If you’re serious about getting your finances in order and regaining control over your money, the first step is to find out exactly where it’s going. Making the decision to track your expenses is important to do because it gives you a realistic view of how you’re managing your money.
Too many people try to start budgeting or even skip budgeting without even thinking about tracking their expenses. Sometimes it can be scary to peel back the rug and uncover what you’re truly spending money on, but it’s worth it in the end.
By tracking your expenses, you’ll know exactly what’s going on. From there you can set realistic goals and work on your habits.
How We Used to Track Our Expenses
Back in the day, people would often balance their checkbooks, and save paper receipts throughout the month to enter everything into a system manually. This was very tedious and time-consuming.
Not to mention, it can get pretty inaccurate when you lose some of your receipts or replace your paper tracking system. If I had to track my expenses this way, I would dread it and probably just figure it wasn’t worth the headache.
Luckily, there are much better ways to track your expenses especially when you take a more digital approach. I’m not a big fan of using a ton of finance apps and programs, but on the flipside, fintech can be more convenient in terms of taking over some of the work for you.
Here are some much more efficient programs I’d recommend for tracking your expenses the non-painful way.
Personal Capital is a cash and wealth management program that you may have heard of. It’s completely free to use and you can connect all your accounts in just seconds including your checking and savings, credit cards, and loans and more.
Personal Capital uses this information to help track your net worth all in one place automatically. If you connect your checking account(s) too, you can use the ‘Banking’ tab to track your cash flow. The system tracks all your spending and categories it throughout the money so you’ll know exactly where your money is going.
They actually do a pretty good job at categorizing expenses accurately but if they ever misinterpret a cost, you can change it manually.
Mint is another expense tracking program that is very similar to Personal Capital. Although, they focus more on helping you budget by tracking your expenses so it’s not heavily focused on your net worth.
You can also connect all your accounts to make expense tracking easy and automatic. I’ve used Mint before in the past and liked how easy the system was, but often found that I had to manually correct certain spending categories to make it more accurate.
On the plus side, using an automatic expense tracker will save you time in the long run. Even if you have to manually change some expenses in the beginning, just set aside time at the end of each week to check in. Over time, Mint will adjust and start to categorize your expenses more accurately.
Mint users can now check their credit score for free as well which is pretty cool.
Every Dollar is a budgeting app that helps you put Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps into practice. You can start for free but there is a paid version of the app as well. Start by adding your paycheck amounts in for the month or what you expect to earn.
Then, plan your expenses and budget categories based on your income. The best way to budget is to put every dollar you have to use – hence the name of this app.
Of course, Every Dollar also helps you track your spending automatically and compare it to your budget. This is so key if you want to be successful with budgeting. It’s not enough to set a budget and leave it. You need to regularly track your expenses to make sure you’re sticking to your budget so you can get real results.
Your Bank Account
Your bank account itself may be a perfect tool to help you track your expenses. I bank with Huntington which is popular in the Midwest but it’s a great bank to have because they provide account holders with a built-in expense tracker analysis.
Their feature is called Spend Setter and it allows you to create specific budget categories and track your spending in those categories as you use your debit card throughout the month. I also love how you can set up alerts to notify you when you’re getting close to the spending limit you set in a particular category. It’s free and you don’t have to sign up for any other programs if you don’t want to.
Huntington is probably not the only bank that does this so check around and see what your options are for tracking expenses automatically through your bank.
Tracking your expenses doesn’t have to be a pain or a huge time suck. Focus on making it easy and this will motivate you to stick to it. Most people don’t have the time or patience to manually track expenses throughout each day.
If you do prefer manual tracking, I’d recommend consolidating this task to something you do weekly so it’s not overwhelming. Over time, you’ll learn your spending habits and have peace of mind knowing you can account for every dollar of your income.