Author Topic: How closely do you track your expenses?  (Read 7537 times)

mushroom

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How closely do you track your expenses?
« on: May 13, 2013, 08:10:33 AM »
My husband and I never used to budget or track our expenses at all - we were both naturally frugal and always had plenty of money saved up at the end of the month.

But after finding MMM and finally getting around to reading Your Money or Your Life last week, I'm inspired to keep better track in hopes of cutting back even more. I'd love it if we could keep track of every dollar; it satisfies my ISTJ detail-oriented enthusiasm for personal finance. This horrifies my INFP husband, who's fine with a general idea of our expenditures, but thinks keeping track of anything under $10 or $20 is not worth our time and mental energy, especially since it's nothing compared to our combined gross incomes >200K. I argue that for me, it's essentially a hobby, that small, frequent purchases certainly add up, and can contribute to a significant percentage of our expenses, which are low.

Our compromise is that I can get as detailed as I want by looking at our credit and debit card statements, I don't force him to keep track of where cash he withdrew from the ATM went (he doesn't use much cash anyway), and he will write down our laundry expenses at the expensive laundromat across the street as a favor to me.

Of course it's a bit unfair posting this on MMM, but I was curious how closely other people tracked. Do you go down to the penny? Do you just look at the total on the credit card bill at the end of the month? Or do you just try not to spend a lot of money in general and think mindfully about each purchase? (our previous approach)

Cecil

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2013, 08:16:05 AM »
I try to track all my expenses to the penny. I enter everything from my credit card and bank account on a weekly or so basis, and try to enter cash spent each day (we rarely use cash anyway).

I have a near-complete record of every dollar I've spent since 2006.

tuyop

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #2 on: May 13, 2013, 08:18:43 AM »
Personality types are silly.

My partner and I use YNAB. We use a cashback credit card for nearly all purchases and enter cash purchases by hand into YNAB.

Mint.com captures the credit card purchases and bill payments automatically, and we use mint.com to update YNAB a few times a week. We capture about 99.5% (every $1000 or so we have to manually adjust because a purchase got lost) of our purchases to the penny this way and have been doing it as a couple since September 2012. I've been doing it personally since July 2010.

We did the mindfulness approach and kept on track with all of our savings goals for a few months, then we sliced the data a bit further and managed to carve out an additional 15% of savings within our 7% discretionary spending categories, so it's useful but not worth a lot of stress, in my opinion.

limeandpepper

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #3 on: May 13, 2013, 08:40:21 AM »
A few years ago, I tracked every penny I spent for about a year and a half. These days I just spend as mindfully as I can, but I think the experience of tracking really helped in cultivating that mindfulness.

matchewed

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #4 on: May 13, 2013, 09:18:05 AM »
I don't track heavily anymore. The most I do is pop open Mint once a month or so, look at the recent transactions, usually nod that everything matches up with what is in my head, jot down my net worth, and put that in my spreadsheet. I've automated most of my expenses, the only ones I have to manage are rent and food. Everything else runs in the background.

kdms

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #5 on: May 13, 2013, 10:47:59 AM »
Down to the penny, on a weekly basis, using a simple Excel spreadsheet.  I used to match receipts on a weekly basis as well, but have fallen out of that habit unless a receipt needs to be filed for warranty purposes. 

I've been doing this for over two years and have sometimes been questioned (by other and by myself) as to whether it is really necessary to go to that level of detail, and I'll tell you - having an established system saved us a couple of weeks ago when DH lost his job, and I had to re-jig the budget to make everything work.  Knowing where every penny was allocated ahead of time reduced the stress to a mild level of discomfort as opposed to full-blown panic.

GoStumpy

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #6 on: May 13, 2013, 10:57:28 AM »
To the penny via YNAB for me! 

oldtoyota

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #7 on: May 13, 2013, 11:01:57 AM »
I track to the penny. Although we're fairly frugal, I found a lot we can cut. It was worth it to me.

I went through the two credit cards and my PayPal account to get expenditures and then filled in the holes with bills and, for cash, memory.

I might try Mint.com for this in the future, but the system I use now doesn't have advertising. =-)

MorningCoffee

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #8 on: May 13, 2013, 12:20:44 PM »
I don't really track very closely. We don't even have a budget. We are both somewhat frugal and aren't spenders. We do have a system and look over our spending every month. We have a joint cc and put everything on it. End of month, we have a handy list of all expenses, and can evaluate if any type of expense seems too high.

We have always kept things as simple as possible. We automate the basics to get the most bang for our buck (ex. employer match to DB, contribution to mortgage principal) then focus on one goal at a time. We make sure it's enough of a challenge that there's not much "disposable" money left over. We've been working on paying off mortgage and our goal was by Christmas - looks like we may be done by August instead! It's working for us.

Rural

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #9 on: May 13, 2013, 12:25:13 PM »
I tracked every penny in 2007 and 2008 in Excel and used the data to get us set into good habits. Since then, we haven't tracked or budgeted at all; I know where it all goes. We did track building supplies on a spreadsheet so that we'd have a record for tax purposes, but that's all.

EMP

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #10 on: May 13, 2013, 12:33:55 PM »
Not nearly closely enough.  I'm an INTP and I have an almost compulsive dislike of organization.

I Love Cake

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #11 on: May 13, 2013, 12:44:22 PM »
We tracked for 3 months to see where the money was going. It was also to show us how much we could sock away to savings. So with that benchmark we now know how much we can save each month without 'robbing Paul'. If we run out money it means we are overspending in one account.

I wish we always tracked. Look at it this way

multimillion dollar companies track ever single penny. Each month they send out their actuals compared to budget. all expenses are listed. so if multimillion dollar companies track their 10s and 20s then surely your husband can? Anyway, maybe this tactic will work! haha

bo_knows

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2013, 12:51:56 PM »
We don't really track closely.  I keep an eye on Mint, just for clarification.  But we're pretty frugal to begin with, and are just on autopilot most of the time.  If something major comes up, I look more closely at the budget to make sure we're on the correct path still.

psychomoustache

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #13 on: May 13, 2013, 12:52:29 PM »
down to the last centime here! but there is always a bit of "mystery cash" that can disappear every month - about 10 to 20 euros - probably on my Coke Zero habit  : ( !

secondcor521

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #14 on: May 13, 2013, 01:38:29 PM »
I track to the penny with old school Quicken 2006 Deluxe, which seems too compulsive only when I need to go in and reconcile my paychecks by a penny here and there due to arcane rounding on my 401k match and tax withholding.

I am trying to spend a little more mindfully as my spending has crept up lately due to relaxing overall on the spending side as well as some larger planned purchases, and I'm getting close to FI so I want to hit that number as soon as I can.  OTOH, I'm at about a 50% gross savings rate so sometimes I feel like I can slack off.

Dynasty

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #15 on: May 13, 2013, 02:12:25 PM »
I don't track expenses at all.

I know how much money every month is allocated for saving and investment.

I know how much my paycheck is every two weeks.

I go to the ATM and pull out cash at the beginning of the month and spend it.

After a few months or so when my bank account is pretty healthy, excess money above a certain level is sent to savings and investments.

Repeat.

Sounds like way too much time and effort to track every single penny.  Although, I could see it's utility for a few months just to figure out what's happening.

tuyop

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #16 on: May 13, 2013, 02:18:03 PM »
I don't track expenses at all.

I know how much money every month is allocated for saving and investment.

I know how much my paycheck is every two weeks.

I go to the ATM and pull out cash at the beginning of the month and spend it.

After a few months or so when my bank account is pretty healthy, excess money above a certain level is sent to savings and investments.

Repeat.

Sounds like way too much time and effort to track every single penny.  Although, I could see it's utility for a few months just to figure out what's happening.

Yeah it becomes something of a hobby at some point. You could take away the tracking and still have the same results, but it's kind of fun play games with spreadsheets.

mpbaker22

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #17 on: May 13, 2013, 02:48:35 PM »
I just track using mint.  The only categories I do something special are splitting out food&dining vs. alcohol&bars.  These are the categories I always go over on - hey I'm a 23 year old single male, and most the expense is on food at pub type places.  I'd actually say the combined category takes up something like 20% of my budget, but that's mostly because everything else is so low.

Other than that, I'll sometimes, but not always, record cash spending.  I might need to do this more often now that I found a sweet little (mostly) cash only farmers market this past weekend.

I don't really have random shopping sprees at the mall.  I have a $10/month clothing budget, but I've only spent $22 this year.

mushroom

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #18 on: May 13, 2013, 03:28:47 PM »
Thanks for all the input so far! It's interesting to see how differently people do it.

Dynasty, I totally hear what you're saying, but I've heard that the act of tracking can help one lower expenses (don't have much personal experience since I just started doing this).

So let's say one is at 60% savings rate without any thought, seems great go on autopilot la di da.

But what if by tracking and watching more closely one goes to 70% savings rate? Great, even better, and FI is closer by 4 years. There are even bigger differences starting at lower savings levels, too.

I guess that's my reasoning behind the switch. We were doing totally fine before, but I'd like to do even better if that means shaving years off my FI date. For example, I've found it helpful to see couples spending $200-300 a month on food and realizing we could be doing a *lot* better on our food expenditure. Before I had no idea how much we spent a month on food.

matchewed

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #19 on: May 13, 2013, 03:39:14 PM »
Thanks for all the input so far! It's interesting to see how differently people do it.

Dynasty, I totally hear what you're saying, but I've heard that the act of tracking can help one lower expenses (don't have much personal experience since I just started doing this).

So let's say one is at 60% savings rate without any thought, seems great go on autopilot la di da.

But what if by tracking and watching more closely one goes to 70% savings rate? Great, even better, and FI is closer by 4 years. There are even bigger differences starting at lower savings levels, too.

I guess that's my reasoning behind the switch. We were doing totally fine before, but I'd like to do even better if that means shaving years off my FI date. For example, I've found it helpful to see couples spending $200-300 a month on food and realizing we could be doing a *lot* better on our food expenditure. Before I had no idea how much we spent a month on food.

Well I'd view it this way; given your example if you are setting goals you should have a metric to determine if your goal is being achieved. For you that metric is looking at your expenses. If someone doesn't have that goal and is comfortable with 60% then they don't track. :)

Zikoris

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #20 on: May 13, 2013, 04:05:00 PM »
We track to the penny since we use Mint, and we basically don't use cash for anything, which makes it easy - no ATM withdrawals to have a headache over trying to remember what they were for. We find it pretty interesting looking at trends and comparing our year-over-year spending, seeing the long-term effects of small changes, all that. It's purely academic for us since we spend very little and save 60-80% of our income depending on month, and there's no way in hell we'd do it manually if Mint ceased to exist.

KMMK

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #21 on: May 13, 2013, 04:36:40 PM »
For me I track to the penny. But for DH I track based on bank statements, the receipts he gives me (most of them) and for his cash I just track it when it's withdrawn.
He has no interest in tracking to the level of precision I do or worrying about small purchases as we naturally save a lot of money. I just feel better tracking closely and ideally having everything balance. I like having the history of my spending, but I don't need it for budgeting.

wifeytini623

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Re: How closely do you track your expenses?
« Reply #22 on: May 14, 2013, 03:30:30 PM »
We audit our spending from time to time, but we rarely stick to a budget. I'd like to find a way that works for us, but so far I haven't been successful. On one hand, we are pretty naturally frugal and we've never had consumer debt. We own one credit card and it's for emergencies only. Which is to say - without tracking our expenses, we're consistently frugal, we save a healthy amount every month, and we never spend more than we have -- so what's the point of tracking?

At the same time, we always have these random $10-$20 miscellaneous walgreens purchases on our bank account statement and those plague me. I'm sure tracking our spending and paying in cash would minimize those.