It seems to be a question we all ask ourselves around this time of year: How much do I spend each month? Before we gained control over our own spending with the help of the simple money tracking template I’m about to share with you, we would scratch our heads and say, “Where DID that cash go?”
Today, I (one of the female members of the MyFavDeals.org team) am going to share with you something that changed the way my husband and I handle our money. Having struggled in the past with making ends meet, we realized that one of the first things we needed to do was understand where the little moolah we had was going in the first place. We came up with an extremely simple system that has worked not only for us, personally, but that I have passed along to a number of my students from a group I facilitated.
Here’s what you are going to need to make your money tracking template:
1) A calendar – a simple 12-month wall calendar that is large enough for you to write a few line items inside each day’s block.
2) The discipline to keep EVERY receipt you get as well as the discipline to write down what you spend in situations where you don’t get a receipt (I keep a small notebook in the car for this purpose).
So much for your tools.
Here’s what you are going to do:
1) Every day, you will simply write down what you spend in the following categories:
– Food Out (includes even the coffee you buy at the 7-11)
– Recreational or “Unnecessary” Consumables (these are the types of things that are typically relegated to the “daily habits” section but aren’t really necessary to live but have become more of a habit than anything else – alcohol, tobacco or nicotine products like e-cigs, soda, or whatever your particular habit happens to be)
– Entertainment (this would include movies, bringing kids to the mini-golf course, theater, etc – whatever types of things you do for entertainment)
2) At the end of the first 2 weeks, tally up each category and see what you might be spending money on that you can either cut back on, or purchase in a way that can save you money.
3) Make some adjustments for the rest of the first month, and continue logging your expenses.
4) At the end of the month, tally up each category and review.
At this point, it’s a matter of honestly looking at your expenditures and asking yourself where you can make changes. Some areas that you notice where you can improve will be obvious. Other areas may be more subtle.
Here are some examples:
1) Bring a thermos or travel mug of coffee from home instead of buying it on the road. Buy your tea or coffee supplies in bulk to save money per pound or per ounce.
2) If you smoke and buy a big brand, and you buy cigarettes one pack at a time, consider a generic brand and buy them by the carton. Or, switch to electronic cigarettes and buy them on line. If you drink a brand name of booze, consider a less expensive option – or instead of buying beer by the 6-pack, buy a case. We’re not the “bad habits police” here, because everyone knows that they should quit their bad habits. We’re merely talking about ways to save money. Maybe when you look at how much you spend on your recreational habits, it might spur you to reconsider your activities. Maybe not. That’s not up to us, and we’re not here to advise you on that. Make your own decisions, but the point is to see where you can save money.
3) If you find yourself spending a lot on going out to eat, consider what you can do to keep the costs down. My husband and I personally do enjoy dining out; however, we very rarely go out to dinner since dinner is typically far more expensive than lunch or breakfast. We usually go out for lunch, and utilize the luncheon specials menus.
4) What can you buy on line versus what you’re currently purchasing at full retail? My husband and I personally have switched to buying a lot of stuff on line, for more than one reason. One, we can almost always save money (even if shipping charges are involved) on a bunch of things we use if we order on line. Two, we save gas since we don’t drive as much to stores (this is a big deal where we live since the closest large town with shopping options is nearly an hour’s drive away, one way). Three, we save time, and as you read about in an earlier post here, we consider our time to be valuable.
You might be surprised at some of the things we have been buying on line here with the My Favorite Deals team. Those of us who used to smoke switched to e-cigs. We buy our specialty baking goods and foods/ingredients on line. One of our young parents buys diapers on line. Some of us who use K-cups instead of a regular coffee maker buy 100% of their supplies on line. Skin products? Online. Toothpaste? Online. (Yes, seriously, some of us buy a certain brand of toothpaste that is always more expensive in the store, so why not order up a few month’s supply on line?)
Here is an example of how one family’s calendar might look when they’ve completed a week’s worth of logging:
|Groceries: $35Food Out: $10Recreational Products (Cigarettes, Alcohol, etc): $7Entertainment (Movies, etc): n/a||Groceries: n/aFood Out: $5Recreational Products (Cigarettes, Alcohol, etc): n/aEntertainment (Movies, etc): $15||Groceries: $65Food Out: $7Recreational Products (Cigarettes, Alcohol, etc): $15Entertainment (Movies, etc): n/a||Groceries: $80Food Out: n/aRecreational Products (Cigarettes, Alcohol, etc): n/aEntertainment (Movies, etc): n/a||Groceries: n/aFood Out: $18Recreational Products (Cigarettes, Alcohol, etc): $20Entertainment (Movies, etc): n/a||Groceries: $129Food Out: $10Recreational Products (Cigarettes, Alcohol, etc): $10Entertainment (Movies, etc): n/a||Groceries: n/aFood Out: $50Recreational Products (Cigarettes, Alcohol, etc): $20Entertainment (Movies, etc): $25|
When people begin to look at their spending like this, in my experience, additional awareness of how they have spent their time is raised as well. For example, if you look at the pattern of grocery shopping in the above sample, you immediately notice that the family has shopped for groceries 4 different times during the week.
Noticing this, the family can sit down and better plan their meal requirements, and shop only one or two times.
The thing is, unless we are aware of our spending habits on a regular basis, it becomes too easy to lose track of where our hard-earned income is going. Whoever did the grocery shopping, for example, may say, “Well, I only spent $35 today,” and then another day say, “Well, I only spent $65 at the grocery store today.” However, when tallying those receipts at the end of the week, gulp! The family actually spent $309 in that week.
By tracking these expenditures, we tend to become more responsible for our lives. We become more involved in deciding the direction of our lives rather than allowing our outer surroundings to control us.
One final idea that takes a little more practice, is to log the TIME spent at some of these activities as well. Using the grocery example, above, one might guess that each shopping trip probably averaged an hour at the store for each trip (maybe including round-trip driving, depending where the person lives).
If this were my personal example, I could tell you right away that the Sunday ($35), Tuesday ($65), and Wednesday ($80) examples would have equaled about 6 hours of my time considering how long it would take me to go to the closest market. The Friday ($129) shopping trip might be to a larger store that is about an hour from the house. I would estimate the time spent on that trip to be at least 3, maybe 4 hours, plus gas. So, on top of the $309 spent, add another 10 hours of my time.
Some of you might be wondering how much money I spend each month, and whether or not I really use this method. Fair question.
I selected a screenshot of our own calendar to illustrate this post – this one is from September of 2014 (see the photo at the top of this post)– to show you our typical method and how simple it is. Yes, it’s a little sloppy, but that’s just how we write things in.
Now, this month (January 11, 2015), up through today, Sunday, the 11th, we have spent $86 in Groceries (we can project that to equate to about $400-$500 by the end of the month), $99 on Food Out (includes a dinner when we went to the movies on a gift card from Christmas), and $75 on all liquor, which is typically wine & beer in our house. We project approximately $250 on food out for the month (mostly will be luncheon specials, and a dinner we’ve planned with friends), and approximately $225 on all liquor, including that for entertaining friends and guests. That will create approximately $975 – $1,000 for the month, or approximately $33/day of daily expenses.
Another thing we have begun in the last month is logging what we do for exercise. And, also, in examining our own habits and expenditures, we have made a conscious decision to spend less in alcohol merely by consuming less alcohol, and spending more time in pursuits that move us forward to where we want to be in our lives.
Hopefully this illustration and these tips will help some of our readers as they work on not only saving money and time, but also in increasing the efficiency in their day to day lives.
To learn more about tracking your spending, watch this short but informative video by a financial planner who has additional suggestions, including tracking your expenses using online tools.
Thank you for reading!