Have you ever tracked your spending for a year?

Non-investing personal finance issues including insurance, credit, real estate, taxes, employment and legal issues such as trusts and wills

Have you ever tracked your spending for a year?

Yes, I went through at end of year, and got a pretty good picture of exactly what I am spending money on.
54
39%
Yes, I kinda went through it at the end of a year, but I still do not have a sense of where the money is going exactly.
13
9%
Yes, I kinda went through it at the end of a year, but I still do not have a sense of where the money is going exactly.
13
9%
Never really have.
58
42%
 
Total votes: 138

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LH
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Have you ever tracked your spending for a year?

Post by LH » Mon Feb 15, 2010 4:58 pm

Was wondering how many Bogleheads have tracked thier spending for a year in the past? Two ways to do it roughly, one is pretty hardcore, and to keep notes of basically where everything goes as one spends it, the other, is at the end of the year, kinda go through all spending and get a general picture of how much was spent on food, entertainment, etc..... The second way, has many varying degrees to it, from being pretty exact, to being very inexact.

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simplesimon
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Post by simplesimon » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:06 pm

I track all credit card transactions, about 95% of my spending, through mint.com. Cash transactions are not tracked but the main thing I buy with cash is food and alcohol when I'm out with a group of friends.

avalpert
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Post by avalpert » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:14 pm

I have done it in the past - at one point I even had a detail budget. But my spending is so far below my income that now I don't sweat it (at least formally, informally I still can't bring myself to order a soda at a restaurant).

livesoft
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Post by livesoft » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:16 pm

If one uses a credit card for all spending outside of some online bill paying and savings/investing, then one has everything tracked for you. You are also not allowed to use cash or an ATM card.

The CC company sends you a nice year-end summary statement of where you spent all your money in nice categories. It's totally trivial and takes no time at all.

MWCA
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Post by MWCA » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:16 pm

Going on our 5th year tracking every penny. Yes, I know how much time I am wasting and what a fool I am ;)
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schnoodlemom
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Post by schnoodlemom » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:24 pm

Longtime Quicken user.... enough said. :-) Although I do have a category for ATM cash withdrawals labeled "Where did it go?". Usually it's less than $500 annually. Amanda

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catdude
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Post by catdude » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:26 pm

Yes, I tracked spending to the penny for about a year and a half, ending about 6 months ago. I'm nearing early retirement, so I felt it was important to have a good handle on where I'm spending money.

I'm still tracking (though not to the penny) in Quicken. It's just that I have this big category called "miscellaneous" for cash expenditures. But having tracked spending so closely in the past, I now have a really good idea where those misc. expenses are going.
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Post by Sheepdog » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:36 pm

I record every purchase and have for years using Microsoft Money. Budgeting expenses in retirement is easy by knowing where the money goes.
Jim
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Sheepdog
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Post by Sheepdog » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:37 pm

schnoodlemom wrote:Longtime Quicken user.... enough said. :-) Although I do have a category for ATM cash withdrawals labeled "Where did it go?". Usually it's less than $500 annually. Amanda
In Microsoft Money, ATM withdrawals can be assigned to any expense category that you wish.
Jim
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Post by rwwoods » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:40 pm

I enter a monthly budget and expenses in Excel; however, some of the categories are rather broad - e.g., living expenses which includes clothes, food small house maintenace items. I don't care to break it down farther. Other items, i.e., eating out, are more specific.
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Cernel
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Post by Cernel » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:50 pm

I have tracked my expenses for the past 5 or 6 years and I have always come within 1 or 2% of my beginning of the year budget.

This has helped me in my retirement decisions, but I think it also indicates that I have not had any major, unexpected events occur. I consider myself very lucky on this aspect, but I am sure going forward something will happen that will break my steak of being within 2% of anticipated expenses.

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Post by tim1999 » Mon Feb 15, 2010 5:54 pm

I know roughly what I spend in the various categories. I also know exactly, to the dollar, how much I place in investment/savings accounts. So long as I am contributing towards my investments/savings at my desired levels, I see no need to micromanage the rest. If I were living paycheck to paycheck, that would be another thing. I'm not going to freak out because I overspent $300 in the food category but underspent $50 in the insurance category, etc. I'm I'm buying something, I know if I can afford it or not.

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Post by empb » Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:03 pm

Sheepdog wrote:
schnoodlemom wrote:Longtime Quicken user.... enough said. :-) Although I do have a category for ATM cash withdrawals labeled "Where did it go?". Usually it's less than $500 annually. Amanda
In Microsoft Money, ATM withdrawals can be assigned to any expense category that you wish.
Jim
I don't like categorizing the ATM withdrawals themselves. If I withdraw $100 and spend it over the course of 9 days on various things/categories, that's difficult to keep track of until the cash is exhausted.

I use MoneyDance and created a 'Cash' asset account. ATM withdrawals use this category so it's essentially a transfer from my checking account into cash. I can then draw-down as I spend without having the entire amount disappearing on day one.
Last edited by empb on Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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bob90245
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Post by bob90245 » Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:03 pm

I've been tracking my expenses (nearly to the penny) all my adult life. Started when I left home to go off to college. Didn't have more than $2000 to my name. Supported myself through a student loan and part-time jobs. So it was very important to make sure I didn't run out of money.

I suppose after all these years, I can slack off a bit. But old habits die hard. :D
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Post by TheEternalVortex » Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:12 pm

I used to do this diligently, but lately I don't really keep track exactly which categories I spend in. I still keep track of overall spending though.

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soaring
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Post by soaring » Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:17 pm

Quicken keeps track of it with very few entries. Have done it since 2000. Knew what my expenses would be when we retired in 2003. Since then continue tracking and works well at end of year to review past yr and plan for next yr.
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Post by Shawn » Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:19 pm

Typically, I go through my checking account and credit card statements at the end of each year and categorize my annual expenses into general categories.

In 2001 and again in 2009, however, I tracked all expenses to the penny (e.g., I spent $3.04 last year for two containers of bleach). That takes a lot of work but I've found it to be a worthwhile exercise to do on a periodic basis. One thing I've noticed is that my frugality is directly proportional to how closely I monitor my expenses. It really makes me think about each purchase.

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Post by conundrum » Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:22 pm

We track our expenses with Quicken. We track cash as a separate category and do not worry about where the cash specifically goes. As we have approached retirement it has been invaluable to know our spending patterns.

Drum

bryanv
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Post by bryanv » Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:52 pm

I've been using Yodlee Moneycenter for the last couple of years. All of my bank accounts, credit cards, etc are linked to it so I pretty much know where every penny I spent went.

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You bet!

Post by Toons » Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:59 pm

Yep sure have tracked my spending,,,To the penny for 10 years in Quicken,,,,my wife says Im Nutz! She is probably right :D
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Post by LonePrairie » Mon Feb 15, 2010 7:12 pm

A few years before I retired I started tracking every penny I spent, using Quicken. I wanted to get a handle on my expenses to make sure I could afford to stop working. I intended to do it only for a year, but found I liked it, so I kept doing it. It takes only minutes a day and I like generating reports at the end of each month.

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Post by jeff mc » Mon Feb 15, 2010 7:29 pm

TheEternalVortex wrote:I used to do this diligently, but lately I don't really keep track exactly which categories I spend in. I still keep track of overall spending though.
ditto... all spending goes thru debit cards, so the end of year download takes an hour or so... update the excel and knock out some end of year slides... more just to say, 'hey, look a shiny chart' than to say "here's our budget, backwards looking, for the 9 categories of spend"

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AThiker
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Post by AThiker » Mon Feb 15, 2010 7:30 pm

I've never done it, but always wanted to. I dither over what computer software to use (versus using paper). Another thing is that we only use cash--here in Japan, people don't use debit cards to pay for things. The bank does provide a nice account book that's balanced whenever you use an ATM. However, it is hard to tell where the cash goes.

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Post by earlyout » Mon Feb 15, 2010 7:40 pm

We have kept detailed expenditure records for several years. At first with notebooks and for the past 10 years or so with Quicken. Having detailed spending records made it much easier to stop working and retire early. We could look back and know how much money we needed for various categories and where we could spend less if necessary. Now it makes annual budget and cash flow planning a simple process.

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Post by scrabbler1 » Mon Feb 15, 2010 7:51 pm

I keep track of how much I spend on monthly and less frequent bills such as utilities, housing, insurance and taxes. But because I spend very little on credit cards and use cash for most of my day-to-day expenses, I don't keep track of what I spend my cash on (mostly food but 20% of it is for my dancing). I do keep track of ATM cash withdrawals, though.

I prepare an annual summary for myself so I can see what my overall income, spending, and saving amounts are.

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Post by mews » Mon Feb 15, 2010 8:17 pm

AThiker wrote:I've never done it, but always wanted to. I dither over what computer software to use (versus using paper). Another thing is that we only use cash--here in Japan, people don't use debit cards to pay for things. The bank does provide a nice account book that's balanced whenever you use an ATM. However, it is hard to tell where the cash goes.


I pay mostly cash, here in the USA - I use Excel, and about 10 columns.

I collect receipts, and write notes as I go.

Every few days I put the info on the spreadsheet.

At first it was enlightening - "This month I spent how much??? on what??? "

Now it is habit.

ta,
mew

SamB
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Post by SamB » Mon Feb 15, 2010 8:19 pm

I have tracked the monthly spending for over thirty five years. Each month you close out by tabulating how much came in and how much went out. When I started I did this on a sheet of paper with a calculator and now I use a spreadsheet. I have always used the checkbook ledger, and I combine that with my wife's checkbook entries. The only time I need a finer detail is for very large credit card payments.

If you have no accounting system, remotely resembling double entry bookkeeping, then there is no point in worrying about investing, rate of return, risk, whatever. You have no idea where you are financially.

I started my daughter down this path when she was 14 years old. If she did not produce a spreadsheet tally at the end of the month, then there was no allowance. Now that she is in college, she supplies the same monthly tally of her expenses. Her income is supplied by me. Her spreadsheets are used to estimate a budget for each succeeding semester.

I was surprised to learn that many parents arbitrarily put money in their son's or daughter's account on a monthly basis and the money is spent within a couple of weeks; no accounting, no budget, no self control whatsoever. If you wonder why the financial world goes to hell so often I guess you can just look at how parents treat their kids when it comes to money.

Sam

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Post by ruralavalon » Mon Feb 15, 2010 8:22 pm

We have done it both ways. In the past we estimated expenditures by simply taking income and subtracting taxes, savings etc. Now we use Quicken, starting just last year, to help get a more accurate estimate of what our retirement income needs might be.

The rough estimate proved to be fairly good.
Last edited by ruralavalon on Tue Feb 16, 2010 3:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by traineeinvestor » Mon Feb 15, 2010 8:27 pm

With retirement only 2-4 years away, I am doing it this year for the first time. Hopefully, I will have the discipline to keep it up for next year as well. I want the confidence on knowing exactly what I am spending before I hand in my notice.

In prior years, I just added up the total outgoings from my bank accounts each month. So long as the total was more or less in line with expectations, I didn't feel the need to go into more detail.

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Post by Duckie » Mon Feb 15, 2010 8:41 pm

Years ago when I moved across the country (new home, new job, new everything), I tracked practically every penny for about 18 months. Once I realized I had a handle on my finances, I stopped.

Duckie

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Post by smackfu » Mon Feb 15, 2010 8:48 pm

Yeah, I just use Quicken, so it's not even like this is a burden. Actually I think it's fun, but I'm just weird.

At one point, I tried to track my cash expenditures, but at the time I was still going into the office and I had quite a few daily cash expenses. I didn't really feel it was worth the effort, so now they just go into Cash category.

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Post by gkaplan » Mon Feb 15, 2010 9:07 pm

I've been tracking all my expenses in an Excel spreadsheet for about the last ten years.
Gordon

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Post by pjstack » Mon Feb 15, 2010 9:20 pm

Yeah, kinda, sorta.

I have a spreadsheet that shows the "biggies", such as mortgage, all utilities, insurance (house, car, flood, umbrella), gardener, etc.

But not daily expenditures like food, sundries, household supplies, etc.

I have lately kept a seperate spreadsheet for "Bar Expenses". No one looks at it but me, otherwise I would disguise it as "Misc. Entertainment"! :oops:
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Post by CaptMidnight » Mon Feb 15, 2010 10:40 pm

Every penny for every year since 1988 or so. The first ten years were on Managing Your Money so that data is lost now. But all the data since is in Quicken.
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Post by Tyrobi » Mon Feb 15, 2010 11:06 pm

We roughly track all our expenses in an excel spreadsheet, but not to the exact cents. The expenses vary from months to months, but we have a very good picture of what goes in and goes out. I even printed the summarized 12-month expenses and pasted it on the fridge so my wife and I can take a look at it almost everyday.
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Post by sscritic » Tue Feb 16, 2010 12:02 am

Using quicken, I have done it for several years, including all cash transactions. [Three oatmeal raisin cookies and a senior coffee at McDonald's ranges from $1.71 to $1.97, depending on which county I am in, before or after the most recent sales tax increase, and how much the store charges for the coffee (from $0.59 to $0.79).]

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AThiker
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Post by AThiker » Tue Feb 16, 2010 2:18 am

Okay, okay ( :D ), you've all convinced me to start tracking/projecting my expenses! If you can do it, so can I. Thanks everyone for providing me a sterling example. I don't mean to track every penny now, but I expect this will give me a better handle on where I'm at and what I can expect regarding achieving my goals.

I need something more interactive than a spreadsheet, but I don't want to do it all online. I'll go down and see what software is available at the local electronics store.

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Post by likegarden » Tue Feb 16, 2010 7:27 am

Yes, I did that when retiring at 62 1/2. I needed to know how much I was spending before and after, how much income was before and would be after. That prevented any surprises, except later events were a real surprise, but with that budget I always knew where I was.

Occasionally before an unusual financial event, I update the annual budget, an EXCEL spreadsheet with weekly expenses and incomes, using the current incomes and expenses. This update takes only one hour. This way I do not need to guess, but know exactly. I never used any money from my portfolio yet and live well.

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Post by Bobby Ingersoll » Tue Feb 16, 2010 9:26 am

AThiker wrote:Okay, okay ( :D ), you've all convinced me to start tracking/projecting my expenses! If you can do it, so can I. Thanks everyone for providing me a sterling example. I don't mean to track every penny now, but I expect this will give me a better handle on where I'm at and what I can expect regarding achieving my goals.

I need something more interactive than a spreadsheet, but I don't want to do it all online. I'll go down and see what software is available at the local electronics store.
Run a google search for "YNAB". I just started using it in December and it's been great so far.

It uses the zero based budget philosophy, is much more interactive than a spreadsheet, and is not online (software for mac or pc).

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Post by CAP » Tue Feb 16, 2010 10:39 am

I tried this when I left work to check out where I spent most of my money. I put all purchases in categories & did a profit/loss year end statement. Credit card purchases were the easiest for me to track but I did all transactions even cash down to the penny. It was fun to do for a while.

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Post by jh » Tue Feb 16, 2010 12:42 pm

...
Last edited by jh on Tue Mar 30, 2010 2:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by eas » Tue Feb 16, 2010 5:18 pm

None of the poll choices really fit my choice. I kind of eyeball it all, but I do actually have a fairly good idea of where my money goes. 99% of my spending is on credit cards. I have a couple different ones for specific purchases. If I see an average monthly balance of 197 on credit card A, I know on average I spent roughly 200 bucks on restaurants / movies / books. If I see an average of 450 on credit card B, I know I spent on average 450 between gas, grocery stores, pharmacies. Etc Etc.

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Post by KyleAAA » Tue Feb 16, 2010 5:21 pm

No, although I probably should.

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Post by stratton » Tue Feb 16, 2010 6:58 pm

I tracked expenses for two or three months several years ago. I know what I spend my money on so I haven't bothered since then.

Paul

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Post by mickeyd » Tue Feb 16, 2010 7:33 pm

I have kept track of expenses for Jan, Apr, Jul, and Oct for a number of years on Excel. I compare the same month with what I spent in previous years and If I want to estimate an annual expense I just add up the 4 numbers for the year and multiply by three.

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Post by Allan » Tue Feb 16, 2010 7:42 pm

I once tracked my expenses for a several month period, it was a real eye opener. I don't think we realize how much we spend on certain items. I would recommend everyone doing it as some point in their life.

Allan

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Post by MWCA » Tue Feb 16, 2010 8:58 pm

Allan wrote:I once tracked my expenses for a several month period, it was a real eye opener. I don't think we realize how much we spend on certain items. I would recommend everyone doing it as some point in their life.

Allan
We improved our grocery/cleaning supplies/grooming shopping once we kept track.
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Post by White Coat Investor » Tue Feb 16, 2010 9:12 pm

One benefit of putting all your spending on a single credit card is you can do this very easily. In fact, once a month we sit down and figure out where we spent our money. We used to call it a budget, but we don't really "budget" per say, since we spend much less than we make. We just like to see where our money is going. It can be a bit time intensive, although we have the whole process down to about an hour a month, but it does ensure we never have a major financial issue and makes sure we're on the same page about finances once a month. At this point in our marriage we've done this drill well over 100 times, so there are few surprises. We probably don't need to do it anymore, but the habit is there. Just as skinny people don't need to run, so wealthy people don't need to budget. But those skinny people didn't get skinny by sitting around on the couch eating bon-bons. And people don't get and stay wealthy by not knowing where their money is going.
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Post by conundrum » Tue Feb 16, 2010 9:58 pm

EmergDoc

We as well are blessed that we spend much less then we make. The biggest advantage for us was when we were planning our retirement we could work backwards from our spending to what our portfolio value had to be (for us with 3% withdrawal rate we could easily calculate our spending/ .03 = required portfolio value). We did this yearly until our spending could be entirely supported with a 3% or less withdrawal rate. I have actually continued to work as I enjoy my job. Any additional investment and portfolio growth increases the amount we can spend in the future.

Always appreciate your posts (and especially appreciate that I am no longer called by your esteemed colleagues :wink: )

Drum

communipaw
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Post by communipaw » Tue Feb 16, 2010 10:19 pm

Following the recommendations in several retirement planning classes I went to, I tracked my expenditures for the 2 years preceding my retirement using Quicken [and also tried to use a credit card for everything possible so at the end of the year I would have a cross check tool from the credit card's annual report].

It worked out well and I could see that my annal outlays were lower than what my pension was going to be [my "losses" by retiring was that I was no longer continuing saving for retirement.]

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