So, you have started creating a budget plan but are looking for a way to track your spending. And now you are overwhelmed by the world of financial applications all vying for your attention and, of course, a slice of your money.
But what if I told you there was a way to avoid connecting your bank and credit card accounts to a third party? You don’t have to give away $3.99 - $20 a month. Nor do you have to subject yourself to in-app advertising, pinging notifications, or more emails clogging up your inbox. You can track your budget and spending for free if you are willing to put in a little time and effort.
Here is a quick guide to help you create a workable budget tracking system.
- Transfer your budget into a spreadsheet. You can use Excel if you have it. If not, Google Sheets is a free comparable tool. For best results, it is best to lump your spending into specific buckets such as home, transportation, entertainment, and every day.
If you are like me, you probably micro-budget based on when you get paid. If this helps you stay on track, create additional columns with your estimated outgoing expenses for that pay period. Then, whether you are a monthly budgeter or a micro-budgeter, create columns for your actual expenditures. You will track what you are spending here.
For the complete knowledge breakdown, it is a good idea to set up columns to compare your total expenditures to your original budget. This will show you where you are spending more or saving money to adjust your budget moving forward. (See the example spreadsheet larger here.)
- Keep track of your actual expenses. When you spend money, you can refer to your receipts or your mobile banking app to update your payments within your spreadsheet. Do this at least once a day in the beginning until you get a good feel of how much you are spending.
- Have a visual. A spreadsheet sitting on your phone or computer may not be enough, especially if your budget needs to apply to everyone in the household. In our house, we keep track of our everyday expenses such as gas, groceries, and entertainment on a whiteboard for everyone to see. When money is spent in any of those categories, the amount is updated so we all have a good idea of our limits and plan accordingly.
Manual budget and expense tracking are doable. All it takes is a little extra effort to set up and update regularly. However, with the help of a whiteboard and a spreadsheet, you can keep yourself and your household on top of your outgoing funds.