You can still track expenses the old-fashioned way, on paper. But in today’s world of e-readers and phone apps, you can also log expenses on the go.
Digital tools make it easy to keep track of your money, whether you need a snapshot or a long view of your finances. They may even help you discover the “hidden fat” in your budget.
Whatever tool you use, tracking expenses is key to budgeting success, says Katie Bryan, spokeswoman for America Saves, a website of the Consumer Federation of America that provides tools and information to help people save.
“It will allow you to find small savings that add up to big savings over time,” Bryan says.
According to a recent Bankrate financial security poll, only 60% of American households actually track their expenses against a budget. That figure is unchanged from a year ago.
"For a nation where just one in four households has an adequate emergency savings cushion, the fact that only 60% adhere to a fundamental behavior such as tracking expenses reveals a key weakness," says Greg McBride, Bankrate’s senior financial analyst.
To help you succeed with your budget, here’s a sampling of sites that take the guesswork out of tracking expenses.
- Pros: Mint is free and easy to use, syncs with a phone app, automatically organizes spending and allows you to choose and set your financial goals.
- Cons: Despite safety features, handing out your bank, credit card, financial and retirement account numbers may still leave some with an uneasy feeling.
- Pros: If you don’t already have electronic banking set up, you can view bills, balances and more using this free app. This tool also helps you map your bigger picture finances. It also allows you to track the balances of your credit card and other rewards and frequent flyer mile balances. It even gives your credit score.
- Cons: Has security features, but disclosing your personal bank and other account information can still be unsettling.
My Weekly Budget
- Pros: This app takes the guesswork out of tracking your budget for the week. You can use it for tracking your mad money, your paycheck, whatever. Once you set up a weekly budget target, plug in your spending as you go. The app also pays-it-forward by subtracting overages or adding any underspending from the previous week. It also provides a historical view of spending.
- Cons: It costs $1 and if you forget to enter something, you’ve messed up your budget for the week.
Once you cut out spending on nonessentials, you can free up your money for other uses, says Bryan at America Saves. “Put that money towards paying down high-interest debt and saving for emergencies.”
You may be surprised to learn just how much you are spending on that daily latte or restaurant meal.
Renee DeGross Valdes is a veteran business journalist offering expertise in small business, personal finance and real estate. She has more than 20 years of journalism experience having worked for The Washington Post, Washington Business Journal, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, TF-1 French Television, and Patch.