If you are just getting started and do not have a budget created yet, be sure to check out my first post about creating your budget.
Now that you have created your budget and started to get organized in the planning of your budget each month, it is time to learn to track and manage your budget. Getting in the habit of checking in with your budget and your spending on a weekly, or even daily basis, is going to take some practice. When I was first getting started in tracking my budget, I used a spreadsheet. I still use a spreadsheet to plan out my budget each month alongside my calendar and then once I have completed the planning process, I transfer the numbers to my preferred tracking software so that I can easily track and manage my spending and keep up to date on my budget.
My choice of budgeting software is mint.com. I used them for a while just out of college and ended up going back to exclusively using my spreadsheet because I felt the software was too limiting but I have started using it again in the past two years and I think they have definitely made some improvements. There are some really great features that mint.com offers, but first and foremost it is FREE to use! And not free in the sense that you can get limited access to some of the features but then have to pay for a premium account – free through and through.
Using a Spreadsheet
I have one large spreadsheet that I keep in Google Docs that has multiple tabs tracking different aspects of my finances. I have a tab with a basic template of our expenses and income, a tab to track our “extra” income each month from overtime and side gigs, a tab for each month with our detailed budget, a tab to track our debt snowball, and finally a tab to track our Christmas expenses which is just used once I start shopping for the holidays.
Hopefully you have already started a tab with your monthly income and expenses. If you choose to keep a spreadsheet for your finances, I would go ahead and create a tab for the next month you will be planning for, copy over your expenses and make sure there is a column for you to put in the expense amount next to the category. On my spreadsheet I divided my expenses into two sections – mandatory and discretionary – and color coded them. At the end of each “section” I have a total running for that section’s amount for the month and then I have a grand total sort of in the middle at the bottom of the spreadsheet. Finally, make sure you have another row that subtracts your expenses from your income.
Using Budgeting Software
Once you play around with your numbers to balance your budget to zero using your calendar, it is time to transfer your budget to your software! This is where mint.com comes into play for me. When you first set up your account, it will have you link all your accounts. You can add your bank accounts, investment accounts, loan accounts, your mortgage, cars, etc. It is truly a place where you can see ALL of your finances at a glance! Once you have linked all your accounts and created your profile, you can create a budget. Their budget creator is fairly straightforward. You can use one of their many many categories that are pre-created or create your own. Once you pick a category, it will allow you to choose whether that category is a monthly expense or some other frequency. The categories and their expense amounts will roll over each month but once the next month starts you can go in and change anything that you need to. If I do not have a certain expense one month then I just change the amount to $0 instead of deleting the category altogether. There is also a place to put in your income for that month as well as add any financial goals you may be working toward. Once you create your expense categories and add the expense amounts for the current month, you are done and can now start using the software to easily track and manage your budget and spending.
There is a section called transactions that will pull in any financial transactions related to the accounts that you have linked up. They will refresh in real time every time you login. Every couple of days or once a week I would make it a point to go in and go through the transactions and label them with the correct expense category. Make sure each and every expense gets a label that you have in your budget for that month – if you need to tweak your budget at any point in the month to add a new category or modify an expense amount (within reason) that is okay! Once you have gone through your transactions, you can easily check on your budget and how much you have spent in each category.
It will take a few months to get used to budgeting and tracking everything and most likely there will be some hiccups along the way, but don’t let that cause you to lose momentum. Just like anything else in life, the more you practice and create a daily or weekly habit, the easier it will become. And if you have any sort of tendency toward organization, then once you start tracking your spending by assigning categories, you will not want to get behind and be unorganized!
Once you are comfortable with tracking and managing your budget and spending, check out my next post that will help you automatically manage your money as soon as it hits your bank account.
Do you use a budgeting software? And if so, which one?
FREE 5-Step Budget Workbook!
If you are ready to take control of your finances, get started with my FREE 5-step budget workbook and the spreadsheet I use for my own budget!