Track Your Spending

Whoo hoo! It’s Friday!  You go to the ATM and withdraw $300 for the weekend.  The cash makes your wallet feel nice and fat.  Friday night you go out for pau hana at your favorite bar ($30) and catch a cab home ($15).  Saturday,  you kickstart your morning with a latte ($4), then it’s brunch with your family ($20), you run some errands ($43), have some dinner ($50) and catch a movie w/ popcorn ($27) with a friend, then after the movie you both meet up with the rest of the gang for more social upkeep (another $40 at your favorite bar).  By Sunday, you only have $71 left to spend, and you still have to go grocery shopping and fill gas in the car… and this is when you wonder… WHERE DID ALL MY MONEY GO?

We have all experienced this panic at some point in our lives.  In this economy, it is more important than ever to keep track of our financial habits.  Keeping a financial journal is the easiest way to understand your spending, to create a budget, and to stick to it. Luckily for us, the 21st Century has brought an endless number of handy computer programs and applications to help us keep track of our spending.

One of the most popular of these applications is from Mint.com.

This application shows your budget, cash flow, investments and more.  The cash flow is broken down into categories such as shopping, bills and utilities, and entertainment.  Applications like these make it easy to track your spending.

Note: Mint.com is designed to help you track how much money you have, how you’re spending it, how much you’re saving and how to waste less. It’s a useful tool, especially for younger people who want to get a better handle on their money without buying more powerful software.But Mint.com obtains your personal finance information by inputting the username and password information for all your bank and brokerage accounts. Mint.com then accesses these banks’ and brokerages’ websites and pulls your personal data onto its servers.

Some investors stop in their tracks when they see they must share their personal usernames and passwords with Mint.com in order to use the service. After all, banks and brokerages are constantly telling consumers to never share their passwords with any other third parties. However, you’re required to enter this information to use Mint. Mint.com does say that it is safe and since no transactions are being done, the only thing a hacker can see is your information. Please proceed at your own risk.  (Adapted from an article by Matt Krantz, a financial markets reporter at USA TODAY)

If the fast-paced ever-changing world of applications is more overwhelming than saving is, there is always the good ol’ manual financial log.   Keep a simple ledger of all transactions you make.  Be sure to note the date, merchant, amount, and type of transaction (ie. a bill payment, return, or pet purchase).

Now, the most important part of keeping a financial journal is to actually analyze your spending.  Compare different categories to see where you can cut back on purchases you don’t need.  Here are example journals from a couple of willing participants in the office:

 

Both participants found the journals helpful because they were able to pinpoint where they made unnecessary purchases.  Participant one could have saved $155.22 over the weekend, and participant two could have saved $52.67.

Start your financial journal today, and let us know how it goes!

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