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Tracking expenses
Old 11-07-2009, 07:47 PM   #1
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Tracking expenses

I need to start tracking our expenses. I hate to admit it but I do not know exactly where all our money is going. A lot of you know exactly your percentages on food, utilites, etc. What has been your way to track expenses? I have looked into the Quicken online. Is it safe when it is connecting to your bank account? I do not know how to do the Excel spreadsheets that I read some of you use. I could just use a notebook but would like more opinions, please.
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Old 11-07-2009, 08:07 PM   #2
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Hi Dreaming,

I use a program called Budget Advisor. Their website has a free 30 day trial version available: Home Budget Software

Also, if you want to use a pre-made spreadsheet that is a step up from using a notebook, but very easy to follow, I came across one here (I use Open Office -- free -- as the spreadsheet program instead of Excel):

Use a spreadsheet to keep a monthly budget


Good Luck,

Easysurfer
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Old 11-07-2009, 08:34 PM   #3
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I use an Excel spreadsheet.

I made the categories that make sense for me:
groceries
gasoline
cable (tv & internet)
natural gas
electricity
landline phone
cell phone
water/sewage/trash bill
car insurance
house insurance
clothes
fitness
books
medical
house improvement
house repair
car maintenance & repair
travel
tax (fed and state)
property tax
electronics & miscellaneous big stuff
ATM withdrawals (miscellaneous for everything else)
Each of these is one row on my spreadsheet.

Since I don't do credit cards, everything I spend is either from by check, debit card, or automatic bank deductions, and it all comes each month on my bank statement. So, I make entries for that month on my spreadsheet, where each month is a column on my spreadsheet.

At the end of the year I can easily compute the total and monthly average for each category, and for everything together.

The reason that I use Excel is twofold. First, I have it so I don't have to buy another program. And second, I think that doing things this way allows a lot of flexibility, and I like that.
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Old 11-07-2009, 08:44 PM   #4
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I use Quicken (software, on my computer not online). Almost all my transactions are by check card, CC or automatic debit from my accounts, I can easily download everything right into Quicken. Once you decide on your categories it memorizes them so tracking gets even easier over time. It also does "splits", so for example, if you buy groceries, socks and pet food at Wal-Mart (say) you can sort them into their categories (Food, Clothing, Pets) from a single transaction.

I also have a couple of simple Excel spreadsheets for determining how much of my savings goes into which ING accounts (car replacement, home improvement, etc.), and working out the max I can afford to put into my 403b.
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Old 11-07-2009, 08:50 PM   #5
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I use Quicken (software, on my computer not online).
What are your reasons for the software versus the free online Quicken version? It could be connected to my checking account and they say it is safe but I don't know
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Old 11-07-2009, 08:55 PM   #6
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I use an Excel spreadsheet.



The reason that I use Excel is twofold. First, I have it so I don't have to buy another program. And second, I think that doing things this way allows a lot of flexibility, and I like that.
I truly wish I knew how to do the Excel spreadsheet because I am a numbers person. I only went to high school and it looks very difficult.
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Old 11-07-2009, 09:05 PM   #7
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What are your reasons for the software versus the free online Quicken version? It could be connected to my checking account and they say it is safe but I don't know
When I originally started using Quicken, probably 15+ years ago, there was no online version. So this is what I'm used to. I've just been upgrading all along, although not every year. As long as I can keep downloading from the bank, I don't worry about having the latest version. Plus, other than downloading, I don't have to be connected to the Internet to work with Quicken.
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Old 11-07-2009, 09:10 PM   #8
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Excel can't be that hard to learn because I did it myself, just by fooling with it (and I'm not a numbers person). My spreadsheets just use the simpler formulas - so I wouldn't say I'm a sophisticated Excel user, but if I figured it out, anybody can.
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Old 11-07-2009, 10:09 PM   #9
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I truly wish I knew how to do the Excel spreadsheet because I am a numbers person. I only went to high school and it looks very difficult.
Go old school -- Get a spiral notebook and a calculator -- write down categories and enter expenses -- add new categories if necessary -- make sure you're not missing anything by totaling your 'goesouttas' subtracting from your 'goesintas' and comparing to your savings total changes(+/-)...
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Old 11-07-2009, 10:29 PM   #10
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Stop using any cash and any ATMs. Use only a credit card. You can then just look at your credit card statements to track expenses and perhaps your online bill pays. It is really that simple.

And you don't need to have Quicken connect to your bank account. You have your bank account download a file to your computer that is read by Quicken. You don't have to give any account or login information to Quicken at all.
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Old 11-07-2009, 11:24 PM   #11
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I use YNAB -- You Need a Budget which is an awesome program. A new version even more awesome is about to come out and will be a free upgrade for those buying now. You can download a trial at www.youneedabudget.com
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Old 11-08-2009, 08:07 AM   #12
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I just started using mint.com and I like how it tracks my spending. I admit that I don't track it at all. But mint tracks it all via categories and had reports and trends, pretty cool.
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Old 11-08-2009, 08:31 AM   #13
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I use Excel, but a friend of mine has been raving about this, a cut-down version of quicken (way cut down), but free:

mini$ Home

It works on Mac, Windows and Linux.

Here's what it looks like.


(edit: there's no relation to quicken, when i say a cut down version, i was speaking purely in terms of functionality, not code base)
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Old 11-08-2009, 08:36 AM   #14
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And you don't need to have Quicken connect to your bank account. You have your bank account download a file to your computer that is read by Quicken. You don't have to give any account or login information to Quicken at all.
LOL is right...you can get your data into Quicken either way (on the computer, that is...not sure how it works with the online version). You can enter your bank acct. login info into Quicken and tell it to connect using the button labeled 'Update Transactions' or you can go to the bank's website to initiate the download.

However, not all banks or credit unions offer the Quicken download feature and some that do, charge a fee. My old bank had it for free and then was bought out by M&T Bank. M&T charged a fee for it ($3-$4/month IIRC )- so for that and other reasons, I moved my accounts to a credit union. I called several CUs before I found one that had the Quicken download - that's how dependent I've become on it.
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Old 11-08-2009, 08:52 AM   #15
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OK -- Downloads are nice --especially for my primary credit card(s)... But entering some stuff manually isn't too bad... I used Quicken until they stopped putting a free full service copy on all new PCs. MS Money was preloaded on the new laptop and the auto transfer of 'quicken stuff' only moderately screwed up stuff(primarily reports etc that didn't work that great to start with), so I have grown to tolerate the SW over the years. I miss Quicken, but not enough to pay for it OR to use one of those 1st time user freebees and reenter everything from scratch. For someone just starting out with only a few accounts, etc. those freebees should be adequate and cost effective.
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Old 11-08-2009, 10:08 AM   #16
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Stop using any cash and any ATMs. Use only a credit card. You can then just look at your credit card statements to track expenses and perhaps your online bill pays. It is really that simple.

And you don't need to have Quicken connect to your bank account. You have your bank account download a file to your computer that is read by Quicken. You don't have to give any account or login information to Quicken at all.
This is pretty much what I do. When I look at my monthly statements I am bemused at how much I spend on victuals(my number one expense). You would think James Beard resided here with a covey of foodies instead of a middle-aged lady and a pug dog.
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Old 11-08-2009, 10:21 AM   #17
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I'm the opposite of WhoDaresWins - I use almost all cash, keep all my receipts, and enter them into a very simple Excel spreadsheet.

I'll agree on the food, though - The two cats and I must have such parties that I forget about them (Actually, it is my sushi habit. yum, dead raw fish,yum!)

ta,
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Old 11-08-2009, 11:46 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Dreaming 2010 View Post
I need to start tracking our expenses. I hate to admit it but I do not know exactly where all our money is going. A lot of you know exactly your percentages on food, utilites, etc. What has been your way to track expenses? I have looked into the Quicken online. Is it safe when it is connecting to your bank account? I do not know how to do the Excel spreadsheets that I read some of you use. I could just use a notebook but would like more opinions, please.
You could definitely use a notebook to do the expense tracking that I do in Excel. The reason I like to use a spreadsheet is that it stays neat and clean. I tend to smudge and dog-ear my paperwork.

I use a simple Excel spreadsheet to track all our monthly expenses (mine and husband's). The spreadsheet is just like a page in a notebook, with spending categories (Groceries, Gasoline, Federal Income Tax, State Income Tax, Home Insurance, Auto Insurance, Electricity, Restaurant Meals, Investments, etc.) down the left side, and the names of the months along the top. So, each category has one cell that corresponds to each month of the year.

In my expense tracking spreadsheet, the only function I use is the "Autosum" (looks like a backwards Z) to track the total amount of $$ being spent in any given category throughout the year. So, I could tell by the end of June, for example, that we'd spent more than $2,400 on groceries, and realize that we would probably spend $5,000 on groceries this year unless we cut back. Which we decided not to do--but at least it was an informed decision!

I track down and enter every expenditure of $$ by our household. I don't use automatic data entry, although I have nothing against it. I just haven't found any software that suits my purposes. Here is what I do:

1) We use a single credit card for most things. I go on line frequently to check the credit card balance and see where the money is going. Just after the end of each month, I total up the amount on the CC for groceries, gas, etc. and enter that number in the appropriate cell of the spreadsheet.

2) I pay most of our bills by electronic bill-pay. Each time I pay an electronic bill, I enter the amount in the appropriate S/S cell. The exception is, of course, the credit card bill, since those expenses have already been entered into the various categories.

3) Property taxes, certain tradespeople, and my hairdresser have to be paid by check. Each time I write a paper check, I enter the amount in the proper cell on my spreadsheet.

4) Payroll expenses that appear on my pay stub, like taxes and payroll deductions, get entered in the spreadsheet each time I get paid. Same goes for deductions from my husband's pension.

5) We spend very little actual cash. If we spend cash, I'll enter it like any other expenditure - but I have to know about it. Somehow, it's easy to forget when you pay cash. So if there is more than 1 person in your household, everyone needs to sign up to the expense-tracking idea, and notify the Tracker-in-Chief when cash has been spent.

I use a second Excel spreadsheet to track our monthly income from all sources. This allows me to compare "income versus outgo" at any given time, and also come up with those "percentages" you mentioned in your post. I find percentages interesting, but not really useful. What I'm really looking for, with all this tracking, is any "problems" or "bubbles" developing in our spending patterns. For example - is our car starting to cost too much to maintain, relative to its resale value? Maybe it is time to talk about a new car?

This all takes a little time and effort, but believe me, it's been worth it. Good luck with your tracking - let us know know how it goes.

Amethyst
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Old 11-08-2009, 01:06 PM   #19
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Thank you to all who gave suggestions. We have a college that has some computer classes, for no credit, and one of them is the Excel class. I had signed up about 6 months ago but they canceled it because there were not enough people who signed up. I will try to find the class in the Spring. For now I am going to keep track, even if it is on a notebook.
What I have learned from the few weeks of reading the Early-Retirement site is to become more conscious. We cannot possibly retire in December 2010 without a plan and that will involve first knowing exactly where the money is going.
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Old 11-08-2009, 01:24 PM   #20
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I use a back-of-the-envelope yellow sticker method, writing down items as they are paid and glancing at them. Iím not too much for numbers; in this, my first full year of retirement, Iíve allowed nature to take its course and allow myself whatever I really want. Looks like I donít need that 4% SWR after all, 2009 should come in at a luxurious 3.4% WD of the retirement day PF, or 3.2% of the current PF.

I have a manila file folder for tax deductions where I toss all the receipts, credit card statements and bank statements. As the year goes along, I write a list of categories for the deductible items on the inside of the manila folder and religiously enter the items as they are paid. Iíve found it handy to keep a blank copy of last yearís Schedule A in the front of the folder to use as a guide. That reminded me that I had an item for the category, Unreimbursed business expenses, from my last j*b.
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