it’s pretty easy to keep track of everything.

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