Friday, October 14, 2011

Financial Friday: Tracking Spending

Back in August at the Healthy Living Summit, I attended a session on budgeting for a healthy lifestyle. It's no secret that gym memberships, race entry fees, workout gear and healthy food can all be pricey. The session offered some interesting tips on ways to make room for a healthy lifestyle in your budget.

Because I grew up with a mom who was an accountant, I have always been a little OCD about money. I always knew budgeting was important, but I never knew how to set one up. So instead I would just stress out, put every penny into savings, and panic when I had to pay for something big like a car repair.

car repair
How I feel about car repairs

Since that's not really the best way to handle your finances, in the last few years, I have taught myself a ton about managing money effectively, mainly so I can afford to run races, buy insane amounts of Under Armour and still be able to pay my bills.

running jacket
The new UA running jacket I bought myself...because I could

After the HLS session, I was chatting with some friends about the ways we all budget (or don't budget) for different things, and they asked me to share some of the things I've learned on the blog.

I'm no expert, but I've read and experimented with a lot, and I've found a few things that work for me.

So I decided to start this series to share some of the things I've learned. If you have questions, or topics you'd specifically like me to cover, please let me know by shooting me an email or leaving it in the comments.

Tracking Your Spending:

Since this post is already getting a big lengthy, I'm going to share the one thing that seriously changed my life when it comes to managing money: tracking my spending.

Just like people on a diet track what they eat, tracking every dollar you spend will give you a good idea of where your money is going. It might sound tedious, but I promise it is worth it and there are tools that make it easier.

Personally I keep a spreadsheet, where I track things like bills and rent, groceries, gas, and other "fun" expenses.

I also use Mint.com, which you link to your bank and credit card accounts. Mint tracks your transactions and breaks them into categories so you can see how much you spend on things like fast food, groceries, etc.

Mint screen grab

LearnVest just released a similar money-tracking tool, which, like Mint links to your accounts. I haven't tried it, but it's received some great reviews.

learnvest screen grab

The important thing is that you find a tracking system that works for you. Mint and LearnVest make it easy because they automate everything, but I personally prefer the spreadsheet because it's more hands on and forces me to pay closer attention to where my money is going.

Homework:

Your homework for this weekend is to pick a money-tracking system that works for you and get it set up. Whether that means creating a Mint account or building a spreadsheet, take a few minutes to get your system in place this weekend. Then begin tracking what you spend.

Do you already have a tracking system in place? If so what do you use?

Questions or ideas about what you'd like to see in upcoming Financial Friday posts? Just let me know!

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