Author Topic: How do you track what you spend?  (Read 11536 times)

rick1028

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How do you track what you spend?
« on: January 23, 2014, 06:51:32 PM »
I'm trying to find a good program that will allow me to track and categorize my families expenses.  What methods have worked for you guys?  I'm looking for something simple that would track our debit card purchases and allow me to put them into a certain category.  I want to start tracking where our money is going.  We have no credit card debt so I wouldn't need to track stuff like that.

Thanks

Workinghard

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2014, 07:08:59 PM »
I use MINT, but my dh hates it. Something about me knowing he's used the credit card before he gets home.  Lol. All joking aside, it works well for us even though it's not perfect. But it is free!

meteor

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2014, 07:33:31 PM »
I use mint too.

iamlindoro

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2014, 07:47:59 PM »
I use Quicken.  Mint isn't immediate enough for me since it relies on transactions clearing, and can't project out balances based on scheduled recurring transactions 3, 6, or even 12 months.

ThatGuyFromCanada

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2014, 08:33:48 PM »
I download all my transactions into Excel and then categorize them manually. From this I can create different pivot tables that shows me spending by month, category, grouped categories etc.

Thespoof

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2014, 09:33:08 PM »
I use an app called Back in Black. I have used it since April of 2011. Very easy to use and customize. It keeps me on track super easily. I know exactly where I am at a glance. It's only available for the iPhone though.

NinetyFour

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2014, 10:07:59 PM »
I use Excel.  I input every expense the same day it occurs.  Very easy.  As a previous poster said on another thread, if you don't spend money very often, it makes tracking expenses much easier.

LibraTraci

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2014, 11:54:21 PM »
I use Excel.  I input every expense the same day it occurs.  Very easy.  As a previous poster said on another thread, if you don't spend money very often, it makes tracking expenses much easier.

Same here!

If you have to go home and enter 'shine spray for hair--$18' or 'gratuity for server--$40' or some else facepunch-worthy, you real feel disappointed in yourself. 

If you just import your expenses into some program or another, you don't quite get the same level of negative reinfocement (for stupid purchases) or positive reinforcement (for wise purchases).   

NinetyFour

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2014, 11:59:07 PM »
Yes, that's right--there is instant accountability.  And repeated accountability--every time you look at the total of a column and say wtf--how did I spend that much on entertainment?  Then you scroll up and see the entries.  I also insert comments next to almost every entry so that I can see exactly what the expense was for, at what store, etc.

I also input every cent I bring in, including the coins I (often!) find on the street.  (Found 37 cents just this month!)

rick1028

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #9 on: January 24, 2014, 12:03:16 AM »
I use Excel.  I input every expense the same day it occurs.  Very easy.  As a previous poster said on another thread, if you don't spend money very often, it makes tracking expenses much easier.

Same here!

If you have to go home and enter 'shine spray for hair--$18' or 'gratuity for server--$40' or some else facepunch-worthy, you real feel disappointed in yourself. 

If you just import your expenses into some program or another, you don't quite get the same level of negative reinfocement (for stupid purchases) or positive reinforcement (for wise purchases).   
That's a great way to look at it.  At this point I need all the wake up calls i can get lol.  I also like the ease of being able to itemize expenses as they appear on my smart phone.   My goal is to get a true picture as to where my money is going.  I know i can trim a lot of fat, especially when it comes to eating out lol.   I appreciate all of the input thus far.

panthalassa

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #10 on: January 24, 2014, 12:11:43 AM »
Up until a month ago I would have recommended Mint.  I used it (and still do use it) for 2 years.  I thought it was fabulous.

But early this month I picked up YNAB (You Need a Budget) for $16 in a New Year's Sale (regular price $60) and it has changed my budgeting life.  I HATED that with Mint you couldn't budget for the next month.  It's so limited.  With YNAB you can budget as far in advance in the future as you want and it teaches you to live on last month's income, not this month.  I love it and can't sing its praises highly enough.

SnackDog

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #11 on: January 24, 2014, 02:22:15 AM »
We used to use Mint, Yodlee, etc.  They are good for getting set up and understanding where the money is going. But once you clamp down on all non-essentials, it's pretty boring just seeing the same monthly charges for rent, groceries, fuel, etc.

nottoolatetostart

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #12 on: January 24, 2014, 04:20:03 AM »
Been using YNAB for 3 years come February. Love it! It has rocked our budgeting life. Wish I would have found it sooner.

EK

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #13 on: January 24, 2014, 04:39:33 AM »
I manually track all expenses in YNAB.  It is awesome and I love it.

i_am_the_slime

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #14 on: January 24, 2014, 04:47:03 AM »
I will be the minority, but I use GnuCash and manually enter transactions (definitely not every day - sometimes wait until the credit card bill).  GnuCash is nice because it tracks all income, expenses, assets and liabilities. 

NewStachian

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #15 on: January 24, 2014, 09:01:57 AM »
I'm a huge fan of the spreadsheet in Google Drive. Tabs I currently have : Snapshot, Wealth, Chart, Budget, Home Improvements, Allocations, Credit Card spending, etc, etc. I have about 10-15 tabs in all and it scales amazingly well. I've been using this method (and Excel before Drive came out) since 2002 and it works great. I can pull it up anywhere and share it with anyone. I also have a version with all my numbers scrubbed that I share with other friends looking to become Mustachians.

The bottom line for me is it comes down to control. I control the equations, the display, the color scheme, everything. If I don't like the way a metric is calculated, I can change it. If i want to track something new and obscure, I can track that. The last thing I added took my financial goal (which is a certain appreciation per month), subtracts off the $ in my income to savings, then takes the difference and compares it to my invested assets and tells me what the required market return is for me to meet my financial goal for the year. I'm sure some tools out there do that, but I can control how mine is done.

Kaminoge

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #16 on: January 24, 2014, 09:06:16 AM »
Another vote for google spreadsheet. Accessible on any computer (although excel would be too because I'd have it in dropbox), easy to set up and easy to customise. I also have a google calendar alert set up that reminds me to enter any money spent ever day. But I only use cash for spending money so that keeps it fairly simple.

fabyab

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #17 on: January 24, 2014, 09:27:25 AM »
We use YNAB. Tried Excel, tried Google docs. YNAB is simple, you pay once for your whole family, and it synchronises beautifully across all your family members' computers and smartphones. So you know instantaneously where you stand vis a vis your budget. Plus, it was through YNAB's blog/podcast that I learnt about MMM, so I owe YNAB big time. I find that it helps that MMM and YNAB share a common philosophy and approach to money. YNAB's not good for tracking investments though, but it sounds like that isn't what you're looking for anyway.

Spork

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #18 on: January 24, 2014, 10:08:10 AM »
I will be the minority, but I use GnuCash and manually enter transactions (definitely not every day - sometimes wait until the credit card bill).  GnuCash is nice because it tracks all income, expenses, assets and liabilities.

I support your minority opinion.
I've been using gnucash since right around 2000.

nawhite

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #19 on: January 24, 2014, 10:15:00 AM »
Mint.com here because downloading or recording every single purchase I make is work. Mint takes all of that work out of the equation. If I had to enter every single purchase I would quit very quickly (and my wife would quit faster than I did). If I had to download all of my purchases for the month, then I wouldn't get feedback until the end of the month. Mint makes it easy enough for me to actually follow along and has very pretty graphs for showing trends over time.

galliver

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #20 on: January 24, 2014, 10:17:32 AM »
+1 on Mint.

It's free, automatic, and customizable (enough for me).

I know I won't do anything involving manual entry, so for me that was out. Mint will grab any transaction and categorize automatically based on the merchant (e.g. it knows Safeway is a grocery store, Starbucks is a coffee shop, etc) so with zero effort you already get an approximate idea of your spending habits. If it doesn't know something, it will guess or leave it blank and you can categorize yourself, after which it will (in most circumstances) learn. You can split transactions, e.g. if you want to separate your cleaning supplies from your grocery purchases, or  if you get cash back at the grocery store. Speaking of cash, it's easy to add transactions manually.  I love how many ways it has of looking at your past spending, over any time range, going from categories to sub-categories to individual transactions.

Things it doesn't do well: doesn't play well with PayPal or "Square" (That new tech for charging CC's through a tablet that small businesses are picking up). But these are just a small number of transactions to manually fix if I want an accurate record.

kudy

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #21 on: January 24, 2014, 10:19:23 AM »
I use mint to aggregate all my transactions to one place, where I can easily input them into YNAB on a twice-weekly basis.

BlueMR2

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #22 on: January 24, 2014, 10:25:39 AM »
I write all my individual expenditures on a piece of paper during the month, then build a spreadsheet at the end of the month.

Not a super scalable system, but that's part of the point.  If it hurts to buy something (by making me write something down and process it again later in the month) I'm much more likely to skip the purchase.

rick1028

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #23 on: January 24, 2014, 10:35:35 AM »
Thanks for all of the input.  I think for my life right now, I'm going to try mint.  I need something simple that relies on me as little as possible lol.   My biggest goal from this is to get an accurate picture as to where my money is going.  I like that mint will create an expense category for my purchases.  The fact that it is free and I'm trying to become debt free is nice as well.   Thanks again.

taperted

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #24 on: January 24, 2014, 10:52:22 AM »
With debit card (and credit card) purchases this should be a piece of cake. Your bank should have online access and you should be able to monitor where you've spent your money. You can probably download your entries to the various spreadsheets suggested.

I use Quicken (I'm surprised nobody has mentioned it yet) and have been since 1998. I track my expenses with this because it can interface with all types of banks, CC companies, brokerages, etc and download transactions. It really saves on manual entry if you have lots of transactions going on per month.

I used Mint, but there were some limitations I experienced with it and I don't use it regularly. It is a useful site for me because it aggregates the credit cards and bank accounts if I just need to quickly see where and when a charge was made. If I can't find it on Mint, I go directly to the bank site. Personal Capital is the same as is several other services. What really turns me off Personal Capital is that once I signed up, someone keeps calling me to enroll in their financial services, so beware.

If you want ultra granularity in tracking your purchases, I found this app for my iPhone called Wally. With this app, you can photograph your receipts and see exactly what you bought at the store. This can be useful, but in practice, it requires a lot of discipline to keep up. I would do it if I was really concerned about tracking my money down to the penny.
« Last Edit: January 24, 2014, 10:54:17 AM by taperted »

gillstone

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #25 on: January 24, 2014, 10:58:16 AM »
We use Mint to track our expenses and then drop the data into Excel to compare it to our proejcted costs and see where we are at in terms of the big picture.    For example, at the end of next week we'll pull our January costs, drop them into a spreadsheet that tracks expected monthly expenses and revenues.  From there we look at our expected non-recurring expenses in February and then see if we need to either adjust any line-items for recurring expenses to match behavior or vice versa.   

lithy

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #26 on: January 24, 2014, 11:01:14 AM »
I will be the minority, but I use GnuCash and manually enter transactions (definitely not every day - sometimes wait until the credit card bill).  GnuCash is nice because it tracks all income, expenses, assets and liabilities.

I support your minority opinion.
I've been using gnucash since right around 2000.

Not such a minority anymore.  I've been using GNUcash for just over a year now.

I enter household spending somewhere between every day and every few days.  Basically when I get around to it.  I'm a pretty intro level user but I have figured most of it out (including installing Perl to get stock prices woo), and learned enough to know that GNUcash is way more powerful than I will ever need it to be.

Plus the price fits my budget.  ;)

Tennis Maniac

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #27 on: January 24, 2014, 11:36:24 AM »
My tracking methods are based on the book Your Money or Your Life (YMOYL)

- I track all spending in a Google Drive/Docs spreadsheet (shared with spouse)
- enter transactions daily (or as they happen)
- Use Mint.com to verify expenses at the end of the month (for CC/debit card, checks, etc)

I have a sheet where I track end-of-moth totals and account balances.  The numbers are then cross checked for accuracy (my "you should have" and "you actually have" values are usually within $20-$100; this validates that I'm actually recording mostly everything!).  This sheet also has my current net worth and projected 4% investment returns so I can see how close I am to paying for my expenses with my investments... FI.

Notes:
- Tracking daily causes accountability (as previous posters have noted)
- Breakdown all expenses into categories (so Target/Walmart becomes Groceries, Household, Clothes, etc)
- I based my Google Spreadsheet on the tracking methods described in the book Your Money or Your Life (YMOYL) but then expanded as needed
- Mint.com allows you to break down individual receipts and enter cash transactions and you can define your own categories, but there is still a lot of manual work and you are limited by their reports and graphs.  I started out using Mint.com exclusively, but found it much more useful to create my own graphs and layout in Google Drive.
- I have projections for spending for the year, loosely based on prior year, but I don't try to stick to a budget (per YMOYL); if you are a budget-minded, Mint allows you to create budgets for spending categories

oldtoyota

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #28 on: January 24, 2014, 11:51:46 AM »
I use YNAB.

Very easy.

You can import items or add them by hand.

Rural

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #29 on: January 24, 2014, 12:03:14 PM »
I may be the real minority here: I eyeball the credit card bills every month when they come in, make sure we don't have anything stupid or anything fraudulent, and pay them. I eyeball our bank account statements monthly for anything fraudulent, but there's never any expenditure except for our regular monthly bills. That's it. We just don't buy stuff we weren't planning on.

acroy

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #30 on: January 24, 2014, 12:29:10 PM »
I may be the real minority here: I eyeball the credit card bills every month when they come in, make sure we don't have anything stupid or anything fraudulent, and pay them. I eyeball our bank account statements monthly for anything fraudulent, but there's never any expenditure except for our regular monthly bills. That's it. We just don't buy stuff we weren't planning on.
You and me buddy!
Wife and I watch the dollars closely as they go out - I audit payroll, CC, and bank statement every month - and let it go. Tracking the individual expenses seems like a waste of time unless it's just for curiosity or trying to convince a family member to change habits.

I catch an error every couple months. Just recently a $50/pay period medical surcharge on payroll which was in error.

Watch the Washingtons, and the Benjamins take care of themselves!!

nvmama

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #31 on: January 24, 2014, 01:04:09 PM »
I use MINT, but my dh hates it. Something about me knowing he's used the credit card before he gets home.  Lol. All joking aside, it works well for us even though it's not perfect. But it is free!


That's why my husband hates it too.  He swears I get a notification every time he swipes a card. 

I like mint.  It's not perfect, as I haven't been able to figure out how to set up a goal for paying down my mortgage.  But for the most part I really like it.

TheRealMFC

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #32 on: January 24, 2014, 01:40:22 PM »
I just started using Mint (the way that it is supposed to be used) on Jan 1st of this year. Prior to that, I had set up Mint to import all of our information, but I only looked at one number - the net worth that it calculated.

Now that I'm into the MMM thing, I've really been digging into the features (categories, tags, budgets, goals, etc) and trying to come up with a system that works. It definitely isn't perfect, but so far it has really helped me to see exactly where all of our money is going.

I'm trying very hard not to annoy my wife with the information that I'm gathering :) When I went back and categorized everything properly for 2013, I was shocked at some of the things that I found. At first I was really harping on how much money we wasted, but that started to annoy her and my kids.

Truckman

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #33 on: January 24, 2014, 06:00:39 PM »
I will be the minority, but I use GnuCash and manually enter transactions (definitely not every day - sometimes wait until the credit card bill).  GnuCash is nice because it tracks all income, expenses, assets and liabilities.

I support your minority opinion.
I've been using gnucash since right around 2000.

Not such a minority anymore.  I've been using GNUcash for just over a year now.

I enter household spending somewhere between every day and every few days.  Basically when I get around to it.  I'm a pretty intro level user but I have figured most of it out (including installing Perl to get stock prices woo), and learned enough to know that GNUcash is way more powerful than I will ever need it to be.

Plus the price fits my budget.  ;)

GNUCASH!!

We use GnuCash, too. We use it in a zero-based budget with "envelopes" (accounts).  We haven't ventured much beyond that, though. I've tried to mess with the reports and stuff, but haven't found them too helpful. I'm probably not using them right.

We're mostly cash based, so Mint really didn't work for us. But, I've heard a lot of great things about it. I like the fact that it's free, like GnuCash. YNAB sounds great, but I just can't get my head around paying for a program when there are free ones out there, especially when I'm trying to cut expenses.  I may check it out some day, though...

Good luck OP!


Spork

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #34 on: January 24, 2014, 06:50:02 PM »

GNUCASH!!

We use GnuCash, too. We use it in a zero-based budget with "envelopes" (accounts).  We haven't ventured much beyond that, though. I've tried to mess with the reports and stuff, but haven't found them too helpful. I'm probably not using them right.


So, yeah, I have been less than thrilled with the reporting and sort of built my own outside of gnucash.  But, the stuff is stored either in XML or mysql database, so... it's totally possible to do that.

Truckman

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #35 on: January 24, 2014, 08:47:03 PM »

GNUCASH!!

We use GnuCash, too. We use it in a zero-based budget with "envelopes" (accounts).  We haven't ventured much beyond that, though. I've tried to mess with the reports and stuff, but haven't found them too helpful. I'm probably not using them right.


So, yeah, I have been less than thrilled with the reporting and sort of built my own outside of gnucash.  But, the stuff is stored either in XML or mysql database, so... it's totally possible to do that.
Gotcha. I'll look into that.

SwordGuy

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #36 on: January 24, 2014, 08:56:23 PM »
Honestly? 

I enter it into Quicken once a year before I do my taxes so I can send the relevant subtotals to the accountant.

I try to get our savings goals put on auto-pilot.  Once that's done, as long as we don't go into debt, we're good.



taperted

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #37 on: January 24, 2014, 09:19:25 PM »
I may be the real minority here: I eyeball the credit card bills every month when they come in, make sure we don't have anything stupid or anything fraudulent, and pay them. I eyeball our bank account statements monthly for anything fraudulent, but there's never any expenditure except for our regular monthly bills. That's it. We just don't buy stuff we weren't planning on.
You and me buddy!
Wife and I watch the dollars closely as they go out - I audit payroll, CC, and bank statement every month - and let it go. Tracking the individual expenses seems like a waste of time unless it's just for curiosity or trying to convince a family member to change habits.

I catch an error every couple months. Just recently a $50/pay period medical surcharge on payroll which was in error.

Watch the Washingtons, and the Benjamins take care of themselves!!



I have this debate with my wife all the time! I am fairly obsessive about entering everything in to Quicken. She rolls her eyes whenever she sees me entering the information. However, she is always impressed when I can quote her exactly how much we've spent on groceries, child care, gas, vacation, etc during any given block of time.

I think the value of tracking expenses depends on your desire to manage your finances and how complex their finances are.

I started tracking when I was deep in debt, probably almost 20 years ago. I was in a situation where I should have had a positive cash flow, but never did, and I had no idea where the money was going. It was such a revelation when I tracked all my spending that it has just become a habit now. I would say that tracking is about 10x easier nowadays in Quicken since there is very minimal manual entry. The downloading feature is very handy, and it works well once you figure out the quirks.

Currently, I track all of our transactions. We have accounts at several banks, brokerages, credit unions, retirement plans. We frequently move money between accounts. The main advantage of tracking is that it gives you an accurate picture of income/expenses and you can reasonably extrapolate everything into the future as you are nearing FIRE status. Quicken itself has a great retirement planner, and moreover, using FIREcalc or similar calculators, the output is more reliable than if you ballpark the inputs. Remember "garbage-in, garbage-out."

Whenever we wonder if we can retire early, I can just show my wife the data and state with reasonable confidence whether we can or cannot. Also, I can model a bunch of what-if scenarios.

I think if we were younger, this wouldn't concern us that much, but as we get closer to retirement, I believe that by keeping such detailed history, it has been valuable in terms of planning our future.



Kristin

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #38 on: January 25, 2014, 08:27:50 AM »
YNAB.  Just switched to it a few months ago, and I love it.  Simple, thorough, and the whole family can reference and update it via smartphone on the go.
It is a one-time $60 investment, but there is a 34 day free trial available.  It is easy to use, but I recommend signing up for one or more of the tutorial online classes before you jump in.
http://www.youneedabudget.com/

pipercat

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #39 on: January 25, 2014, 08:59:34 AM »
I've used YNAB for years, although all this talk about MINT lead me to look into it.  I set up an account, but I really don't see it as being as helpful as YNAB.  It's just different.  It does have pretty charts and stuff, so that appeals to me, but it isn't as useful as YNAB.

You can do just as well with excel, though IMO, if you aren't inclined to follow a specific program.

taperted

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #40 on: January 26, 2014, 11:51:17 AM »
Just an addendum to my post, I upgraded to Quicken 2014 and it is a great improvement in the tracking of transactions. It comes with a companion iPhone (or Android) app where you can enter your transactions on-the-go, and even take a photo of the receipt. This all gets sync'd to your master Quicken file so when I open the program on the PC, it has a copy of the receipt.

It's pretty useful and it is a feature that has been sorely lacking for a while. Long ago, before iPhones and Androids, there used to be a program called Pocket Quicken for Palm Pilots that allowed on-the-go tracking. When I plugged the Pilot into my computer, it would sync the transactions. When the Pilot went obsolete, I really missed this ability. It's funny that it has taken this long to finally get it back.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2014, 12:04:44 PM by taperted »

MrFrugalChicago

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Re: How do you track what you spend?
« Reply #41 on: January 26, 2014, 12:35:42 PM »
Used to use mint. Hated it, never did anything right.

Jan 1 2014 switched to YNAB, and much much happier. Fits my workflow way better.