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Topic: How do you keep track of your expenses?

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Subject: How do you keep track of your expenses?
Date Posted: 1/17/2009 2:05 PM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
Posts: 5,931
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I used to keep my checkbook with me and enter the withdrawals and deposits regularly, but I so seldom have to write checks that I got out of the habit.  And once I got out of the habit, it got super easy to spend an extra $10 here or there that I shouldn't have been spending.  Now I'm trying to write down what I spend each day in my dayplanner, since its always with me and then enter the total at the end of the week.  So far its kept me honest about how much I spend, the way some people on diets write down everything they eat.  So what do you do to keep track?  Do you put everything in you checkbook right away?

Last Edited on: 1/17/09 2:06 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 1/17/2009 4:03 PM ET
Member Since: 1/29/2006
Posts: 706
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I too am recording and tracking all my expenses.   I may eventually get Quicken to make the job easier but for now I made up a 3 ring binder.   What I do is keep every receipt -- it took me a long time to get in that habit.  Then every night I record my espenses in that notebook.   Once a week I add up by category -- it doesn't take me very long if I'm sure to do it every Sunday.     The areas I really need to "watch" myself on are my work lunches, clothing, books, and food (both grocery and eating out).    But it has been very interesting to me (I started this in August of last year) discovering some  categories that I had not really thought about or accounted for on my spending plan.

I have a separate checking account for my work lunches so that I load up a set amount and can use the debit card each day for that.    It helps me stay more careful to stick to the limit.    I found that for that category, if I carry cash, I tend to end up impulse buying some little thing I see and then I run short on "lunch money".  It's an unusual situation - I take care of a lady who eats out everyday and I have to pay for my own lunch each day wherever she eats.

We really have a lot of categories, but the main ones are food/supplies, medical, utilities, debt repayment, gas, work lunches, clothing, dining out, postage/misc., cat care, books, entertainment, savings, property tax, gifts/Christmas.    I am always refining my record keeping so that I can make better spending plans (more realistic).   I sort of use ideas from both Dave Ramsey and Debtor's Anonymous among others.    I find it helps to have very specific goals for savings and debt repayment AND to make sure we always allow for some personal money to spend however we like.

I have a friend who says the way I am doing this is too much work and that if I had Quicken it would be easier but I am not sure.    I don't find it takes me much time this way.   If I could learn the software I'd probably have a more accurate accounting.


Subject: keeping track
Date Posted: 1/17/2009 4:24 PM ET
Member Since: 12/31/2005
Posts: 12
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It costs a little more--but I use the checks with a built in carbon copy.I found it hard to remember to record the checks--and the carbon means I only have to do it now and then!


See my new blog: frugalscholar.blogspot.com



Date Posted: 1/17/2009 6:39 PM ET
Member Since: 10/27/2007
Posts: 2,287
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For 2009 we have put ourselves on a very serious budget.  I must account for EVERYTHING I spend.  But, I am lucky because DH loves entering all of this into a spreadsheet he and my dad have been working on.  We have a small basket on the desk where we put all the receipts.  He enters them into the spreadsheet every other day or so.  Usually only takes a few minutes rather than waiting until the end of the month to do so. 

Date Posted: 1/19/2009 1:58 AM ET
Member Since: 10/23/2007
Posts: 2,289
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I use a spreadsheet for ours as well.  I have one for expenses; when their due, how much, total payoff, etc. and one for the checking account.  So far it's working great.

Date Posted: 1/19/2009 7:59 AM ET
Member Since: 6/11/2006
Posts: 12,826
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wow i been work on this great to see idea.

Date Posted: 1/19/2009 11:12 AM ET
Member Since: 8/3/2008
Posts: 87
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When I was single and didn't have much money anyway, using the checkbook to keep track worked fine for me.  After I got married, just knowing how much cash we actually had didn't count for much because it would turn out that we each had different designs on the same money, added to which we developed more responsibilities that required long-term setting aside (such as knowing that eventually the car insurance would come due, eventually we'd have to replace the couch, etc.).

Early on, we used the three-ring binder approach.  It was a pain to collect and record the receipts, but it was really helpful in seeing where our money went and having evidence to say to each other, "Yes, you really spend this much on such-and such."  For a while our income kind of stablized and we had developed habits that kept us within certain confines, so we gave up the binder.

Then this year we both changed jobs, we moved to different city where costs on some items are much different, and we bought our first house.  We had no idea how much we needed for anything!  But instead of going back to the binder, we decided to try PearBudget (www.pearbudget.com).  There's a 30-day free trial, and then it costs $3/month.  Essentially it's the same thing the binder did, except it's on the web, so we can enter receipts whenever we're online and it does the math for us, which saves time.  It's still kind of a pain to have to do, but compared to the binder, it's worth the $3 a month to us.  I find that it works best to make every expense that isn't a fixed amount each month an "irregular" expense so that the surplus or deficit rolls over from month to month.  That way, I can see over several months if I am overspending or underspending consistently in a particular area.  (The site allows you to set up your own categories, so you can lump several things together or get really specific, depending on your needs.)

Date Posted: 1/19/2009 10:59 PM ET
Member Since: 5/10/2005
Posts: 2,359
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Excel spreadsheet.  I use categories that work for us, and type in receipts.  I do them at least at the end of the month, but try to do them a couple other times so they don't pile up.

Date Posted: 1/25/2009 9:27 PM ET
Member Since: 9/1/2007
Posts: 394
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I have Quicken and absolutely love it!! 

I set a budget up in it and it helps us know when we are "out of whack" a little at a moments notice.

With one click on reports, I have a year end tax summary that helps me do my taxes in an afternoon.

I was able to customize it to our needs and not just the writer of the program.  I use it track several different accounts (checking and savings) and have the options to track investments and more (not utilizing at this time).

I can easily reconcile my accounts online with my bank and Quicken. 

I can not say enough about it and will not change how we are doing things.  It's GREAT!

Date Posted: 7/4/2009 4:00 PM ET
Member Since: 10/21/2007
Posts: 3,430
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I use an older version of Quicken.  I'd used it with a computer I had a few years ago & loved it, so when I upgraded my computer I decided to try Microsoft Money which is already installed in the PC I'm using now.  I didn't like it nearly as well, so I found an old version of Quicken (2002) on sale somewhere & I use it to keep track of where my money goes.  This makes it so easy to itemize my taxes!  If I want to know how much I spent on medical bills last year, I just do a search on Quicken.  Same goes for job expenses & any other thing that is tax deductible.  Much easier than sorting through receipts for an entire year. 

Date Posted: 7/6/2009 10:17 PM ET
Member Since: 2/15/2006
Posts: 214
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Last year I wrote down everything on the computer, in Excel. This year, well I haven't gotten started yet. My downfall was the Christmas season. I didn't want my husband or children to see what I was spending and where, so that they couldn't get ideas of their presents. I guess I need a seperate file for the presents, and do all the others together. What do you suggest? BTW, after Christmas, I don't mind tham seeing the amounts for budget purposes.