Budgeting 102: 4 Ways To Track Your Spending

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Track Your Spending

In my previous Budgeting 101: How To Start Bossing Your Money Around post, I detailed setting up a budget and included free printables.  If you don’t have a budget going, consider taking a look at that post before jumping head first into this one.

If you’re reading this post it means that you have started bossing your money around and telling it what to do!  That is great!  Now the question is, how do you keep track of what you spend out of each category you set up on your budget worksheet?  How do you know that you are staying within your budget?  There are many ways to track and I’m going to outline 4 ways here.  If any of these work for you, great!  If not, develop the system that works best for you in keeping tabs on what you are spending out of your categories each month.

1. Classic System- Physical Cash Envelopes

  • If the thought of tracking an expense electronically makes you want to throw in the towel, don’t let it.
  • Setting up a simple cash based envelope system can really help keep your spending in check without causing you to have to be on top of every single transaction you make.
  • We did this system early on when we were learning how to budget.  3 years later we have gone a more techie route because we have mastered bossing our cash around.
  • This is my blog post about setting up your own envelope system with step by step instructions from creating your envelopes to going to the bank.

2. The Techie System- Using A Website/App To Track

  • The newest Free app and website from Dave Ramsey is really intuitive and easy to use called EveryDollar.com!  I highly recommend checking that out.
  • My husband created an account using the app/online tool called Clear Check Book.
  • We like this because the app is synced up between our smart phones.  That means that when we make an entry, the changes show up immediately and we can both see them.  If my husband grabs lunch one day and spends $5 from the “Eat Out” category, I can always see the actual running balance (as long as he enters the transactions).
  • It’s not a way to spy on each other’s spending habits, it’s just a way to make sure that we know how much money we have at all times so that we don’t overspend without knowing it.
  •  With most checkbook or budgeting apps, you can quickly and easily enter or delegate your transactions just about anywhere you are.
  • Simply use the app to set up each of your categories from your budget worksheet or spreadsheet.  Set each category up with the budgeted amount and each time you spend, enter the transaction so it deducts the amount you spent from your budget amount in that category.
  • If done correctly, you should be able to quickly and easily see each categories running balance.  This helps you stay on top of spending so that you can successfully spend money as you planned and avoid overspending.

3. The I don’t know what I’m doing HELP! system- If you are totally overwhelmed by the idea of doing this alone, Dave Ramsey has an online tool called the Budget Wizard that costs around $9.95 per month.  The tool usually has a free trail period to see if you use it or need it and you can cancel at anytime.  This helps you step by step figure out what you are spending from a trusted online financial adviser.

4. Spreadsheets- 

  • If you have a simple knowledge of spreadsheets, consider setting one up to track your expenses.
  • The sample I have created is very simple.  You don’t need to enter where you spent money, just how much you spent.
  • Create a spreadsheet named “April” or whatever month it is.
  • Set up columns on the sheet with each category from your budget.
  • Each day, or every other day, gather your receipts & check your automatic payments.  Enter them under the column (line item) they belong to on the spreadsheet.  (Example: Groceries in the grocery column, clothes in the clothes column.)

Spreadsheet Picture

  • To get the correct running balance of that category, you would need to click on A31 and enter this formula in the formula bar = A2-SUM(A3:A30).  If done correctly, each time you enter a transaction the number in row 31 will reduce by that amount.
  • To make this formula work for all your other columns just click on A31 and grab the little square at the bottom right of the cell and drag all the way to your last column.  Stay in row 31.  To grab the little box, your cursor will turn into a + sign and then you can start dragging.  This automatically applies your formula to rest of the cells in that row so you don’t have to re-enter than formula for every single column.
  • When the next month comes around simply make a copy of the sheet and name the sheet the new month.  Delete all your transactions and update any changes to your budgeted amounts and you are ready to go again!

If you think you have this down, hop over to my next post “Budgeting Monthly Expenses: What’s Left Over” to see the 3rd part of the series and know what to do at the end of the month with whatever you have or don’t have!

Kim Anderson

Comments

  1. MicheleStitches says

    I just found this entry via a post on Pinterest. You might want to consider updating this post with a link to Dave Ramsey’s new, FREE budgeting site: EveryDollar.com

  2. Krista says

    Hi Kim,
    Just wondering if you’re still using the Clear Check Book app. I want to try the techie route so hubs and I can sync but this app seems to have only a few reviews, and all are negative. It seems impossible to get a decent app that’s free for finances. But I seem to fail at any other system due to the tediousness of it all. I’ve had an excellent budget for many years but what good is a budget if you have no idea what you’re actually spending until after the month is over?!? I seem to say “oops” a lot!
    Krista

    • says

      Yes I am using Clear Check Book. I should probably do a post on how we use it to keep track of everything because the way we do it is a little out of the ordinary. They just did a pretty massive overhaul of the site. We’ve been using it for 2 years now with no problems.

  3. Paula V says

    I need help with budgeting. I have never had a “budget” system. I know the money I have has to last a life time. I try to be careful but their is always something. I am 66 and no longer can work so only have SS and savings. Have you got any HELP for me?

    • says

      Paula V, I highly recommend that you go down to your local library and check out Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover book. It helps just about anyone at any stage. One a fixed income you should be able to manage a pretty simple budget. Good Luck!

  4. Katie says

    I’m curious to know how you would handle a receipt from a super target or super Walmart…. More stores these days have combined furniture, clothes, groceries etc into one store. It would seem silly to break up your check out into 3-4 different transactions. Although, maybe that’s what has to be done??

    • says

      Great question Katie. It depends on which system you are using. Frankly, I when I used the cash envelope system, I split up my transactions and let the person in line behind me know I was doing that in case they wanted to go ahead a find another line. I would make clothes one purchase and split up groceries into a second transaction but I never did over 3. I could always just move money around in the envelopes if need be. So if you feel uncomfortable splitting up the transaction, just figure out how much you spent in each category and then move money around.

      I didn’t mind splitting up my transactions because it without fail started a conversation in the line about budgeting. Although, if you aren’t a frugal living blogger, you might not want to talk to strangers about budgeting. LOL

      I shop at Target regularly and the receipt actually splits everything up by department now.
      Now that my husband and I use the app I simply purchase everything together, enter the transaction on my app which deducts that amount from my “grocery” category. Then I would add money back into my grocery category from my clothing budget based on how much I spent on clothes. I’m planning to make 2015 the year of cranking up my Youtube channel and hopefully doing some videos to show people and not just try to explain how to do it. If that answer was unhelpful please let me know and I’ll try to give you a better one. :)

  5. Jan says

    The budget expense tracking in a monthly spreadsheet looks wicked simple!
    I AM going to do this an I’m certain enlightenment WILL follow.
    All it takes is awareness to clarify areas that are over-extended monetarily and that can be a good place for cutbacks to save for something of more value.
    Thanks for the tip and instruction, Kim.

    • says

      If you keep your receipts and just enter them consistently it can be simple to track what your spending on a worksheet (no dates or detail needed). I use an app and I have to be intentional about entering the stuff as soon as I get back in my car. My husband and I have been doing this consistently for almost 6 months and has taken a huge burden off our minds to know exactly what we are spending all the time and that we tell our money what to do. Thanks for the comment! Please let me know how it goes in a few months and if you made any of your own tweaks to suite your needs.

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