It’s hard to know where to begin. It’s easy to ‘discuss’ it all in the abstract, but when it comes down to cold hard action where do you start?
You have to find out where the money is going.
Ignorance is bliss. It’s also a really easy way to avoid changing anything. So if you’re looking for one resolution, try finding 5 minutes at the end of every day to write down everything that you spend money on.
You don’t have to do anything but that. Just write it down. Don’t judge it. There’s no right or wrong way to spend your money. (Seriously. It’s your money, you get to spend it how you want, we’re just trying to make sure it’s actually what you want.)
Before you can really take any other kind of action, you have to figure out what your habits are. Some of them you might know, some of them might surprise you.
I just spent some time looking through my first budgets, when I started to track my spending. I remember one of the major surprises being how much I spent on food. It was crazy. Over 700 dollars some months was spent on food. The worst of it was that it wasn’t even on good food (not necessarily meaning organic, grain-fed stuff… I mean sandwiches from Sobeys, and so many shawarmas). All the little stuff added up, and a huge chunk of my income was disappearing.
So. How do you do it?
How can I track my spending?
Well. It depends what you like. Here are a few options:
1. Super low tech:
- You will need: a paper/pen/marker/or piece of chalk, something to make marks on
- Method: Just write it down. It doesn’t have to look pretty, it’s just for you.
- Advantages: free, works in a power outage
2. Official, but old school
- You will need: a paper/pen/marker etc…, a super sweet notebook, or old timey ledger
- Method: Set it up on your desk and enter things in like you’re in the 1920s… I dunno… could be fun…
- Advantages: finally an excuse to wear that flapper dress you bought… slip it on, pour yourself a stiff drink and go to town on those receipts
3. Old School Techno:
- You will need: a computer, some kind of spreadsheet program (Excel, Pages), spreadsheet making know-how
- Method: Apply that knowledge you have and enter your purchases into a spreadsheet. It’s a low cost option that has all the organization of a personal finance program, without any of the cost. The downside is that you have to know how to do it, and sadly that is something I really can’t help you with. My Excel skills are decidedly lacking.
- Advantages: the satisfaction that you chose a less trendy option, maximum functionality… if you know how to use it, there’s nothing Excel won’t do. (Well. No. It won’t do that…)
- What is it: All the kids are using these ‘smart’ ‘phones’ and so why shouldn’t you? It’s an online personal finance tool tailor made for tracking your spending. It’s also completely FREE!!!
- You will need: a smart phone, an internet connection, the Mint app (available for Android, and iPhone)
- Method: After downloading, Mint (you can also sign up online HERE) links to your bank accounts and credit cards and then you’re done. It’ll pull all the information down for you. It categorizes it (as best it can), and lets you know if it thinks you’re overspending. It also alerts you of bank fees, or unexpected costs. It’s pretty amazing, and is by far the easiest way to track your spending.
- Advantages: Download and you’re done. The app does all the work for you.
Warning: If linking your bank accounts to an app is something that makes you uncomfortable readTHIS (about the benefits and risks of using Mint).
5. YNAB (You need a Budget)
- What is it: It’s a budget software. It’s a philosophy. It’s a one-stop shop. It’s where I started tracking my spending.
- What you need: computer/smartphone, YNAB software (available HERE), YNAB app (optional, but great for tracking on the go), a hearty dose of can-do spirit
- Method: YNAB is great, but if you’re just looking to bite off just a little bit, it may throw you a bit too far in. I’ll be posting tomorrow about the philosophy and what makes it useful, but when it comes to just tracking your spending, they have an nice app in which you can enter your purchases right after you make them.
- Advantages: it’s pretty
I don’t really use cash much. I find that if I use cash, I always forget to record the transaction somewhere. Even if I get the receipt it gets buried somewhere, and I forget.
I funnel all my purchases through a credit card. I like that I earn points on money spent, and I have no problem making sure it’s paid off at the end of the month. Debit cards also work for keeping good records, but make sure that your bank isn’t charging you extra fees for its use. They can be tricky like that.
Warning!: If you have a problem paying off your credit cards, it doesn’t matter how much easier it is to track purchases, stop using them now. Seriously. Credit Card debt is NOT worth it.
BUT If you’re using cash, make sure that you grab a receipt for when you’re recording the transaction later.
So let’s make it official!
I get really sloppy about tracking my spending. Even now, I’ll put it off for a few weeks, and then enter all my purchases into my budget, which doesn’t really help me know where my money is going.
So here it is. Let’s step up the tracking. Whether you’re an experienced money tracker, or a complete newbie, let’s really be on top of it this month.
As a way of trying to encourage you to track your spending I’m going to be sharing my progress with you. #whatchrisbought Don’t worry, you won’t be subject to long lists of purchases that mean nothing. That would be the worst.
What I’m going to do is use my extremely poor artistic skills and draw one picture every day of a thing that I bought. I am not guaranteeing you will be able to identify said object, but it will exist! And hopefully my terrible MS Paint skills will remind you not to judge your spending (or my drawing abilities) and to keep figuring out where your money is ending up.
Feel free to join me! Find a fun way to track your spending and let me know what it is (comments or TWITTER using the hashtag #r2r). Share some pictures, stories, or write a grocery haiku (extra points for a grocery haiku). But most importantly, find some way to physically record what you use your money for, with no judgement, just a healthy dose of curiosity (and a little discipline).
*I’m not doing this anymore (challenge over) but if it tickles your fancy you STILL SHOULD. I promise that for any terrible MS paint drawing you tweet at me… I will send you back one that’s soo much worse.