I am convinced that the number one problem with most people when it comes to managing their money boils down to one simple truth: most of us have NO idea where our money is going each week, each month, and each year. 

How many of you know what percentage of your net income you are spending on  housing?  What percentage of your pay goes towards dining out and entertainment?   When was the last time you calculated the amount of annual interest you pay on your annual debt? 

I’ve never been one for spreadsheets, but then again, there was a time in my life when I wasn’t one for monthly budgeting or financial responsibility.  For many years, I was quite an adept guess-timator of what was coming in and what was going out.  And perhaps like some of you, I didn’t rely on the tedious chore of checkbook balancing.  No no, previously my system consisted of an ill conceived ménage of ATM receipts, occasional visits to my bank website to see what was left, and my all to often fallible memory. 

Typically, this “system” resulted in more money going out every month then I had coming in.  Obviously, this pattern of spending is a disaster waiting to happen. 

But lets face it, many of us convince ourselves that running in the red by $50, $100, or $200 dollars every month is not that big of a deal.  After all, we can always play catch up later (though this seldom happens).  And the scary part – many of us have found an excuse for overspending and actually get really good at convincing ourselves it isn’t a problem.  “Don’t worry, I had a rough month and deserved those dinners out, that new toy, that weekend away.  I’ll get ahead next month.  Next month for sure is when we buckle down financially.  In fact I’m going to start praying about getting ahead right now!” 

But inevitably next month comes and goes, next year goes, and there you are with nothing to show for your hard-work except a pile of debt, a meager savings account, financial insecurity, and the daily stress of wondering how you’re going to get out of this mess.  And I hear you saying – “But I’ve looked so good getting myself nowhere!  Best of all, I haven’t had to tell myself or my family “No” for the last decade and it has felt soooo good!!” 

Perhaps you’re waiting for a visit from the ghost of your Financial Future to ask the question – “So how’s that working for you?” 

But there is hope. 

And the first step is to diligently track your spending – that includes EVERY dollar out and EVERY paycheck in.  You must become a prodigious ‘holder-on- to’ of receipts and an equally disciplined user of a budget spreadsheet (I personally am a fan of Excel based spreadsheets).   Below, I’ve included a screenshot of a sample budget worksheet.  Many budget spreadsheets are what I would call ‘plug and play’ – meaning the Excel cell formulas are already loaded, the expense categories are already set, and all you have to do is input the data. 

track your spending

Tracking your spending is a precursor to working out a monthly budget and I recommend keeping track of every dollar “in” and every dollar “out” for an entire month.  This will accomplish a few things:

1)      You’ll know exactly where your money is going and they’ll be no more looking at your bank account online with a blank stare wondering where your paycheck went

2)      You’ll be more conscience of how and where you spend your money and this can be an eye opener.  Forcing yourself to keep track of your spending forces you to becomes more conscience about your spending

3)      You’ll be able to identify areas where you are obviously overspending and can redirect those ‘savings’ to more needed areas – paying off debt, establishing an emergency fund, and giving.  

Nobody is a fan of this process when they first start out – it’s tedious, it requires discipline, and it forces you to be accountable for you and your family’s spending.  But trust me – it is worth the effort and you will actually begin to enjoy the sense of control that comes with an increased awareness of how and where you are spending your money. 

There are plenty of already formulated Monthly Budget Spreadsheets available online for free. Here are a few links to a couple of examples –

http://www.vertex42.com/ExcelTemplates/personal-monthly-budget.html

http://www.spreadsheet123.com/ExcelTemplates/budgets.html

Please let me know how that first thirty days of tracking your spending works?   Better or worse than you thought?  And if you are a seasoned monthly budget veteran perhaps you can share your experiences starting out and any useful tips you have used along the way?

2 Responses to “Baby Steps: Track Your Spending!”

  1. […] you have already visited CatholicPF, hopefully you’ve had a chance to read my post “Baby Steps – Track Your Spending”, if not, or if you are new to this website, I suggest that you read that post prior to putting […]

  2. Angelique says:

    Hello – I am a cradle catholic too and share many of your experiences with respect to the convenient catholic and my finances. I am going to try the 30 day accountability of my income and spending for every dollar and see what happens. Thanks for the really cool website.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*