5 easy ways to track your budget

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

Forbes magazine made a splash in 2016 when it reported that 63 percent of Americans have less than $500 in savings. If you find you're living paycheck-to-paycheck, you're clearly not the only one.

“These statistics might reflect a shortage of earnings to some extent, but they also may indicate that we’re just not tracking where our money goes. Good news is, finding out doesn’t have to be difficult. A few tips and simple practices can help you keep track of your money and tidy up your finances.”

1. Find Out What You’re Spending on Little Things 

Those small daily expenses aren't always factored into the budget: coffee on the road or lunch out with coworkers. It's easy to get a handle on this “extra” spending by saving your receipts and storing them in a designated location at the end of the day. This doesn’t mean keeping a paper trail — with the Quicken mobile app, you can take a snap of your receipts and upload the photos using your phone or tablet.

That way, you’ll have them all in one place to refer back to at your convenience. Or, make it a point to consistently use your debit card for these purchases so the bank will effectively keep a transaction record for you. The important thing is to identify the amounts you're spending that are not accounted for anywhere else in your budget. You might be surprised how quickly they add up.

2. Create an Accurate Budget

The next step is to allocate a place in your budget for that additional spending. Then determine where the rest of your income is going: rent or mortgage, utilities, groceries, car payments and insurance premiums — all those must-pay expenses. Add everything up, including what you’ve earmarked for those “extras” (take a peek at your saved receipts for an accurate estimation).

The result should give you a pretty good idea of where all of your money goes each month and why you may be coming up short if the total is more than you earn. 

3. Set Savings Goals

Is there a category just for savings in your budget? Whether you’re trying to put together a retirement cushion or stash six months’ living expenses in case of an emergency, it's important to accumulate some savings. Set a goal, and take satisfaction as you move closer and closer toward it.

Don’t throw money toward savings only when you think you can afford to — it's difficult to keep track of how much you’re saving that way, particularly if you also make withdrawals from your savings account. Instead, specify a percentage of your income to contribute to long-term goals and put money toward them at a regularly scheduled time each month. 

4. Keep Up-to-Date

Life isn’t stagnant. Even if you determined where your money went in August, the picture may have shifted come November. Keeping track of your money should be an ongoing event as circumstances change. Review your spending and your budget periodically to reveal trends you may not otherwise notice. Of course, you'll have one-time expenses in some months that won’t regularly reappear, like emergency car repairs.

You can use savings to cover these unexpected expenses, or — better yet — set up a special category in your budget for them. At the end of the month, shift that money to savings if you get lucky and don't have to spend it.  

5. Let Quicken Do the Work for You

Even if you’ve got a handle on your finances, it never hurts to have some help tracking the odds and ends. At the end of a designated period, Quicken desktop software provides tools that tell you exactly where your money went, as well as if your savings, spending and monthly bills are on track. The software will alert you if you’ve spent more money than you’ve allotted for little things, and also how much you have left dedicated to miscellaneous spending. It will even create your budget for you so you don’t have to. 

If you’re looking for a way to track your cash and control excess spending, keep these tricks in your back pocket — or inside the smartphone you put there.

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