Monthly Challenge: Tracking Every. Single. Penny.

Tracking your spending is one of those “well obviously you should do that” money things that seems like it goes without saying, right?

Ahem.

Well.

Other than my sometimes-tracked and sometimes-ignored Mint account, I’ve been pretty guilty of burying my head in the sand about where my money has be going over the past few years.

At my first job, it was easy enough to keep track of where my money was going, because there just wasn’t a whole lot of it. I was very lucky to have been raised with an almost-unhealthy aversion to debt, so racking up purchases on a credit card just wasn’t an option (to the detriment of my bank fees, but that’s another story.) Not paying attention to where my humble paycheques were going wouldn’t work if I wanted to be on track with rent, food, savings and my cell phone bill. And to be clear, I really wanted to keep eating food and having a cell phone.

Since then, and over the course of two different jobs at two different companies, I’m effectively making 50% more than I was when I graduated. That’s awesome, but as anyone in the personal finance world could have predicted, my lifestyle went up along with it. As that happened, I kept using my previously effective post-grad money management technique.

“Did I manage to pay off the balance of my credit cards this month, pay my rent and save my targeted amount? Yes? On track!”

Nailed it.

Nailed it.

 

Except now, those credit card statements had ballooned right alongside my income, making way for entirely new categories of spending.

Dog treats and toys? Sure.
Kitchen gadgets and cookbooks?
Yes please.
Even more books than usual?
Go for it.
Ridiculous amounts spent on food?
Well, as long as I’m still paying off my credit card and saving, it’s all good.

So instead of continuing to rely on a paid-off credit card at the end of the month as my key financial metric, I want to get into the details. I want to actually track my spending.

Challenge Accepted

For the month of September, I am going to track every receipt from every purchase manually in a Google Sheet.

How exactly is this going to work?

In case you, like me, are looking for a reset on examining your financial habits, this is how I’ll be tracking my spending this month. I’ll be using the same toolset that helps me manage basically everything else in my online life: Google. Specifically, Google Drive.

For the entire month of September, I’ll be putting every single purchase I make into a Google spreadsheet so that at the end of the month, I can get a really in-depth look at how much I spent, and where my money went.

I’ll be entering each purchase manually at the end of the day, which – unlike Mint or other budget trackers I’ve used – will keep my spending habits top of mind throughout the month. I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I use Mint I find it way too easy to ignore. I set it, and then check in at the end of the month, but it’s never influenced me when I’m actually spending money. Looking at Mint, I might be shocked at how much I spent at the end of the month in certain categories, but it never seems to impact my behaviour.

I’ll be keeping track of these specifics for every purchase:

  • the date
  • how much I spent
  • where I spent it
  • what category it’s in

When I say “category”, I’m thinking of things like trips to Costco, where a single receipt might cover several different categories, from “cleaning supplies” to “dog food”. Whenever that happens, I’ll be breaking it down by category and recording the different amounts spent on each.

I’ll also be tracking my savings as “spending” towards my different savings goals. This should give me the best look at how I’m actually doing on my goal of saving half my income – and identify areas that I can optimize if I’ve still got a ways to go. 

As I go through the month, I expect the spreadsheet will grow to accommodate the odd intricacies that I know will show up, which is why I’m not posting a spreadsheet template here right now – I’m intentionally letting the document be flexible so it can grow as I track my spending, and turn into a useful template for me going forward. I’ll post the format that it morphs into at the end of the month, including my results. If you’re up for taking on the challenge this month too, let me know!

Get my Track Your Spending spreadsheet

This is the spreadsheet I’ve modified and improved over three years of tracking my spending—and I’ll send you a few emails to help you make it through your first month!

Have you found great budget templates that help you track your spending? Or, unlike me, has Mint actually helped you change your spending patterns?