Having a budget is an essential step in getting your financial status under control. The next step is tracking your spending. Just knowing how much you have spent each month will not in any way tell you how much you have overspent during that month.
Tracking your expenses will help you know where your money is going and help you identify areas that need rethinking.
So how can you track your spending?
The main positive here, alongside not requiring access to technology, is that writing things down, physically, forces your brain to mentally engage with the issue at hand. Having an active brain can be really helpful especially when you are dealing with money.
The downside to implementing this method is pretty obvious: a lot of us seldom keep up with documented copies of stuff these days. Right after a purchase and getting a receipt, you need to hold on to it till you’ll be able to note it down.
Sometimes you may misplace your receipt. Many times the money you spent on a quick purchase trip to the convenient store is forgotten or dropped in the bin right at the exit.
Sometimes, some purchases made with your debit card or mobile money aren’t jotted down and can easily be forgotten. The upside is that you have a record that you can refer to from your apps and update your expense tracker.
Tip: For everything you buy, or spend on, note it down, on paper, as soon as you can. If possible, use a pocket notebook that you carry with you everywhere you go.
Start grouping your expenses. You could find that your daily expenditure of take-out food for lunch at work costs a lot and you could do with home-cooked meals. Your spending will, definitely, consist of both variable expenses and fixed expenses.
For fixed expenses, it’s unlikely that they will change from month to month. They include rent or mortgage, insurance, utilities and debt payments. Thereafter, you will have more space to adjust variable expenses like clothing, travel and food.
This expense tracking method involves setting up a pay-cash-in-person type of system. This means that you ensure that the expenses you make payment for in person are made in cash only.
At the beginning of a month, you put money in envelopes and label them with budget lines. Utilities, commuter fare and groceries are three good examples. Take your “utilities” envelope with you when you go to the shop to buy prepaid electricity tokens or the groceries envelope when visiting the market shopping for groceries. When the envelope empties, you have to stop spending. Your cash is basically tracking itself.
But let’s admit it, paying for things in cash can be inconvenient sometimes because who wants to go line up at Stima Plaza to pay at the counter? Who likes counting and keeping updated with coins?
Furthermore, with the increase in implementation of e-commerce, paying in cash isn’t always presented as an option. Still, this is a great way to track your expenses, because watching your money, physically, leaving the envelope inspires a whole new level of accountability.
You could use this envelope system for cash-only purchases in combination with another method.
With spreadsheets, you can create a table with the various categories of your expenses and you keep updating it as you spend. Spreadsheets allow you the convenience of auto-calculation and other features that help you visualise your expenditure.
The beauty of having the mathematics done for you on the screen, the ability to customize your budget, the plethora of templates—these are just a few benefits to spreadsheet budgets.
A disadvantage to spreadsheets is always having to get to your desktop or laptop to update your spending. If you become a bit lax on the daily visits to key in expenses, your budget won’t really be a budget—it would be just a spreadsheet full of good intentions.
You’ll need to stop spending when you realize that you are running out of money. It’s the most important step in staying within your budget. You may discover that your budget is impractical or you may be required to transfer money between categories in your budget.
Take some time at the end of the month to adjust the following month's budget so that it may work for you. Remember that saving and debt repayments should be prioritized over eating out and vacations. You’ll be required to cut back in some areas, but you should be able, still, to eat every day.
At the end of the month, you have the choice of rolling over any leftover money into the next month's category or transferring the cash to a savings account.
For the bills that vary like electricity, you may want to roll over the balance to help even out the cost of the electricity each month. For items like groceries, you may want to transfer the unused cash to savings so that you can build up your savings or emergency fund or work toward other goals.
Track your money habits by taking an inventory of all your accounts. This includes checking your bank account and mobile money statements. Continuous tracking of the activity in your accounts will help in identifying where you need to readjust spending.
Once you learn to stick to your budget, and eliminate all manner of impulse buying, then at the end of the day, it will be easier to account for each and every coin of yours. In most instances, in fact, impulse buying is usually on wants, as opposed to needs.
How you choose to manage your money is a decision that only you can make. While some people may prefer logging onto each of their transactions manually, others may prefer an application that syncs to their accounts and tracks expenses for them. No matter what way you choose, ensure you are setting aside some time, periodically, to check on your spending and assess your financial progress as you move. In the long run, you move a step closer towards financial freedom.