Ideas to Monitor My Expenses...

Updated on August 01, 2011
S.K. asks from Chicago, IL
13 answers

There was this question posted recenlty asking how much our monthly expenses are. I am so sad that I have no idea. Only thing I know is it might be way higher than what it should be for a family of 3 ( husband, wife and 1 year old )

I have never kept track of how much I spend but would now want to start doing that. I always use my credit/debit card for all my purchases. Most of the times I wouldn't even know how much the bill was that I just paid. I just swipe my card without looking at the amount. Yes, that's how careless I am. My husband has given me "lectures" on this many times.I spend a lot and I think it's time I monitor my expenses and cut down - a lot. We eat out very often. A lot of groceries I buy get thrown out because they are past expiry date before I think of making something with them. I also sometimes end up buying stuff twice because I don't remember if I already have it or not.

I am curious to know how does everyone else monitor their expenses. Is there any online resource that helps us monitor our daily/monthly expenses - cash or credit that both of us can update everyday?

There are couple things I have heard -
1. use cash always.Does this work? using card is so much easier though.
2. Maintain a spread sheet for expenses (I tried this, forgot to update regularly and doesn't help me understand where excatly I am splurging)
3. Use coupons - LOT of work , but I am willing to try if it really makes a difference

I know so many people are struggling to make ends meet. I would really want to start spending more sensibly. I also have realized that whenever I start with big plans which involve some work (ex: maintaining spreadsheet etc) I end up doing it only for few weeks and then somehow I go back to my old ways.

Does anyone have any tips for me? Thanks in advance!

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answers from Tulsa on

Cash always was what I did in college and it was stressful to put back a gallon of milk because I was $2 short. I now use the debit card but only buy what we need. Seriously, my M. was a single M. but we had a free home so she always had cash. We shopped every weekend. I was used to spending money if I had it until I supported myself through college. It was depressing to do without extras, to rely on the bus, etc... I appreciate and take care of money now and don't buy things I don't need.

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answers from Detroit on

Try -- You can enter in your credit/debit cards/checking accounts and it will do the rest for you even categorize expenses. Sometimes it gets it wrong (like marking car insurance as travel, for example), but you just have to train it a little bit. You can enter in cash purchases, set monthly budgets for food/fun/etc. and it will alert you when you are over. Very flexible and extraordinarily helpful!

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answers from Orlando on

Start small. I am a lot like you, except that if I don't watch what we are spending, we don't eat. This past year we went from a family of 3 to 4 and we are down to one income. This economy has not been great for us, but I have learned a lot. I blog about it at if you want to read about us and what we do and are.

I would highly reccomend It is the easiest way to get started. My husband set ours up and we both have it connected to our smart phones so we can check it regularly and we get alerted if we go above or get near a certian budget.

That is the easiest way to start. You have to know what you are spending to be able to correct it. does all the work for you (and it's free!) so you don't have to worry about documenting every purchase into your own spread sheet (tried it, too time consuming, it doesn't work for M.!)

I also coupon. I started in Jan. and now we are proud to say that our usually grocery bill is less than $40 twice a month. We always save more than we spend at the store! I also haven't been shopping in over a month (except for milk, meat, and chesse) and we are still eating great. I love stock piling (only what we will eat of course, not like extrememe couponing (or extreme wasting) We are in an organic produce co-op so that stuff doesn't come from the grocery store, unless we need something specific. Couponing is worth it, if you do it right!

Good luck! You can do it!

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answers from Los Angeles on

CONGRATULATIONS on wanting to start ! ! ! That's the first step. I didn't use Dave Ramsey. Why? Because I started to manage money before he was born. My mom taught M..

First, get a small notebook and keep it with you all the time. Every time you spend a penny, write it down. Vending machine, 1 soda, $1 date and time. (You do the date and time when you start so you can see if there is a pattern.)
Second, get a budget book. Staples sells them. It has numerous catagories and will help you find the holes in your budget.

At the end of the month, total up your expenditures and you'll be amazed at how much and where you spend your money.

I used to do extreme couponing. Its thrilling to buy $300 worth of groceries and only spend coupons and $20. But its not worth the time. If you spend the same amount of time at a part time job as you do cutting coupons, organizing and them going shopping, you can achieve grater savings by spending your pay check.

Watch the sales.
Ignore the "expiration dates". They are really "best if used by dates", not expiration dates and are a worthless government program. I raised 8 kids on "out of date" groceries and we never got sick from eating "out of date" groceries.

Shop at more than one store for your groceries. Ask your friends if they are bargain shoppers. When you find one, ask them where they shop. (BTW, if they spend more than $50 per week per person on groceries, they are NOT bargain shoppers.)

If you have any specific questions, e-mail M..

Good luck to you and yours.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

Don't try to stop cold turkey and make a bunch of changes all at once, it will be way too hard and you will get discouraged and give up. My husband and I pay cash for everything. We dont use our credit cards at all. If we dont have money for it then we don't buy it. its really very simple but is easy once you have the mind set. i don't use coupons at all...way too much work and i forget to use them most of the time! I do buy everything on sale. I can't pay full price anymore for anything. I don't shop at the grocery store with a list but wander the isles and only buy what is on clearance and sale and figure out what i will cook from those items. also use an independent insurance agent to shop around your home/auto insurance with many of their companies. i can do that for my clients and can save most of them at LEAST $100 per month. just start taking baby steps. you have gotten a lot of great advice. good luck!

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answers from New York on

1. Using cash only is a way of controling how much you spend, if you want to go out to lunch and only have $6, you know you can't afford to go to a sit down restaurant. You can't spend what you don't have.

It does NOT work for the purpose you described, tracking your expenses. Using cards would be much better in this case as you get a monthly statement that list all your purchases. The problem is the statement just tells you where you spent your money, not what you spent it on.

2. A spreadsheet is a great tool for understanding your expenses. With any type of program you use, a spreadsheet, quicken, or pen and paper, unless you write it down on a regular basis, it's not going to work.

Getting a notebook that you keep with you while out shopping, running errands and writing down all your purchases is a great way to start.

However, my suggestion for you is to get a envelope that you keep in your purse or your car. Every time you make a purchase, get a receipt and put it in the envelope. Now you have a record of your purchase with out having the time to write it all down. Once a week take out all the receipts and sort through them. At this point, you can enter the information into a computer program for better control, or just by looking at them you can say "wow, I stopped for coffee 6 times this week, I don't remember that".

3. Coupons - a lot of work for little reward. Years ago I used to purchase the Sunday paper for the purpose of getting coupons. The paper cost $1, but it was rare that I didn't use at least $3 in coupons, usually $5 or more. However, I now find that I rarely use $1 in coupons from the paper. The problem is most of them are save a $1 off 3, I don't want to have to buy 3, or they expire too quickly. I do use coupons that I easily come accross, like the BJ's ones mailed to us monthly, but I don't put a lot effort into it. I find easier ways to save money.

Just by taking a few small simple steps, you can start to manage your finances. Just find what works for you. Here are some things you may want to try.
1. limit eating out or take out to once a week
2. get a refillable water bottle, insulated cup to take your favorite beverage along with you when you leave the house avoiding those convenience store stops or a quick drive thru.
3. make a grocery list each week, buy only what's on the list
4 always review your receipt immediately after making your purchase, In the past few years things have improved greatly, but I still find many items are priced incorrectly, charged sales tax incorrectly, coupons not scanned correctly, etc.
5. plan out a week's worth of meals so you're not buying extra
6. never pay full price for anything (okay, maybe never is extreme), look for clearance items, sales items, or coupons
7. ask yourself "do I really need this"? By nature most people are impulse shoppers, you see something and say to yourself "that's interesting, I could really use that, my friend has one, etc. Just take a second to ask yourself to I really need it before tossing it into the cart.

Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Beaumont on

Dave Ramsey Financial Peace seminar. Lots of churches have them. It's turned our life around in less than 1 year. I am not a budget kind of person, or so I thought, now I LOVE it!!!



answers from Los Angeles on

Call M. crazy, but I love budgeting and tracking my money. This delight comes from the sense of empowerment I feel when I figure out a way to keep more my hard-earned money for myself and give less to some company, store, or government.

I don't like using web-based cash tracking systems because it does not track cash or checks. And, most systems automatically categorize your purchases, which is never accurate. Because how does a software program know what you bought at Target - groceries, clothes, or toys?

I recommend that you start slow.

First step, track how much you spend. Before you can save money, you have to know how much you're spending. Personally, to track my money, I need something that is convenient and easy to access and accurate. So, I use a scrap of paper and pencil that I keep in my wallet. No joke. For years, I have always had a little piece of paper with the dates, purchases, and purchase prices scribbled on the front. This way, I don't have to wait to get home and type it into a computer or re-categorized the purchase online. If I'm lazy, I'll just keep the receipt and when my wallet gets full of receipts, I'll jot them all down and throw it away. I throw away the scrap paper and get a new one each month.

Second, review your purchases over the month, categorize, and tally the total. Review this and ask yourself - Where am I spending more than I thought? Is this reasonable? Which were impulse purchases and probably unnecessary? Are there any patterns? Where are areas that I can comfortably spend less next month? Now, you're starting to budget!



answers from Boston on

Use You can link your debit and credit cards, bank accounts, etc. If you use a card for everything, continue to do so for a couple of months as all of the transactions will upload to mint and be categorized. It's pretty smart with categories and as you review your transactions, you can set up rules that classify any hard-to-recognize transactions automatically. Once you have a month of transactions under your belt, you can use the budget tool to see how much you're spending each month and that can help you figure out where to cut back.

Start there to see how much you're spending on things, then you can move on to figuring out ways to save. But you have to know where you are before you can make any real changes and mint is awesome for this.



answers from Appleton on

My husband and I started to budget 3 years ago, but in order to make that work, we tracked our spending for a month or two. We had a simple spreadsheet that we added our purchases in the appropriate columns: food, gas, gifts, etc. We found that when I stopped at the grocery store every night after work, we spend a crazy amount of money; now we check the ads make a list for staples to keep in the pantry as well as other ingredients for many meals. We figured out how much money we needed per week/paycheck...this has gone up as our family has grown and food prices have increased. We use only cash for food, including going out. Obviously, eating out costs much more than cooking at home, so staying home is an easy way to decrease your spending (and eat healthier).

We started all of this after my husband started listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio and online. We've read his books (Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace) that we checked out from the library. Dave has changed our life!! Not only do we spend less money on food, we know where every cent from every paycheck goes. Even with my husband off of work due to injury, we were able to save our regular amount last month! (Helps that I'm a teacher and have been able to stay at home during most of July.) We've also paid off all of our debts except my student loan and the mortgage, and we're closing in on Sallie Mae now. :-)

I think you will be able to stay disciplined and keep on your "budget" and spreadsheet plan when you see the difference it makes to your family. I have not stressed about bills since we started this. If you need to splurge, you can put that into your budget. You just need control - using cash helps in this regard. When the cash is gone, the splurge is done. Definitely check out Dave Ramsey on radio, online, or in books. He's easy to listen to and his books are easy reads that make a lot of sense.

Good luck!



answers from Pittsburgh on

Try writing down every penny you spend for about 3 months in a small notebook! You'll be amazed.


answers from Chicago on

I'm TERRIBLE with money.
So I can totally see where you're coming from.

Because I'm terrible with money, I don't control it in our house. We have separate accounts, credit cards...everything.
I work full time. So I am responsible for paying our nanny every week. I have that and my credit card bill.
I basically take care of myself. I check my cc bill every couple of days, to keep myself on par with each paycheck.

Basically....I'm on the hook and no one will bail M. out. (OK, my hubby would if it were dire, but that's not the idea.)

Maybe try going without your security blanket or have him put you on an allowance.



answers from Omaha on

I agree with the people who suggested Sounds like what you are looking for. I like it alot. As for cash. I don't think it's a good idea to carry cash. It is too easy to loose it...or what if your purse is stolen.

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