Ways to Track your Spending
Going back into the archives, I came across a frugal tip that I always recommend to people who ask for advice about saving money, that is to simply “write it down“. I noticed within that article that I didn’t get into the details of tracking spending, or the many ways to do it. The right way is the easiest way for you. That is, the way that can be implemented into your life easily and used effortlessly so that it will continue to be used for the long term.
If you are looking for ways to help stay on budget, here are some of the ways that I have used to track spending, but I’ll let you decide which one works best for your personal situation.
1. Use PC Software
When we first started our financial journey we were in big time debt. To help get out of the hole, we decided to track our spending to the penny. We then set budgets for various spending categories, gave ourselves allowances, and vowed to stay within budget. At the time, we used software to track all of our expenses (Microsoft Money to be specific) which in turn helped calculate our cash flow going forward. Microsoft Money has been discontinued, but Microsoft has released a Sunset version that is free to download. Note that ongoing support is not available. You can download it here.
2. Use a Spreadsheet
Perhaps one of the more common ways to track your spending and/or budget is via spreadsheet. What I like most about using spreadsheets is that you can make it as simple or complex as you like. A couple years back, a reader was kind enough to share his budgeting spreadsheet, you can download it here.
3. Use a Credit Card
As our spending has become more routine and under control, we have become less reliant on software. As most of our expenses are funneled through a credit card (top cash back credit cards in Canada), not only do we get points for regular spending, we can check online to see spending details and/or if we are within our spending targets for the month. Of course, this method is only feasible if the balance is paid off every month.
4. Use a Smartphone
With iPhones and other smartphones becoming mainstream, they can also be great financial tools. As they are carried around everywhere, apps can be used to track spending as they occur. Here are two free apps that found for both the iPhone OS and Android.
Disclaimer: I have never used the programs above, so I can’t give my opinion on how good or bad they are. If you have used them, please leave your thoughts in the comments.
5. Use the Web
Instead of using PC software, there are websites that can pretty much do the same thing except have the advantage of being location independent. The downside of course is that all your financial information would be on a non-bank website, so it’s all about comfort levels.
The trick is finding web programs that actually work for Canadians. From a little browse around the web, it seems that Mint, Yodlee and MoneyStrands will work for Canadians. I have experimented with an account with Yodlee and it worked well with my MBNA SmartCash card. It basically imported all my expenses and sorted them by categories, and displayed everything in a nice fancy chart. I’m a little more hesitant to give out banking information though. Here are the sites:
If you have accounts with the above mentioned, I encourage you to leave feedback in the comments for others.
If you are following a budget, what are your favorite ways to track your spending?