September 15, 2021
We all know the feeling: It’s not the end of the month yet, but our money for the month is nearly gone.
It can make us feel helpless and frustrated. Fortunately, by learning some new financial habits, we can help break this cycle of not knowing where our money went.
To get a handle on your finances, it’s very helpful to know how to keep track of expenses and start budgeting, so that you can be mindful of how your money is spent. But before you do that, you need to have a basic idea of your monthly spending and learn how to categorize expenses.
This article will discuss how to keep track of expenses and how to watch your spending without obsessing over it.
The simplest way to track spending and categorize expenses is to use an expense-tracking app or service. Your bank may have one built into your online banking account, or you can sign up for a free app like Mint.
These services work by linking to your debit and credit cards. They then record each transaction you make and attempt to categorize it based on where the transaction was made. For example, if you spend $40 at the grocery store, the app will log this transaction as $40 spent on groceries.
The tracking is not always completely accurate — that $40 could have been spent at the gas pump run by the grocery store — but it’s a great start. It’s a good idea to double-check these transactions every couple weeks and reassign the category if necessary. These apps will not track cash transactions, so you’ll need to log those manually.
At the end of the week or month, you can look back on spending reports to see where your money went. This can provide some useful insights to help analyze spending. Some apps also have money goal trackers that you can use to set up savings goals or try to cut spending in certain budget categories.
If you’d rather not use a money-tracking app, the alternative is to simply record transactions by hand in a notebook or in a spreadsheet on your computer.
This method will be all manual, so you’ll need to routinely check in and record transactions. It’s best to record frequently — every week or even more often — so that you don’t forget about any transactions.
As you record purchases, make sure to take brief notes about the transaction. Then, at the end of each week or month, you can calculate how much you spent on groceries, restaurants, childcare and all your other expense categories.
Our daily purchases are relatively easy to track, and we acknowledge that we’re spending money when we make a purchase. However, there are other costs that are hidden and we don’t often think of them as part of our monthly spending.
Two examples of this are bank fees and interest paid on debt.
For instance, if you carry a credit card balance, you may be paying hundreds of dollars a month just in interest charges. This isn’t what you might think of as true “spending,” but it’s affecting your budget nonetheless.
Paying off credit card debt can be intimidating, but there are tools that can help. Tally† is a powerful tool that simplifies the process of getting out of credit card debt with features like custom debt-payoff plans and smart payment scheduling. Learn more about how Tally can help you pay off credit card debt.
If you use a credit card to make everyday purchases, it can feel like you’re not actually spending that money until you have to pay the credit card bill.
This can create some surprises in your budgeting process. For example, you may spend $400 on holiday gifts during December, but not get the associated credit card bill until late January.
This can also create a situation where you have plenty of money in your checking account, but most of it has already been spent.
Becoming more aware of this process can help you get a better handle on things. If you really need to rein in your spending, it might be a good idea to stop using credit cards and make all your transactions using debit cards or even cash.
Once you’ve implemented some of these expense-tracking strategies, gather some good data on your spending habits for a few months. Then, total your expenses in each category.
You can now look back and see exactly how much you spent on rent, utilities, food, bills, gas, entertainment and all your other expense categories.
This can be incredibly valuable information, and it can help you really analyze your spending.
You could compare your own spending habits to the average for other Americans. Or, you can ask yourself some important questions:
Do your spending habits align with your values and your financial goals?
How much are you spending on optional purchases like restaurants and bars? Do you get enough enjoyment out of these purchases for them to be worth the cost?
Where are some areas that you could save money without greatly affecting your lifestyle?
How much is your debt costing you? How long would it take to pay off your credit card debt?
By tracking your spending and asking yourself some hard questions, you can be better prepared for a brighter financial future — and you’ll know where your money goes each month.
†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% - 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.