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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: astvilla on October 12, 2014, 11:22:45 AM

Title: How do you track spending?
Post by: astvilla on October 12, 2014, 11:22:45 AM
Saw another thread on Mint.com but wondering what others use or if they even track?

I'm young, and I want to track and keep a budget so I know where I'm at and not spending uncontrollably. Are there tools or spreadsheet templates one can use to budget? I'm not looking for income or investing charts yet. Does anyone also have excel templates they would like to share? I haven't really found anything satisfactory.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: RWD on October 12, 2014, 11:37:55 AM
I personally use GnuCash for all my accounting needs.
http://gnucash.org/

Specifically for budgeting I've heard people recommend YNAB, though I've never used it:
http://www.youneedabudget.com/
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: Sid Hoffman on October 12, 2014, 11:49:34 AM
I signed up with Personal Capital back in April, per the MMM blog.  My sister uses Mint, and I kind of like what she describes better than what I am getting with PC, but on the other hand, it's not bad either.  I also have two spreadsheets that I use for record-keeping as well.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: wtjbatman on October 12, 2014, 11:50:20 AM
You mention Mint, have you tried it yet? Don't like it? A lot of people who don't like Mint use YNAB instead. Some people use them both. I call those people crazies :)
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: astvilla on October 12, 2014, 12:32:33 PM
I looked at Gnucash and it seems a little bit complicated but flexible at the same time and pretty useful. I was surprised at the size of the file, didn't expect it to be personal software.

I haven't fully tried it out yet. I'm a little leery of linking financial information over the internet in a centralized place. It also doesn't account for cash purchases and has a lot of feature I don't plan to use and looking for a more pure, clean tool of tracking just spending, expenses, etc, maybe compare to income but that's it. It also doesn't seem to be a source I will use for the long-term as opposed to an excel like spreadsheet but I've heard a lot of positive things about it.

Is YNAB free? It seems like you have to purchase it which seems anti-Mustachian to me sorta imo.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: fb132 on October 12, 2014, 12:35:28 PM
I use YNAB, true, it is not free and you can do it yourself with Excel, but its a one time purchase. So if you do not want to pay for it, just create their method on excel. There many creative ways to recreate their program without paying a cent, but you must have some knowledge on excel...unless you have no excel, then you might as well go with Mint.

Personnally, I prefer YNAB, because you can plan your expenses one month in advance.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: NinetyFour on October 12, 2014, 12:40:36 PM
Excel.  Free, easy.

I don't spend much money, so keeping my spreadsheet updated is easy.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: RWD on October 12, 2014, 01:23:23 PM
I looked at Gnucash and it seems a little bit complicated but flexible at the same time and pretty useful. I was surprised at the size of the file, didn't expect it to be personal software.

GnuCash is quite advanced. I like the level of control it gives you. You can have a single credit card charge (or any transaction) be associated with multiple expense categories. For instance, when we go shopping at Costco we might purchase groceries, supplies, pet supplies, and/or alcohol. For my accounting I have a separate category for each of these, and GnuCash makes it easy to associate any/all of them with a single purchase transaction. An automated program (like Mint, I presume) would probably just throw the whole purchase under groceries.

GnuCash also has some pretty cool reporting/graphing features and can pull stock/fund price quotes automatically.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: Calvawt on October 12, 2014, 01:48:01 PM
RWD- Mint also lets you split transactions, though it will default the purchase to a single category.

I use both personal capital and mint.  I like the investment side of PC, but I like the expense side of Mint.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: rmendpara on October 12, 2014, 02:19:15 PM
Used mint for about a year while tracking my spending carefully and going from NW of 39k to 70k. Started using personal capital and ended up closing mint this May because I no longer needed such close tracking of my budget but wanted more powerful investment analysis.

No reason you can't use both... It's all free. They both track spending well (have to label things yourself for a few months but then as you repeat purchases it recognizes the rules you set up). Mint has more budgeting tools while PC has more investment stuff.

At this point, I just track spending in two categories: 1) housing/utilities 2) everything else. I have a target for each and don't reslky start bothering with much unless I stsrt seeing myself going over.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: YoungInvestor on October 12, 2014, 03:18:39 PM
My bank has something similar to mint, so I just use that. I don't normally look too much at it as long as I have met my goals during a certain month
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: MDM on October 12, 2014, 03:23:21 PM
Quicken.  Going on ~21 years worth.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: Christof on October 12, 2014, 03:59:51 PM
Quicken 2000.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: GardenFun on October 12, 2014, 04:18:17 PM
Excel.  Free, easy.

+1.  Can make it do anything I want. 

In all fairness, I've never used Mint, YNAB or Quicken so they are probably good too. 
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: RWD on October 12, 2014, 07:53:43 PM
RWD- Mint also lets you split transactions, though it will default the purchase to a single category.

Cool, I guess that makes sense.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: Cookie on October 12, 2014, 08:12:53 PM
I use excel. I'm sure it isn't the most efficient way, but I love my customized spreadsheet.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: catccc on October 13, 2014, 09:29:38 AM
Excel.  Free, easy.

+1.  Can make it do anything I want. 

In all fairness, I've never used Mint, YNAB or Quicken so they are probably good too.

I'm an accountant tinkering in excel by day, but YNAB was a game changer for me.  For budgeting and tracking.  Just tracking spend, "look-back" only style, yodlee worked for me.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: Jessa on October 13, 2014, 09:37:38 AM
I have Quicken, I love it.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: davisgang90 on October 13, 2014, 09:40:17 AM
I use an excel spreadsheet. 
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: forummm on October 13, 2014, 09:51:11 AM
Excel.  Free, easy.

I don't spend much money, so keeping my spreadsheet updated is easy.

Me too. I just update it monthly, with a total for each category. My categories are utilities, groceries, eating out, insurance, interest, and misc. I highlight anything in misc that was large or unusual, or that I'd like to do less of in the future. I combine that with what I saved that month, and track savings and expenses each month.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: trailrated on October 13, 2014, 11:29:48 AM
Quicken and Mint, I love quicken though...it took me a while to learn all the tools but it is awesome.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: FiguringItOut on October 13, 2014, 11:54:45 AM
I've been using YNAB for a year now.  It is $60 one time purchase, but I got it on sale for $15.  The BEST $15 I've ever spent.

I've tried using excel for years, took Mint and Quicken for a spin, but YNAB is what really been working for me.

If you are just looking to track, you may be able to do better with Mint, as it is more automated.  But I used YNAB as budgeting tool first and tracking tool second.  It allows me to bucket my money without multiple bank accounts or keeping cash envelops.  And it can be updated via mobile app at a time of purchase. 

Basically, I can't say enough good things about it for me personally.  I've tried doing exactly what it does with excel before, but it was never as elegant and easy as with YNAB, plus the mobile app makes it perfect for me.

One complaint that I've heard from others about YNAB is that it doesn't automatically download transactions from your accounts.  Mint does that if you need that feature.  To me, the lack of automatic download is a huge plus, actually.  Makes me more involved and conscious of every transaction and allows me to keep more on top of things as I am learning my way to a more financially stable life.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: Spork on October 13, 2014, 12:31:10 PM
I personally use GnuCash for all my accounting needs.
http://gnucash.org/

Specifically for budgeting I've heard people recommend YNAB, though I've never used it:
http://www.youneedabudget.com/

Count me as another gnucash'er... I've used it since about 2000 and cobbled together a bit of a massive, kludgy back end to it.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: pachnik on October 13, 2014, 12:54:47 PM
I gave YNAB a shot for a few months but I found it confusing.  For a while I was just writing what I spend on a sheet of paper in columns i.e. groceries, gas, utilities and then totaling up at the end of the month.  For the last few months I have been doing the same thing but on an Excel spreadsheet.  It is pretty simple.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: eyePod on October 13, 2014, 12:58:23 PM
YNAB is ideal for families who track together. The fact that I can add a transaction on my phone, or my wife can use hers, and then it syncs with my laptop and desktop makes it ideal. We love it to death and feel so much more comfortable than we used to with respect to money. We were saving some each month but didn't' really have a good idea on how much we could actually afford to save. Some of the best $60 we've ever spent.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: GetItRight on October 13, 2014, 02:20:44 PM
Mint. It doesn't seem as robust as I'd like and can be a bit kludgy to get specific detail that I want. Multiple categories are a pain, like say a store like Walmart where I might buy pasta, socks, motor oil, and light bulbs... Then determine if the other categories are worth deleting the transaction and manually doing 4 different transactions or just throw it under the highest dollar item category or a more generic category. Shortcomings as they are, it works and it's easy. Great for at a glance cash flow and net worth.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: MountainGal on October 13, 2014, 02:36:08 PM
Excel.  Free, easy.

I don't spend much money, so keeping my spreadsheet updated is easy.

Me too. I just update it monthly, with a total for each category. My categories are utilities, groceries, eating out, insurance, interest, and misc. I highlight anything in misc that was large or unusual, or that I'd like to do less of in the future. I combine that with what I saved that month, and track savings and expenses each month.

+1.  I receive a monthly commission check and therefore pay bills and grocery shop once a month.  I prepare the next year's budget about mid-way through the prior year.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: BurquenaAbroad on October 13, 2014, 08:10:56 PM
My SO and I have an excel spreadsheet in Dropbox. We enter expenses whenever we get back to a computer, almost always by the end of the day.

The spreadsheet has evolved to be pretty badass, including some fancy equations that automate some inputs. We can enter an expense in one place, and it will automatically show up in the subcategory column, which goes into the category total for the month, which is also shown in the Monthly Totals tab, where everything for the month is added up so I can see a total of what we've spent so far this month.

At the end/beginning of every month, I update some pretty column charts, so I can compare spending across the year. Recently I've added a nice pie chart of all the subcategories, which my SO even shared with the parents because it was so interesting.


Our categories and subcategories are:

-Food, ie groceries (subcategories: meat, stuff from the chain supermarket, fresh veggies from the local market, emergency lunches)
-Fun, ie everything (subcategories: eating out, booze [alcohol+coffees], events, clothes, grooming, gifts, etc)
-Transport (subcategories: car, petrol, bikes, public transit)
-Travel (subcategories: planes, ground transport, accommodation, food, activities)
-Needs (subcategories: rent, utilities, phones, medical expenses, etc)

We have a loose budget for the broad categories, which makes it easier to track, but if spending is high, we can pinpoint what tripped it.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: flamingo25 on October 13, 2014, 08:31:48 PM
We use YNAB. For us, it has more than paid for itself. I also enjoy tinkering around in contrast to the Excel spreadsheet we used to use.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: SandyBoxx on October 13, 2014, 11:55:13 PM
Another +1 for YNAB. 

I agree that if you follow the method (there is a learning curve for a lot of people) it is a total game changer in managing your finances.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: rl2 on October 14, 2014, 09:15:45 AM
YNAB reframed the whole view of income/expenses/savings for both my wife and myself. No longer a black hole where we just roughly look at the checking account balance, now we have exact numbers. The desktop and mobile apps are great. Highly recommend.

Use my referral link for a discount: http://ynab.refr.cc/T9Z6N5D
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: BooksAreNerdy on October 14, 2014, 09:34:20 AM
YNAB! Use their videos and articles to learn the method. Their forums are helpful too.

YNAB changed our financial lives. We were able to start saving right away for known, infrequent expenses (oil changes, insurance, new shoes, etc). I would say that doing that easily saved us more in the first month than the $60 I spent on the software.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: carozy on October 14, 2014, 12:01:07 PM
Also if you take the classes with YNAB you have a chance of winning the free software.  That's how I got mine.  I didn't buy it but just kept taking classes on how to use it while I debated buying it.  Then I won it!

I used it and liked it but fell out of use.  I may go back to it.  But I tend to like not tracking expenses in the moment, but looking back, like with Mint.  Also, I have an excel budget which I consider a forecast.  It works like YNAB except I can budget many paychecks ahead and see what my future savings will be.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: geekette on October 14, 2014, 12:12:52 PM
Quicken.  Going on ~21 years worth.
Quicken since January '92 here! 
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: mlejw6 on October 14, 2014, 12:57:57 PM
For YNAB, you can download a trial version for free and try it out yourself. It is the full version of YNAB and will last 34? days I think. I use YNAB and love it.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: justplucky on October 14, 2014, 04:21:32 PM
Excel, yo.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: MDM on October 14, 2014, 06:21:23 PM
Quicken.  Going on ~21 years worth.
Quicken since January '92 here!
You win!
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: geekette on October 14, 2014, 11:09:22 PM
I actually looked back tonight at the first transaction.  I must have put in assets from paper statements - it was from October in '89, and we rolled over a whopping $177.68 pre-tax from an employer retirement account, and had to add $322.32 after tax to make the minimum. 

Money gets moved, moved again, fees taken out, dividends added in.  I wish I could track that first $500 and see what it's worth today, 25 years later. 
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: lizfish on October 15, 2014, 12:45:00 AM
YNAB. Again. Yes you pay money for it. Yes it's worth the money you pay for it. If you don't want to pay, use excel. You could build something to mimic YNAB for sure. (Hell, YNAB was a spreadsheet way back when)
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: eyePod on October 15, 2014, 09:13:29 AM
YNAB. Again. Yes you pay money for it. Yes it's worth the money you pay for it. If you don't want to pay, use excel. You could build something to mimic YNAB for sure. (Hell, YNAB was a spreadsheet way back when)

Or wait till black friday when it'll probably be half off again.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: Spork on October 15, 2014, 11:03:34 AM
I actually looked back tonight at the first transaction.  I must have put in assets from paper statements - it was from October in '89, and we rolled over a whopping $177.68 pre-tax from an employer retirement account, and had to add $322.32 after tax to make the minimum. 

Money gets moved, moved again, fees taken out, dividends added in.  I wish I could track that first $500 and see what it's worth today, 25 years later.

I can almost meet your high standards.  My earliest is from Jan 1990.  (But it was converted from quicken -> microsoft money -> gnucash over the years.)
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: MDM on October 15, 2014, 11:25:36 AM
I actually looked back tonight at the first transaction.  I must have put in assets from paper statements - it was from October in '89, and we rolled over a whopping $177.68 pre-tax from an employer retirement account, and had to add $322.32 after tax to make the minimum. 

Money gets moved, moved again, fees taken out, dividends added in.  I wish I could track that first $500 and see what it's worth today, 25 years later.
Earliest transaction recorded in Quicken for us (also entered after the fact from a paper statement): $182.83 to buy 5 shares of stock in April 1985.  Still have 'em, worth ~$1125 or ~6%/yr increase.  Not the greatest, but better than leaving it in the bank. 
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: geekette on October 15, 2014, 01:04:21 PM
I actually looked back tonight at the first transaction.  I must have put in assets from paper statements - it was from October in '89, and we rolled over a whopping $177.68 pre-tax from an employer retirement account, and had to add $322.32 after tax to make the minimum. 

Money gets moved, moved again, fees taken out, dividends added in.  I wish I could track that first $500 and see what it's worth today, 25 years later.
Earliest transaction recorded in Quicken for us (also entered after the fact from a paper statement): $182.83 to buy 5 shares of stock in April 1985.  Still have 'em, worth ~$1125 or ~6%/yr increase.  Not the greatest, but better than leaving it in the bank.
Seems like those 5 shares from '85 would have split into 280 shares by now, no?  (2 for 1 in '87, '90, '05, and 7 for 1 in April of this year).
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: MGeegs on October 15, 2014, 03:53:42 PM
Mint isn't available in my country, I use an app/website called "Toshl". I have to enter payments manually but I've come to like doing it that way - when I spend it feels like there's more accountability because I'll have to enter it into the data myself later :) Plus it's a pretty app that's free (though there is 'premium' available that has more features) and easy to use.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: MDM on October 15, 2014, 07:06:03 PM
Seems like those 5 shares from '85 would have split into 280 shares by now, no?  (2 for 1 in '87, '90, '05, and 7 for 1 in April of this year).
If they had been shares of a company that had split in those ways, then yes.  They are, however, shares of a different company.

My crystal ball was cloudy in 1985.  Come to think of it, it never has cleared up.....
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: geekette on October 15, 2014, 09:07:50 PM
I have NO idea how I read "April 1985" as Apple stock...

:: sets up reminder for eye appointment ::
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: Spork on October 16, 2014, 07:18:50 AM
I have NO idea how I read "April 1985" as Apple stock...

:: sets up reminder for eye appointment ::

If it makes you feel better: I did the same thing.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: frugalnacho on October 16, 2014, 07:45:36 AM
Mint. It doesn't seem as robust as I'd like and can be a bit kludgy to get specific detail that I want. Multiple categories are a pain, like say a store like Walmart where I might buy pasta, socks, motor oil, and light bulbs... Then determine if the other categories are worth deleting the transaction and manually doing 4 different transactions or just throw it under the highest dollar item category or a more generic category. Shortcomings as they are, it works and it's easy. Great for at a glance cash flow and net worth.

That's not a shortcoming, mint already has a function to split your purchase into whatever categories you want.  Just choose "split transaction" and slice it up however you want.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: MayDay on October 16, 2014, 07:51:20 AM
My h is not comfortable with mint for security reasons (don't try to argue the logic with me, I have no dog in that fight!). We used excel on and off for Yeats. The "off" was because despite fairly advanced excel skills, it was still a huge pain.

Now we just do ynab. It's awesome and well worth the money.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: eyePod on October 16, 2014, 08:01:11 AM
My h is not comfortable with mint for security reasons (don't try to argue the logic with me, I have no dog in that fight!). We used excel on and off for Yeats. The "off" was because despite fairly advanced excel skills, it was still a huge pain.

Now we just do ynab. It's awesome and well worth the money.

I used to think this until my card got stolen (swiped and copied). On top of that, most identity theft occurs with the mail, not online. People go crazy.

YNAB is the shit though.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: astvilla on October 16, 2014, 09:34:03 AM
wow thanks for the replies everyone. i'm single and living with parents so i have very few expenses tbh. i'll probably use an excel sheet for now and then later look into ynab. i tried gnucash but it for some reason can't schedule payments? it's great software but seems like there's bugs and stuff that just makes things difficult unless I'm using it wrong.
ynab sounds good for families but i'm not really spending too much, but leaning towards buying it black friday half off.
anyone know the difference between ynab and quicken from experience? which they found more user friendly, and for what kind of person most appropriate for?
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: Spork on October 16, 2014, 10:28:32 AM
wow thanks for the replies everyone. i'm single and living with parents so i have very few expenses tbh. i'll probably use an excel sheet for now and then later look into ynab. i tried gnucash but it for some reason can't schedule payments? it's great software but seems like there's bugs and stuff that just makes things difficult unless I'm using it wrong.
ynab sounds good for families but i'm not really spending too much, but leaning towards buying it black friday half off.
anyone know the difference between ynab and quicken from experience? which they found more user friendly, and for what kind of person most appropriate for?

I'm not sure what you mean by "can't schedule payments."   If you mean: can it actually log into the bank and make them?  The answer is probably no as it is designed in Europe and uses their payment mechanisms (or did last I looked.)*

If you mean: can it self-enter a scheduled transaction?  Then, yes, it can.

*I work in network security.  I just don't want anything automatic or want anything tied to accounts that absolutely doesn't require it to be.  "Separation of privilege" and "least possible privilege" are fundamental security concepts.  Because of this: I don't have anything in gnucash that is physically tied to an account number -- and I like it that way.  YMMV.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: fb132 on October 17, 2014, 05:33:59 AM
wow thanks for the replies everyone. i'm single and living with parents so i have very few expenses tbh. i'll probably use an excel sheet for now and then later look into ynab. i tried gnucash but it for some reason can't schedule payments? it's great software but seems like there's bugs and stuff that just makes things difficult unless I'm using it wrong.
ynab sounds good for families but i'm not really spending too much, but leaning towards buying it black friday half off.
anyone know the difference between ynab and quicken from experience? which they found more user friendly, and for what kind of person most appropriate for?
How is YNAB good just for families??By the way, I also live with my parents and I use YNAB and I think it is fantastic. It saves your butt incase of an unexpected emergency bill to pay. I don't know where you got the idea that YNAb advantages only families.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: carozy on April 22, 2015, 11:39:08 AM
I decided to get into the nitty gritty of tracking expenses to really see where my money went.  I started this April.

Mint:  Problem - had to re-categorize many expenses.  Treats transfers/ATM as an expense.  Calls all my public transit gas...etc, etc, etc.  I still use Mint but found a way to more accurately track my expenses...a Google sheet!  :)

YNAB: Problem - have to budget ahead of time.  This can tend to make me allow myself to spend money that I wouldn't if I didn't preplan it.  (Or at least, that's the fear.)  I am also already used to my Google spreadsheet "forecast" budget, which allows me to get a sky-view budget into the future based on future paychecks, if I feel the need to budget spending money at all.  (I tend to like budgeting saving money though.)

For my Google expenses spreadsheet, I have a Summary page and a Detail page, which has the categories lined out so it tallies the amount spent in each category.  I thought this would be very involved and too time-consuming, but it's not really that much time, once it's set up.  The other thing is, I'm spending money much less frequently than I used to, and I'm using the new Quicksilver card (for the cash back) for nearly everything.  This also makes it easy to record my expenses since they're already listed nicely in the Quicksilver website and I've been transferring them over to the Google spreadsheet every few days or so.

Another benefit of Google spreadsheets is that it's internet based, so I can record expenses at work or home and not have to worry about transferring a file.

Now I'm able to track the cash I spend, the credit card spending I do, my automated public transit expenses, etc...without much trouble.

I've only been doing this for a month, but I know my expenses for April down to the penny now.  Nothing is too small and I've color coded the categories, so I can easily find which category has how much, what the total is, etc.  I think I'll be continuing to track my expenses this way so I'll always know my exact expenses each month for each category, and I can figure out my savings rate much easier this way too.
Title: Re: How do you track spending?
Post by: deirdre08 on April 22, 2015, 11:54:33 AM
Honestly the mint app has been incredibly helpful. Not only does it track my spending, but I also ported in my credit card, student loan, retirement, and betterment accounts so I can have a quick summary of my debt and assets easily available. Occasionally mint does miscategorize certain expenses, but then I just have to go through the transactions to recatergorize them in the right spot, which I actually prefer because then I have to look at each transaction individually which give me a better idea of where I'm spending my money.

I also have an Excel file that I use more as a scratch sheet for monthly budget stuff than an actual spreadsheet. It just helps me visualize my debt and monthly expenses better if I have it all in front of me.