Track It Or Lack It

This is Rule #6 of our Managing Your Money series: Track Your Spending Weekly.


How many of you have ever written down goals somewhere, only to completely forget about them until months later when you happen to clean out your desk? The same thing can happen with your budget. A budget is nothing more than written monthly goals for your money. But if you create a budget, and fail to look at it until next month, then the chances are high that you’re going to overspend. For financial success, you have to track your spending weekly.

People think tracking their spending is all about finding the right software or app. But the key to tracking your spending is to make it routine. Jim Rohn said, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” The system or software you use is important, but the first step is to make this a habit that is ingrained in your weekly schedule.

Shoot For Sunday: I have a reminder set-up in Outlook that pops up every Sunday afternoon reminding me to sync my bank accounts with Quicken. I spend about 15 minutes making sure that all of the transactions are categorized correctly (ie, groceries, fuel, etc). This process is short and easy, and it helps us make sure we’re on track with our spending.

Choose Your Spending System: There are several ways that people spend money which affect their ability to track it. No one way is better than the other; it’s simply about what works best for you. Here’s an overview of each system with pros & cons for each.

1. Card Only (no envelopes): This is a no-cash system, which obviously means paying for everything online or with plastic (debit or credit). The pros are that you can track it easily to the penny, there’s always an online record of what you spent, and it’s very convenient. The cons are that you tend to spend more on purchase made with plastic than you do when paying cash.

2. Cash Only (all envelopes): This is rare in our society but there are some folks who do use only cash. The pros are that you spend less when using cash, and that you will typically never overspend. The cons are that tracking your spending is a pain. You always have to get receipts and all data entry is manual. And don’t forget mailing off checks every month for common reoccuring bills.

3. Cash & Card (some envelopes): This is probably the most common system of spending among budget-minded people. You make some payments online (mortgage, bills, Amazon, etc), and withdraw cash each month to fund your offline spending envelopes. This is the system Beth & I use. The pros are that it prevents overspending on the majority of your daily expenses (due to the envelope system). The cons are that you have to withdraw cash every month, and it’s difficult to track your cash purchases without receipts & manual entry.

One way around that is to simply let go of that feeling that you have to track every penny. If you throw $50 a week into your “Restaurant” envelope, then don’t worry about tracking it. When it’s gone just stop eating out until it’s time to refill the envelope. You can track yourself to death…the point here is to know you spent $60 this week on eating out, not $35.83 at  Outback or $3.27 at Starbucks.

Choose Your Software: There are numerous software options for tracking your expenses. I haven’t tried them all, so I’m limited on what I can recommend. Currently we’re using Quicken, which is doing the job for us. I’ve used the paid version of Mvelopes in the past (it’s now free!). I would recommend Mvelopes if you love the envelope system of budgeting. Mint is also a very popular free way to track your spending. I asked my friend how he likes Mint and he replied “Love it. Takes a little time but it’s worth it.”

Every software program has a learnig curve. You’ll enjoy the process much more if you know going into it that it’s going to take 2-3 hours to set up all of your accounts and a couple of months before you feel really comfortable with the software. Make some coffee, turn on some music, and lock yourself in a room for about 3 hours and you’ll be fine.

Comments: Let us know in the comments what software or systems are working (or aren’t working ) for you!

Committed to your success,


2 Responses to “Track It Or Lack It”

  1. Cassi Says:

    I have never used a software to take my money, but I might have to start soon. Thanks for the recommendations!



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