Monday, May 12, 2008

How Do I Track My Spending?

A commenter on my April recap wonders how I track my expenses, so I thought I'd answer that in a separate post, since I may not have talked about it in too much detail recently.

First of all, I use Quicken on my Mac at home. I have all my bank accounts and investment accounts set up, as well as an account covering my cash on hand, and even minor things like laundry quarters and miscellaneous foreign currency. In Quicken, I have various expense categories set up, and a budget covering all expense and income categories.

Using Quicken, I can download all my credit card transactions-- I usually do this at least 2 or 3 times a month, and since I try to charge most of my expenses, it covers a lot. I also used to be able to download the transactions from my 401k account, though unfortunately my 401k provider no longer supports the Quicken format that is compatible with my version, so I have to enter those manually. I also enter my bank account transactions manually-- I think I could download them but I've just gotten used to doing it by hand and there aren't so many that it bothers me.

I also use Pocket Quicken on my Treo. This program synchronizes with the desktop version, which is a lifesaver for me. I can enter ATM withdrawals and cash transactions easily as they happen, without having to wait until I get home. Frequently entered transactions pop up with their categories automatically, so entering things is a piece of cake. And I can see all my account balances and even look at expenses vs. budget, all right in the palm of my hand.
Using a PDA was what really got me started in carefully tracking my finances-- I started off using other financial programs on earlier Palm devices and the "neat-o!" factor was what helped keep me on track with actually entering all my expenses.

My methods might not work for everyone, but for me, this system works much better than my old spreadsheets and attempts to jot expenses in a notebook. But let's open the question up to other readers: do you track your expenses? How do you do it?


Escape Brooklyn said...

I'm way more archaic. I've kept a monthly Excel budget since I graduated college more than a decade ago. I print it out once or twice a month and update it by hand as I spend money, then update the electronic version for posterity's sake.

I briefly tried Quicken but found my Excel spreadsheets to be easier and quicker to use. But I'm probably just a luddite.

uzvards said...

Spreadsheet in OpenOffice does the trick for us. But we don't enter ATM withdrawals in there, just actual expenses.

Anonymous said...

I use two credit cards, one for big business purchases (like my new computer -- woohoo!), and one for big personal purchases (like Red Sox tickets for this Summer's vacation), but I don't carry either one unless I plan to use it. I carry cash, with a piece of paper to keep records in the change purse section, my checkbook, and debit card. If I use the debit card or write a check, I deduct the amount immediately from the checkbook. I get receipts for every cash purchase I can, and write all of them on the piece of paper in the wallet. When I get home every night, I transfer all the records to an Excel spreadsheet, where I also track the few things I do online (direct deposit of my salary, automatic withdrawals for my retirement and savings accounts, and a few online purchases). The technique is a little archaic, but it works well for me. Because I have to enter everything, I feel like I know exactly where I stand financially at every moment.

Anonymous said...

I've become addicted to Yodlee. It works in a similar way to Quicken, I believe. I have all my accounts listed (including things like airline mileage accounts) and one click updates all the transactions. I think I check the "net worth statement" page far too often!

Anonymous said...

I'm paranoid with identity theft.
I use MS Money instead of quicken, but download transactions (bank, credit cards, etc) nightly.

Often, more than once a day.

Anonymous said...

I used to do excel spreadsheets or the Budget forms provided on the Dave Ramsey Website(I'm a big time Dave Ramsey fan). But none of that really worked for me in tracking my expenses. Recently I came across ExpenseView as a widget on my Google homepage. Here I can track my income and expenses by categories. Most of the things I pay for, I keep my receipts and enter them couple times a week.
Rent, utilities etc gets entered at the beginning of the month.
They even map a nice pie chart for you to view the breakdown of the numbers.

-Reader from Austin

Anonymous said...

I'm a newbie so I use YNAB -- which is an excel spreadsheet. It's working for me now and helping me keep things under control for my regular checking. I check my INGDirect and Vanguard accounts separately.

Anonymous said...

Bronx Chica-By hand, I write down everyday transactions, then take time to separate them in categories on excel. I have been using this method since last year. I still need to buy Quicken and upgrade my phone for pocket quicken.

Emily said... downloads all of my transactions automatically, even categorizing them into separate budgets that I set up. It's incredible easy, safe, and FREE.

Watson said...

I use Yodlee Moneycenter. It tracks everything, such as savings, checking, 401(k), stocks, company stock options, IRA, etc. It's online-based, which is good, because I'm not tied to just using one computer. As far as security, I trust it because it is the technology that major banks use such as BoA, Fidelity, and others.

frugal zeitgeist said...

You know, I don't do this as religiously as I used to. I set up an annual budget instead and I follow it, making adjustments as I need to. As long as I stay within what I've allocated for each category, I don't record each expense.

Anonymous said...

I tried using Quicken but couldn't get it to download all my transactions. Tech support could never figure it out either, so I enter my checking and money market transactions by hand then balance to the statements at the end of the month.

But for tracking income/expenses and my stock/retirement portfolio I've used an Excel spreadsheet for years. It's easy, elegant and useful.

And I hardly ever pay for anything with cash, using charge cards almost exclusively then pay them off every month. I like the simplicity of getting statements, and the Discover cash back thing is a nice perk.

SC said...

I use an Excel spreadsheet I created myself that is broken down monthly and then compiled in an annual summary. I enter every expense and income, and balance that with my checking account. It sounds like you have a pretty comprehensive system set up, but the existing software and websites that I have tried in the past have been good, but have fallen short for my purposes. I tend to track my spending more for the sake of knowing where my money is going and ensuring I am not spending more than I have, not to necessarily stick to a defined, segmented budget.

poornomore said...

I use quicken and write it all down. I write everything down.