6 Ways to Track Your Monthly Expenses (And Stick to Your Budget)
There’s a lot to consider when you decide to choose an expense manager. Do you want to manually track your expenses or do you want to connect your bank account to an online account? Do you prefer to keep the info entirely offline? Are you looking for an app that takes all that data and turns it into a visual chart? No matter what your needs, there’s a system out there for you.
1. Track Recurring Payments: Clarity Money
Clarity Money takes a very simple approach to tracking expenses.
When you first connect your bank account to the app, your dashboard will instantly be full of useful information. You can view a list of your transactions and view your spending trends in the current and previous month or week, broken down by category.
One of Clarity Money’s best features is the ability to see how much you’ve spent this year on specific subscription services, restaurants, and more. (This appears to be informed by the services or shops/restaurants you frequently spend on):
When you first sign up for Clarity Money, you’ll need to spend some time re-categorizing your expenses, and marking recurring expenses as such. This will allow you to get far more out of the app.
And as you use Clarity Money, the app will identify recurring subscriptions and payments you may want to cancel.
2. Recurring Payment Calendar: Dollar Bird
Dollar Bird differentiates itself from other services listed here by relying on an online calendar interface for tracking your expenses. It’s also one of the options where you have to manually enter your transactions. As you add transactions, you can categorize them and add recurring payments.
You’ll begin by entering your balance, and then you can add expenses, accompanied by a label. Dollar Bird will use this label to auto-categorize expenses, but you should review categories to make sure the app got them right. You can also create custom categories.
Dollar Bird is pretty barebones. But the calendar view is useful for gaining a sense of understanding of balance at any given time. In addition to the calendar view, you can also see your spending trends over any given period of time.
Other similarly simple apps include Fudget (which lists your transactions rather than presenting them on a calendar),
3. Track Online Shopping: Paypal, Amazon
If much of your online shopping happens on Amazon, you can easily find out how much you’re spending on the shopping website for any given period. Just go to your Amazon Order History Reports page and fill in the details for the date range you’re interested in.
For the report type, select Items if you want specific details on each item you’ve purchased. If you’re only interested in an overview, you could select Orders & Shipments to see the data broken down by orders. (This means you won’t see what specific items were included in each order.)
Once the Excel spreadsheet is ready, you can download it to your computer. You’ll find a lot of unnecessary information you can delete. Just keep order date, title, category, and item total. (The total includes tax and other charges so you get a sense of exactly how much you spent on any given time.)
You can scroll down to the end of the spreadsheet and under item total, use Excel’s Auto Sum feature to quickly calculate how much you spent on Amazon in that time period.
Keeping the category listed will also allow you to filter your spreadsheet and see how much you’re spending on any given category of items. On the Data tab click the Filter button to toggle the feature on. (You may have to fix or add some categories first.)
If you tend to make most of your online payments using Paypal, you can track your online expenses and subscriptions by going to the Activity tab and clicking Statements. Select Custom Statements, and under Transaction Type, select Completed Transactions and enter the time period you’re interested in, and Paypal will generate a CSV file of your expenses.
Where else do you do your online shopping? Think about where you spend most of your money online and see if they offer a way to track your order history.
4. Keep It in the Bank: Online Bank Account
Most major banks offer online budgeting tools, so if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of connecting your banking accounts to a third party, you probably have access to expense tracking tools from your bank.
My bank allows me to view expenditures from my checking account, savings account, and credit card. I can choose which accounts to view in my overview as a pie chart broken down by category. And of course, I can see my expenses listed as individual transactions.
Many online banking tools will automatically categorize expenses, but it’s not always 100 percent accurate, but reviewing and fixing them should resolve future miscategorizations.
If you have multiple accounts across different banks, chances are you can add all accounts to the online banking tool that offers the best features and use that as a central tool for tracking your expenses.
5. Offline Tracking: Spreadsheet
If you’re completely against the idea of using online tools for your expenses, you could use a spreadsheet instead. Excel has a template for every occasion and expense tracking and budgeting are no exception.
Alternatively, you can also look for Google Sheet Templates and save the file to your computer. Google Templates include a monthly and annual budget tracker with space for you to track your expenses in a pretty detailed fashion.
The spreadsheets are prepopulated with formulas that will take the daily information you input:
And create an overview to give you a better grasp on your spending:
Smartsheet also has a variety of spreadsheet budget templates that you can open in Google Sheets. If you want to log expenses, you can modify the Expense Budget Report template or if you want to include a budget planner in your spreadsheet, you can opt for the Simple Budget Template.
For a completely personalized budget and expense tracker, you could just create an expense tracker from scratch using Excel .
There are plenty of budget planning apps but two, in particular, are consistently recommended: Mint and YNAB. These popular budgeting apps connect directly to your bank account, automatically tracking your spending habits.
While not free, YNAB is a popular budgeting tool that is geared towards helping you create a budget and showing you how to save money. Compared to Mint, YNAB is described as a budgeting system rather than just a budget app.
They differ in a few very specific ways:
- Mint is free, while YNAB is $6.99/month after a 34-day free trial.
- When you first connect your bank accounts, past transactions will not be included in YNAB, whereas Mint will pull in the past 90 days worth of transactions. This means you won’t be able to dive right into YNAB’s spending tracker.
- Mint also offers a search functionality that is useful when looking back on your expenses.
Both platforms make it easy to review your spending habits.
With Mint, you can see a list of your expenses under the Transactions tab and see an overall view of your spending habits under the Trends tab.
YNAB’s Spending Reports also show how you spend on each category, your spending trends, and more:
If your main concern is expense tracking, Mint is likely to best serve your purposes. If you really need a robust budget tool with a comprehensive dashboard, YNAB might be more your speed.
YNAB and Mint are undoubtedly popular. But, other online budgeting tools like Personal Capital and Mvelopes with expense tracking baked in are also worth considering.
If you’re looking for even more options, there’s no shortage of apps geared toward easy expense tracking . You can even think outside the box. Trello that aren’t meant for tracking expenses, but can serve your purpose if you hate managing finances .