Tracking your expenses regularly can make all the difference in your finances. It gives you a clear picture of where your money is going, helps you identify money leaks and it opens room for you to make better financial decisions.
1. Check your account statements
Most people disregard this step but checking your accounts is a critical step in managing your finances.
This step involves keeping a record of every deposit, check and electronic fund transfer that’s involved with the account. Inattentiveness to your account statements’ may actually cost you more in the future.
Balance your accounts properly and make this a constant habit. Diligence and consistency in chequing accounts could lead to early identification of any suspicious or fraudulent activity on your account.
With technological advancement, identity theft is becoming more prevalent but failure to notice by checking your statement might keep you ignorant to anything of that sort happening to you. Worse off, if you fail to report such cases promptly, the bank will be exonerated from any liability.
Checking your statements monthly may alert you to increase on bank fees and help you identify ways to cut down on these fees especially if you’re paying excess transaction fees.
2. Categorize your expenses
Group your expenses into categories. Your spending will consist of fixed and variable expenses. Fixed expenses include rent or mortgage, debt payments, insurance and utilities.
These are least likely to change from month to month. They are however always room for adjustments. Variable expenses, on the other hand, are expenses that can change over time.
There is always a bigger room to adjust variable expenses, even though that is not to say it ‘easy. Examples of variable costs include groceries, car maintenance, clothing etc.
A successful budget starts with cutting out discretionary spending followed by trimming or reducing variable expenses.
What’s hard about trimming variable expenses is that the changes and cuts have to stick from month to month.
For example, when you cut your grocery bill or entertainment expenditure, that change has to be part of your budget in its adjusted form every month.
Another way to categorize your budget will be to group them according to their necessity. For example, needs and other necessary expenses can be classified under essentials while the rest of the expenses can be classified under non-essentials.
Breaking down expenses into budget categories like this will help you get a clear picture of your spending patterns (including areas where you tend to overspend).
Savings should be categorized under essentials and should never fall under the list of expenses you feel obligated to adjust or cut down except in dire circumstances.
3. Use a budget app
Sticking to a budget is harder than you think. But thanks to rapid technological advancement there are many apps at your disposal to help you plan your budget and save money.
Pairing that expensive phone with a good budgeting app can significantly reduce your spending.
In South Africa, the most popular apps include 22Seven, Money smart, My Financial Money all of which are free and MyMoney which draws a small fee of only R15 monthly.
22seven is a budgeting and investing app where you’ll be able to see your money in one place, invest it more wisely and keep track of all your spending.
It allows you the option to link all your South African bank accounts (from a long list of banks), credit and store cards, loans, investments and rewards cards.
Moneysmart – this is a spend management app that shows you how much you can spend on a daily basis after your fixed expenses have been taken into account.
Even after you overspend, the app will recalculate to ensure that you can reach the end of the month afloat while sticking to your budget.
Note, however, that this option lacks the accountability factor. Simply downloading a budgeting app is not enough. You have to put in the work and hold yourself accountable to your financial goals and to your budget.
4. Explore other expense trackers
Tracking your expenses is a crucial part of creating a budget in personal finance. Keeping a daily record of your expenses by tracking invoices, receipts and other outgoing expenses enhance the financial health of your budget.
The risk of failing to track your expenses is that you don’t really know where your money is going. You face the danger of repeatedly setting unrealistic budgets and never living up to achieve your financial goals.
While apps are the trend, they are other options you could explore that might work even better for you especially if you prefer more traditional, less digital ways of doing things. Besides expense tracking apps, you could consider these ways to keep track of your expenses:
- Pencil and Paper
- Envelope System
- Computer Spreadsheets-
5. Identify room for change
After tracking your expenses, you have found your problem area. That might be a single category or area where you spend double what you thought you did.
There might even be a few things in your budget which, after a careful review, you might decide not to be worth all the money they are draining.
Identifying room for change should also be coupled with actually putting those changes into effect. Whatever positive adjustment you can make, do it! Your bank account balance will show for it.
Don’t just make small changes like cutting out your morning latte fix from that expensive coffee shop but consider making the big changes too.
For example, if you are paying too much for your insurance, start shopping for insurance and see if you can find something more affordable. Lowering these big or fixed expenses will make a significant impact on your budget.
You should always be aware and in full control of where your money goes. Tracking your expenses helps you plan and adjust your budget. It keeps you ahead of the game. Try these amazing steps and get back on track to achieving your financial goals.