As someone who has created thousands of realistic, livable budgets with people, hear me when I say this: In order to manage your money successfully, you must first track your spending to get your baseline. This is non-negotiable. As a full-time working mom, hear me when I say this: who the f*&* has time for that?! Let me make this simple for you.
Know Where You Are, And How You Can Improve
Trying to live on a strict budget without tracking your spending first is like trying to lose weight by eating only 300 calories a day, and then getting angry with yourself when you just can’t do it anymore and find yourself elbow-deep in a Costco-sized bag of caramel corn.
A better approach when losing weight or living on a budget is to know where you are starting from, and then make reasonable, manageable improvements. For long-term success, experts recommend making slow and steady changes instead of shocking, instant changes.
Plus, by tracking your spending, you will be able to identify many ways you can save money – even hundreds of dollars per month!
What Does This Look Like?
All you have to do is get a receipt for everything you purchase and write it down. Not even in the moment. Let me give you a visual as to how easy this is.
You go out for lunch, and you put the receipt in your wallet. You go through a drive-through for a coffee, and you ask for a receipt and put it in your wallet. You buy groceries and home decor supplies at Walmart – and you put the receipt in your wallet. Whenever you have a moment, even 2 minutes, you track those expenses. Here’s how.
How to Track Your Spending in 2 Minutes a Day | Best Budget App 2019, Spending Tracker Spreadsheet, Paper Expense Tracker & More
Here is an overview of how to track your spending using the best budget app (2019), a spending tracker spreadsheet, a paper expense tracker, and more.
Mint is the Best Budget App 2019
If the idea of seeing your purchase on your phone, and clicking a category such as groceries or gas appeals to you, then Mint is the best budget app in 2019 for you. It’s smart and will begin to categorize for you as time goes on. It’s free and can do the work for you! You can learn more here.
When labeling your spending into categories, check out this expense spreadsheet for category ideas. Also, don’t forget that cash expenses will not be tracked in this app automatically. For simplicity, try not to use cash, but if cash is best for you, just input the spending manually!
Spending Tracker Spreadsheet
If Excel excites you, a spending tracker spreadsheet will be your BFF. Fill it out each day, or each week when looking through your receipts. To make it easy, track just your variable expenses – the items that really vary month to month, and leave the bills for later.
Examples could include buying home improvement supplies, clothing, pet food, paying a babysitter, haircuts, and so on. A complete list of items to track is available here in this free spending tracker spreadsheet.
Paper Expense Tracker
If a pen and paper is your jam, then download a free printable paper expense tracker here, or make your own. It would still be valuable to review the different spending categories first, so that once you have spent a few weeks or months tracking your expenses, you can categorize them and put them into your budget.
Important Notes Regarding Tracking
- Spend as usual. The idea is to get a real baseline for where you’re starting. Do you normally spend $200 a month on fast food? Cutting down to $7 a paycheque might be a bit too extreme. Give yourself a real understanding of where you’re at now.
- Track for as long as you’re willing, but at minimum 3 to 4 weeks. This will give you an idea of how much you really spend on things like groceries and coffees.
- Bills will be accounted for when we are building a budget.
- Yes, you can build a budget without tracking. But tracking your spending is the difference between a budget that sticks and a budget that fails.
Screw Tracking Your Spending – I Need a Budget NOW!
Okay, okay, if you promise to track your spending, I’ll help you to create a realistic budget right now. Since tracking your expenses can take a few weeks or months in order to get a real picture of what you’re spending, let’s start working on your budget because it takes time too.
Click here to learn how to create a budget, WHILE TRACKING YOUR SPENDING. I’m not letting that one go!