If I had a penny for every time I heard someone say “it’s too hard to track my spending” or “I don’t have time to track every purchase” then I would be a very rich lady. Because those are just excuses. It’s not too hard to track your spending and it doesn’t take a lot of time if you do it consistently. Tracking your spending doesn’t even have to be rocket science. You don’t need fancy apps on your phone or complicated Excel spreadsheets (although I do love using Google Drive as my check register). All you need is a pen, paper and to know your budget for the specific time period.
Want to know how to track your spending? You know what it means to keep a running total right? Well that’s basically all you’re doing. You keep start with your beginning budget and then subtract each purchase thereafter. Now you know at a quick glance how much you have left in your grocery budget or the eating out budget. This makes life so much easier! No more guessing or trying to remember.
Let’s run through an example to give you an idea of how easy this method is.
It’s the beginning of the month and you just got paid. You have a family of four and your grocery budget is $400 for the whole month. You get paid twice a month so you typically budget $200 for the first 2 weeks and then $200 for the rest of the month. You take an envelope and write the month at the top then you draw a line down the middle (vertical line). Next write $200 in the left column and $200 in the right column.
Now each time you go to the grocery store or pharmacy you take out your envelope and write down the total. Let’s say you ran to Aldi and spent $62. You will subtract that amount from $200 and write down the total. This leaves you $138 for the rest of the two weeks to spend on grocery items. Now grocery items also include any consumable products and paper products, too – I created a video that goes all into what’s actually included in your grocery budget each month. This $138 will last you for the rest of the budget period. Each time you run to the store or have to pick up something at the pharmacy you can quickly glance at the envelope to see how much you have left.
TIP: What I love about using an envelope is that you can keep your receipts tucked inside for the whole month. If you keep your envelopes for the whole year then you can have your records for tax purposes or just have them on hand in case you need to return anything.
If you don’t have any envelopes laying around you can always use a sheet of paper that you tuck inside your wallet. I’ve even used the old check register that came with my box of checks to keep track of my budgets. I used the top half of the sheet for groceries and the bottom half for eating out. It worked really well and then I just paper clipped my receipts to it.
TIP: This method works best for everyday purchases such as groceries, eating out, or misc. type buys (haircuts, clothes shopping, fountain diet mountain dew runs, and so on). I recommend using auto-drafts for all your other purchases – mortgage, utilities, insurance, etc.
You’ll notice I talk about tracking groceries and eating out more than anything else, especially when it comes to tracking your spending. These are typically the areas will most families struggle and overspend. If you don’t eat out, like ever then you probably don’t need an “eating out” category. One of the categories I don’t mention is gas for your car. This one is another area you can track using the envelope method, but to me it’s hard to cut myself off once I reach my gas budget. We typically stick to the same routes and same trips on a regular basis so I know how much to budget for each month to come out on track. J will text me or give me a receipt whenever he buys gas so I can track it in our register and our overall budget template, but I don’t use the tracking system I talked about above for it.
That’s it. Pretty simple right? The main point is to just track, just write down what you’re spending so you can keep a running total. It will help you so so so much on not overspending.
Need More Help?
If you’re looking for a great tool to help keep your family on budget, then check out out my budget spreadsheet. Each month is laid out right in front of you where you can keep track of what you budget and what you actually spend. Now you’ll know in real time how you’re doing each month.