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Old 07-22-2015, 09:50 AM   #61
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I always think about this story:

IIRC, many years ago Consumer Reports wanted to do some research on budgeting/tracking. So they asked their readers to write in and describe the methods they used. I think the CR editors thought they would see a pattern and they could develop some "standard good practice" recommendation.

They had a lot of submissions. People sent in spreadsheets (paper and pencil in those days), detailed category assignments, tracking methods, etc. They were obviously proud of the methods they used and were happy to share their insights.

The problem for the CR editors was that no two were the same. They didn't concentrate around one best practice, but spread out over a whole range of possibilities. i think their project ended there.
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Old 07-22-2015, 11:55 AM   #62
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
Do you people actually go line-by-line on the cash register receipt and categorize each purchase?

Yes, at least since UPCs became common, which corresponded with brief item descriptions being added to the receipts.
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Old 07-22-2015, 12:34 PM   #63
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Originally Posted by big-papa View Post

I also have a spreadsheet with a scattergram that shows kilowatt-hrs of electricity used per month vs. the average daily temperature in Austin. Dropped 500kw-h off per month on average after adjusting the thermostat (small change) and changing the number of hours the pool pump runs (biggest change) Can you tell I'm an engineer?

Do I need to do even this much? Probably not. But I also enjoy it.

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Thank God I'm not the only one! My wife thinks I'm crazy, but I do the same thing for both gas and electricity. I find it fascinating and it was amazing the drop in usage when we replaced the previous owner's incandescent floods with CFLs and LEDs. I'm eagerly awaiting the first month's returns with the new AC, the first 10 days looks promising.
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Old 07-22-2015, 12:48 PM   #64
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I also have a spreadsheet with a scattergram that shows kilowatt-hrs of electricity used per month vs. the average daily temperature in Austin. Dropped 500kw-h off per month on average after adjusting the thermostat (small change) and changing the number of hours the pool pump runs (biggest change) Can you tell I'm an engineer?
I can make plots like this (see screenshot) by logging on to my utility Web site.

And I can, and have, downloaded the same data in a spreadsheet format, but have not made the scattergram yet. No data entry required for me.

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Old 07-22-2015, 12:53 PM   #65
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I just have a spreadsheet to track the outflows from my accounts that pay the bills for a big picture number. I track it by 3, 6, 12, 24, & 36 month averages to see the trends. I think I got the idea from the retire early lifestyle website. But before I did this I tracked expenses with more detail so I have a pretty good handle on where I spend my money. I've tried to use quicken many times but never was able to stick with it long term.
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Old 07-22-2015, 01:50 PM   #66
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I save my receipts and write down expenditures in a bound notebook using about 10 categories (Utilities, Food, Car, Cats, etc.) - write the date, store, amount, and what I purchased e.g., cat food, gas, oil change. I stopped listing individualized groceries. Groceries will the last item that I ever try to cut costs on. Then I add the costs up quarterly and annually. Low tech but it works for me.
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Old 07-22-2015, 04:08 PM   #67
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I can make plots like this (see screenshot) by logging on to my utility Web site.

And I can, and have, downloaded the same data in a spreadsheet format, but have not made the scattergram yet. No data entry required for me.

Wow, you are fortunate. One of my utilities provides a 12 month lookback graph of usage vs temperature on the bill (it measures perhaps 1 inch high by 1.5 inches on the paper bill) but the temperature resolution is so poor as to be useless and there is no capability to download the data. The other utility provides nothing.
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Old 07-22-2015, 04:34 PM   #68
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Yes, my utility company, the Salt River Project, which they say is "the oldest multipurpose federal reclamation project in the United States" (since 1903) turns out to be quite progressive, and does good work with the data that they collect automatically from smart meters.

The home owner can dive down to see hourly power consumption for each day, as I have shown elsewhere on another thread. See: A small economy..

They keep data going back 3 years. It's good enough for me to see the savings from the variable-speed pool pump, as I described earlier. Right now, same as you with your new AC, I am waiting to see the electric savings from my fancy schmancy dual-pane argon-filled windows that were installed three months ago (perhaps $20/month).
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Old 07-22-2015, 04:42 PM   #69
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Originally Posted by jjquantz View Post
Thank God I'm not the only one! My wife thinks I'm crazy, but I do the same thing for both gas and electricity. I find it fascinating and it was amazing the drop in usage when we replaced the previous owner's incandescent floods with CFLs and LEDs. I'm eagerly awaiting the first month's returns with the new AC, the first 10 days looks promising.
My energy provider does this for me and emails the month trends.
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Old 07-22-2015, 05:21 PM   #70
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Like others I have tracked spending in detail in Quicken for many many years. Just a natural reflex now. It helps me stay reconciled with bank accounts and credit card balances. Tracking all dividends and reinvestments at the security level provides instant updates for cost basis of all positions. All of this culminates in our total household net worth easily monitored over time.
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Old 07-23-2015, 07:53 AM   #71
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I can make plots like this (see screenshot) by logging on to my utility Web site.

And I can, and have, downloaded the same data in a spreadsheet format, but have not made the scattergram yet. No data entry required for me.

Pretty cool - my utility only has 1 month granularity but the whole thing can be downloaded into a spreadsheet and then a scattergram created. My plot is an interesting V shape with increasing kw-hr vs. temperature during the summer months as you would expect due to increase A/C usage vs. temperature. But below a certain temperature, it rises again as it gets colder but at a much slower increase than the summer months. I have a gas furnace, so that's not it and I'm pretty sure it's not the fan that kicks on when the furnace kicks in. Best guess is that it's the pool pump automatically coming on when temperature gets within a few degrees of freezing.
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Old 07-23-2015, 08:13 AM   #72
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Thank God I'm not the only one! My wife thinks I'm crazy, but I do the same thing for both gas and electricity. I find it fascinating and it was amazing the drop in usage when we replaced the previous owner's incandescent floods with CFLs and LEDs. I'm eagerly awaiting the first month's returns with the new AC, the first 10 days looks promising.
We had already replaced the major-use interior bulbs with LEDs sometime ago. But I'm still replacing all others as they expire, with one exception. We have a post lamp by the driveway with an electric eye. Since it's on every night, it was a top contender for replacement. Because I was doing a shotgun approach to energy savings, I had to calculate this one instead of measuring it, but it worked out to about $5 per month - enough to pay for itself in a few short months.

Likewise when I saw that our water usage was steadily increasing as my daughter steadily increased in age. Doing some research and swapping out to low flow shower heads stabilized that one. Well, it did until a sprinkler valve decided to leak. But that's fixed too now.
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Tracking Spending
Old 07-24-2015, 05:52 AM   #73
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Tracking Spending

I guess there are many apps/websites out there which automatically track your credit card spending and categorize. I tried one, didn't like it, and also didn't feel comfortable with the feeling it wasn't very secure. For the past 2 years since I retired, I am using Pear Budget. I spend 5-10 minutes every morning, inputting what we spent the day before. It has proven so far to be a useful tool for me.
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Old 07-25-2015, 01:49 PM   #74
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I have used Mint for about 4 years, but I hate the "budgeting" tool. It's too hard to figure out what is going on. I just downloaded You Need A Budget a few days ago and I'm trying the trial period to see how I like it. So far, I like the look of it way better than Mint.


As for Costco, I break out Shopping (TP, paper towels, random home stuff) purchases separately from Groceries. Anything I can't eat or drink goes into Shopping typically. To make it easier on myself, I will often put everything that isn't food first on the conveyor belt when I'm checking out and ask them to give me a subtotal on my receipt before they ring up the food. That way I can easily just record the split in the categories.


We sometimes will buy gift cards there and those I budget out to what they are for... like if we buy California Pizza Kitchen gift cards, I'll code that to Restaurants.
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Old 07-25-2015, 03:32 PM   #75
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For a number of years now, I've been telling myself I need to accurately track my spending. But, since no one listens to me, I decided I wouldn't listen to me either. However, what I have done this year (mainly out of guilt and shame) was to sort of acknowledge my cash outflow. So, what I am doing is not too difficult (and maybe not too helpful). Using monthly bank statements, I added up "checks and other withdrawals" for the first six months of the year. That took about 5 minutes (most of the time was spent refolding and then putting the statements back into their envelopes). As for cash expenditures: I usually forget to write them down and in any case, I don't write anything down that's less then twenty dollars. But I did total up what I had bothered to write down and multiplied by two. The curious thing about this system is that I have no idea how well it works for budgeting. This is still a work in progress, and I imagine that I will be able to streamline it as time goes on.
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Old 07-25-2015, 11:18 PM   #76
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Every day I enter all my spending, to the penny, into an Excel spreadsheet. There I have columns for Date, Category, Sub-Category, Amount, exactly what I bought and how I paid for it.

Then I balance what I entered in Excel with my bank account balance, CC balance, and my wallet contents. At the end of the month, I add up the categories and spending for the month. I like my method of tracking spending and I am retired, so I have plenty of time to do it. It only takes maybe five minutes each day, if that. I look forward to doing this every day because it's my kind of fun.
You need to get out more < couldn't resist >

I wonder if I would have the consistency to do this every day, or let it slide until it became unmanageable.
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Old 07-26-2015, 08:32 AM   #77
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Excel user here (Should I blush? ), starting about a year before we ER'd, so going on six years at this point. Initially it was to test the waters and see how living on a set budget felt in contrast to a looser pre-ER budget, then it became a tool to drive down costs, and now it's a tool that reminds me to mind costs in certain areas, so I can spend more freely in others.

We have approx 30 spending and accrual categories, broken down monthly, one year per worksheet. Like many others, we keep an eye on the cumulative 12 month spend more so than the monthly. I find it to be liberating, in that I can spend freely within the perimeters of each year's allocations. It's also a helpful tool to identify unusual deviations, such as when our water usage spiked during a month that had previously tracked low, and we discovered we had a broken sprinkler valve.

Tracking is a breeze if done daily, a bit of a chore if I get lazy and let things pile up.
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Old 07-26-2015, 08:56 AM   #78
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I guesstimated my expenses on an excel spreadsheet and update it maybe a couple times a year but don't have the desire to track it on a regular basis. I put in enough buffer for those expenses that aren't fixed like groceries, entertainment, travel, etc. so that I'll always be below my estimates except for very unusual circumstances. I do monitor and balance my checking account regularly and just make sure the money going in monthly is at least the same as the money going out.
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Old 07-26-2015, 09:03 AM   #79
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I save my receipts and write down expenditures in a bound notebook using about 10 categories (Utilities, Food, Car, Cats, etc.) - write the date, store, amount, and what I purchased e.g., cat food, gas, oil change. I stopped listing individualized groceries. Groceries will the last item that I ever try to cut costs on. Then I add the costs up quarterly and annually. Low tech but it works for me.
I'm curious about your grocery comment, it's one of the largest recurring items many of us have. We all eat every day. How do you define cutting costs? Do you already shop weekly specials, eat seasonal food and watch how much you spend on packaged items? Cutting back on food costs doesn't mean you need to eat only beans and rice.
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Old 07-26-2015, 09:04 AM   #80
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Another Excel user here. I calculated expenses for two years prior to ER and developed a draft budget using an Excel template, which I have customized to answer the questions I am interested in. For example, I separate lifestyle expenses, taxes, savings and debt repayment. For each spending category (e.g. Groceries, Travel, etc) I calculate the YTD variance from the budgeted amount. I prepopulate data in each category that has a constant monthly or quarterly amount. I maintain one worksheet per calendar year.

For me, daily data entry would be too frequent. I make most purchases on one credit card and save all my receipts for the month in a Ziplock bag which I keep at home. On the first day of the month I download all credit card charges and bank withdrawals from the previous month to an Excel spreadsheet. Then I assign categories, sort the data by category, and calculate subtotals. I enter the subtotals in my budget worksheet. I then reconcile the worksheet entries with the receipts in the Ziplock bag, in case there was anything outstanding from a previous month or an expense that was charged on the last day of the month which is not on my statement (for consistency I use the date it appears on the bank statement). I also enter any cash transactions in the appropriate categories. I file any receipts for items with warranties or items and services that might be tax deductible. I keep any late receipts in the Ziplock bag for the current month, and shred the rest.

My spreadsheet does the calculations and I enter "notes to the financial statements" below. Notes might include "under budget in June: good job!" Or "expect higher expenses in August, Joe's wedding" or "don't forget tax installment in September". I find these notes very helpful in analysis, planning and tax preparation. This established method requires about 30 minutes' effort once a month. It works for me.
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