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How do you or did you track expenses?
Old 01-31-2016, 03:37 PM   #1
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How do you or did you track expenses?

I am trying to do a detailed expense tracking spreadsheet and wonder how others have done this. It seems the money flows out in so many ways and in some cases are nested. For example I can get an export of all my Amazon purchases. I can also get an export of each set of Credit card transactions, but it will also include the Amazon payments. I can also get an export of all the bills I pay online, which includes my credit card payments.

Then there is the stuff we pay for with cash, paypal and physical checkbook.

I'm getting close, but wondering if there is an easier way... TIA!
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Old 01-31-2016, 03:44 PM   #2
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I use Quicken to download all credit card, bank and investment transactions. We try to use credit cards everywhere we can because it makes tracking easy (plus the cash backs).

Once you assign a vendor to an expense category, Quicken remembers it. It doesn't work for companies like Amazon because we buy all sorts of things from them, but it does for the supermarket, gas stations, travel and clothing etc.

I find it pretty easy. Over the years, I have slowly eliminated / consolidated categories so that they are more relevant to what I want to track.

Edit: There are some threads here discussing alternatives to Quicken. If I were starting from scratch, I may have gone with one of the alternatives. But I'm too invested in Quicken and it still works well for me, so I keep with it.
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Old 01-31-2016, 04:13 PM   #3
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How much do you care about the detail?

Some have many categories, others have only a few.

I have just seven. I started out with over a dozen but gradually lumped many of them together. My smallest category accounts for an average of just 5% of total spending. I just don't see the utility (for me) of getting any finer grained than 5% of my spending, but you might like to see a greater level of detail.

I think many (including me) have agonized over setting up spending categories for years, and eventually settled on what works best. So if you're just getting started on this exercise, I suggest you not worry too much about it. Create as many categories as you can think of, and you'll gradually combine them into the right number.
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Old 01-31-2016, 04:14 PM   #4
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I'm a quicken user also - for more than 10 years. I got more detail on spending once I convinced DH to use CC's instead of cash for all the small purchases - that way I capture all the grocery, starbucks, home depot items and can properly categorize them. I make sure I pay for services with checks (tutoring for my kids, piano lessons, etc) so I can properly track them.

Quicken records the categories when it hits your credit card - and when you pay the credit card - it's just a transfer of funds (no category).
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Old 01-31-2016, 04:40 PM   #5
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If you want to make expense tracking easier just spend less money. I only spend money 15 or less times per month. That makes it rather easy to simply make a note of the purchase and record it on Word. You could make a fancy spreadsheet if you're so inclined but it shouldn't be necessary.
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How do you or did you track expenses?
Old 01-31-2016, 04:57 PM   #6
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How do you or did you track expenses?

I run everything thru one checking account. Then have a spreadsheet in Office, with categories and level of detail I am comfortable with, and then once a month (end of month) enter data from checkbook registry. Easy peasy.

Also set up percent change year over year for each category. Works perfectly fine for my purposes. Only draw back I suppose is credit card expenditures do not get detailed. But, again, for me no big deal. YMMV.

For me, the important number is total month spending. The rest of the detail is more a curiosity.


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Old 01-31-2016, 05:15 PM   #7
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We use Quicken and have for the last 20+ years. At intervals we'll keep a handwritten notebook and record every penny in cash spent just to have an idea of where that's going, but we don't do that on a continuous basis. Increasingly though we're going to more cc spending and less cash, like at gas stations since they all want prepay if you're paying cash and that's a pita. Easier to just use the cc.
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Old 01-31-2016, 05:19 PM   #8
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It is not as easy as it should be, but I use Quicken. I have friends who use Mint & Personal Capital, and those work OK for their needs. I use Quicken because I want to track spending & our retirement investments. I like the reports that I can create in Quicken.
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Old 01-31-2016, 05:21 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Walt34 View Post
We use Quicken and have for the last 20+ years. At intervals we'll keep a handwritten notebook and record every penny in cash spent just to have an idea of where that's going, but we don't do that on a continuous basis. Increasingly though we're going to more cc spending and less cash, like at gas stations since they all want prepay if you're paying cash and that's a pita. Easier to just use the cc.
I prefer cash to CCs so i'm glad I live in an area that still allows you to pump then pay cash inside. I record every transaction but I record to the nearest dollar, not the exact cents. Though it should balance out over time. If I spend $41.78 on groceries then go to the gas station, then i'll try to get the gas to be $XX.22 so I spend all the change and the total spending will be virtually exact.
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Old 01-31-2016, 05:23 PM   #10
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Quicken user here for over 15 years. I tracked the major income and expense categories before I retired but now that I have more time on my hands I track everything very closely including budgeting. I guess I miss the budgeting process from my working years.

We use CC for almost everything over $10 for better tracking and for the cash back also. We received $900 in cash back in 2015 on almost 40K of CC charges.

I rely on Quicken also to track investment performance and income and if this is something you do or planned to do in the future you may find it useful. I find the reports generated by Quicken to be very useful for me.
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Old 01-31-2016, 05:31 PM   #11
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I use an Excel spreadsheet that I created many years ago and have refined over the years. We pay for almost everything with a credit card and I hand sort the charges by category when I get the bill. Checks are easy to track from the check register. The hardest thing is keeping track of cash purchases, like the barber shop, the dry cleaners, Goodwill, etc. I find that I just have to be diligent about entering my purchases.
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Old 01-31-2016, 05:37 PM   #12
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Thanks for the responses so far! I am a recent retiree and want to get a handle on expenses to see where we can cut or better control them (or figure out if I need to find another job). I am working to get all the detail I can into one spreadsheet and then will manually roll up numbers to categories in another. After the first few years, I won't need this level of detail. We do use CC for as many expenses as we can and pay off monthly. Most bills are paid online. Cash is used mostly for day to day expenses.

I have seen a few threads on Quicken and used to use it years ago, when I always seemed frustrated by it. I think I will stick with Excel for now.

As for categories, some of my 'sources' categorize expenses with the export. I am still figuring out how many I need to have a good view of everything, but figure I can combine when I roll up to the second spreadsheet.

aaronc879 - I wish I only had 15 items and not sure how I could get down to that. Right now I feel like I am drowning in data, but much better than not having any of it or going by the seat of my pants. I am trying to go back through 2014 and 2015 for a good historical look.
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Old 01-31-2016, 05:39 PM   #13
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Have used You Need A Budget for several years. Love the simplicity and the mobile app. Agree with others on categories... I have 24 categories and could probably shed 8 or 9 of those and still have the data I find useful. Good luck!


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Old 01-31-2016, 06:00 PM   #14
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We use Quicken and have our process well established. All of our bank and credit card accounts are defined in Quicken and download transactions every few days using One-Step Update. Many of our regular transactions are memorized and categorize themselves with a quick review. We don't bother to keep track of our cash transactions and just have a "Spending Money" category.

I find the Projected Balances graph helpful in managing our cash and making sure we have sufficient money in the account to cover our bills.
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Old 01-31-2016, 06:00 PM   #15
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I use YNAB4 (YOU NEED A BUDGET) to keep budget and monitor payments. It's a zero based budgeting scheme. You can go to their site and find their explanation on the process and how it works. The system requires you to cover at least two months of expenses that you may have to build up to. Quite simple and very effective.

They recently released nYNAB (NEW YOU NEED A BUDGET) early this year. It's a browser based application with some new features but lack some features that the previous version has.

You can buy either version. The YNAB4 costs $60 and it's yours forever. The nYNAB is a subscription fee base and cost $50 a year. I'm sticking with YNAB4 for now. You can have it running in any platform (desktop, tablet, mobile, etc). This is the best application for budgeting for me but weak on tracking your investments. If you have a simple portfolio, then YNAB should be enough for you.
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Old 01-31-2016, 06:06 PM   #16
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I use Quicken and have since it was a floppy disk version before the advent of hard drives... I think since around 1988 or so. I enter all transactions. I do not really do to much budgeting, as I always spend less. It help with cash flow projections and bank account balances.
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Old 01-31-2016, 06:18 PM   #17
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I used to use an Excel spreadsheet. Downloaded csv files from my bank and credit card co. I kept a main sheet for each like a check register, and categorized the expenses there. I then copied and pasted by date into monthly sheets. Then a macro totaled expenses per category per month. I then had a macro sum the months into a yearly sheet.

A couple of years ago, I switched to quicken. It's quicker, but I can't generate custom reports as well as I could with my spreadsheet.


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Old 01-31-2016, 06:37 PM   #18
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I tried using Quicken but prefer to use Excel. I also tried YNAB, but found that despite the software name it turns out that I don't need a budget after all; I need a record of spending. I am enough of a cheapskate that just recording my spending is enough of a nudge to keep me on track.

Each expenditure is placed on its own row. I have columns for date, category, subcategory, cost, and comments regarding the purchase such as what was bought and from what store and how I paid for it. I set up the template for each month at the beginning of the year, and keep my spending for each month organized by categories as I spend (adding lines within the categories as necessary). Everything is delightfully color coded because I am a kid at heart and this makes it fun for me.

It's pretty easy. I note each purchase from my wallet and "balance my wallet" to make sure all money is accounted for. Then I check my bank account online to obtain automatic deductions, check purchases, and debit card purchases. Finally I check my CC online.

At the end of each month, I add up the totals in each category and put the totals in a master table up at the top.

I lead a pretty simple life, and there is just one of me, so really this is almost no work at all. I don't download anything, but just do it manually and surprisingly it takes almost no time, I'd guess probably 15 minutes a week, and then an hour or two at the end of each month. I enjoy keeping track to the penny, because it means I am aware and controlling how I spend my money.
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Old 01-31-2016, 06:46 PM   #19
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Right now I use an Open Office spreadsheet. Previously I used Excel and MS Works way back in the stone age. I started with First Choice on a 286 back in 1991
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Old 01-31-2016, 06:47 PM   #20
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LibreOffice spreadsheet with categories running across and dates running down. Tabs for each year. Monthly totals on the bottom. Enter every expense as they occur.
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