Tracking expenses – the lowdown on how I do it

I always seem to be getting questions about how I manage/track money, so here’s my attempt to answer everything in one sticky post:

The basics

Two words: Internet banking. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been with ASB so long…their internet banking and expense tracking is awesome (although I think BNZ and Kiwibank are starting to catch up.) Here’s a screenshot of what this looks like:

I usually check in a couple of times a week and categorise new transactions. Come the end of the month, I look over all transfers and payments and make sure everything is correctly identified. Generally, I remember any unusual expenditures (eg car expenses, concert tickets, etc.), and I’ll make a note of that. Switch over to the Dashboard view, and there are the colourful graphs that I pinch and post every month:

Oh, and I virtually never touch cash at all, which helps with the tracking.

Of course, it’s not infallible. You can’t “split” transactions – ie, once in a while T gets a box of beers while we’re grocery shopping, but it’s all lumped into one payment – so it’s not an exact science. But a) those are the exception, not the norm and b) I’m far too lazy to put any more time into money management than I currently do. If you’re more diligent than I, there are PLENTY of other programmes that will do a very thorough job for you.

The nitty gritty

Monthly roundups (for now) include all my expenses and our joint expenses. They usually include his allowance, fun money or whatever else you want to call it. Except in November, when I undertook to track all of our money and live on $2500. Debt repayments refer to a non-interest-accruing debt of his.

They don’t include (the full amount of) savings. That’s because I handle cashflow in what T calls a ridiculously complicated way. To which I say, hey, it’s worked for me for years!

Basically, I work on the premise that many self-employed people use (even though I have a regular job). I “pay” myself from my savings account every week. When I get paid, the whole amount goes straight into savings. To be honest, I don’t recall exactly when or why I adopted the method – maybe when I started getting paid fortnightly but still paid rent weekly? Regardless, this means that what I save doesn’t show up in a neat little transfer of its own – because it’s already in my savings account, minus the amount taken out for living costs.

I’m a fan of the zero-based budget, and psychologically like having very little in checking – it definitely cuts off the possibility of the desire to spend it.

Finally, the percentages are of total spending, not of income, since as explained savings don’t show up as a true line item.

Net worth

You won’t find net worth updates here. 1) I don’t place a whole lot of importance on it at this stage. 2) I’m far too lazy to do that every month. Got money with Rabo? You’ll understand why! 3) The whole semi-anon thing; I’d happily talk to you IRL about how we spend and even save; I’m not sure if I’d tell you how much I’m “worth”.

Got any questions? Shoot, and I’ll try to answer.

7 thoughts on “Tracking expenses – the lowdown on how I do it

  • Reply The Everyday Minimalist January 9, 2011 at 16:26

    I like that idea of paying yourself first. A lot of people forget that, and not just freelancers should do it. Employees too!! 🙂

  • Reply Daisy January 9, 2011 at 19:08

    Internet banking makes things so easy. Unfourtunatley, I find it easier to save money by using cash only, which contradicts the whole internet banking premise. I also don’t do net worth! mostly because mine’s in the negatives. Plus, I’m only 22, I don’t expect a large net worth.

  • Reply twentysomethingmoney January 9, 2011 at 22:06

    My bank recently introduced something like that… but I’ve been using Mint.com to track mine. It sends me alerts to my iPhone when I’m reaching budget or going over. Kinda cool.

  • Reply First Gen American January 11, 2011 at 08:41

    I’m also a big fan of hiding from my money. Whenever I feel like I have some I am tempted to spend it.

    Although I’ve been working for 15 years, I think I’ve only done a net worth update a couple of times. I had most of my savings tied up in stocks for a very long time (until I started building house equity), and it was very frustrating how much my net worth could fluctuate from month to month. Then when the crash occurred, it became downright depressing. It really wasn’t worth the emotional roller coaster that looking at it daily or even monthly gave me. Now I only look at my largest retirement account periodically just to see if my investments are directionally correct. Maybe my 2012 resolution will be to track it more closely, but for now, that’s what works for me.

    Thank you for sharing. I’m always interested in hearing how people do things.

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