Fall is officially here and although I adore the season, I can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed by the fact that another year is slipping by right before my eyes.
I had many goals set, and even though I did achieve more than what I imagined in certain areas of my life, I fell short in others. My financial goals being one of those. I had high expectations (on myself) about putting some money aside for a few projects I had in mind, and I failed in the attempt. Mostly because I concentrated all my efforts on how to up my income but failed to track the expenses.
I took a look at my bank statements and money map, and noticed that this year I have spent very little money on leisure and clothing (did you hear my big sigh of relief?). That is big, friends!. But still, I can’t seem to stay within my budget. I go over most of the time (ugh!) and it all comes down to one single statement: setting my priorities and tracking my expenses.
Ok, you knew that. This is not a financial breakthrough, but I can not stress this enough to myself. And if you are in the same boat and need some help on how to track your finances, I have some useful tips and prepared a free printable, too.
For the month of October, I have joined a challenge created by the talented Ruth Soukup from Living Well Spending Less. With the name: 31 Days of Living Well Spending Zero, you can guess what I will be up to for the next 31 days. The creation of these printables will definitely help me stay on track!
What Is The Best Tool To Track Finances?
Good question. Depending on your type of income(s) and on the amount and type of expenses your household has, some tools are going to be great, some others not so much.
A few years back, QuickBooks™ was my go-to tool to manage our finances. The software allowed us to keep track of the finances of our then big (before the crash of 2008) company. We took payments out of the company and paid house bills. It was easy-peasy.
Today, we have different sources of income (and expenses) and since I can not mix blogging income, with Etsy income, with stairs building income, QuickBooks™ is not an option anymore. At least not for all three businesses combined.
So, what do I do?
My Favorite Finance Manager App
I am the (self-proclaimed) app queen. If you want to know if an app is good or not, ask me first, I’ve probably used it before. That’s why I have always zero storage.
To manage my finances, I use Mint Bills. It’s free to download and free to use. With Mint you can connect all your bank accounts, so you can control your income, and connect all your bills so you can control your expenses. The app is preloaded with several financial institutions names, you just have to connect to it by adding your online account credentials. Same applies to bills such as electric, gas, water, phone, cable, insurance, mortgage, loans, etc.
Although you can send payments through the app, I still choose to pay my bills directly on the biller’s site and in a few cases I still mail out checks. But once that payment is made and posted, your app refreshes and shows the account’s updated information. Mint Bills really is a great tool to track your finances, especially in those moments when you go: ‘Shoot! Did I pay that bill?’. You can look it up on your phone quickly, with just a few swipes.
The Importance of Tracking Expenses
So, you might be wondering why bother tracking finances on paper if the Mint app can do it all for you.
Not really. Mint is only tracking your fixed expenses. Most of us, go over budget because we do not track the variable expenses. Those are the expenses that you have to watch, the expenses that the Mint app is not tracking, your bank is. And your bank will only track it if you are using your debit/credit card. If you use cash, that’s even harder to track!
Let’s take a look at those variable expenses:
- Food – includes grocery shopping, dining out or take out, your occasional (or daily?) cup of coffee at Starbucks, those ‘quick runs’ to the grocery or convenience store, etc.
- Personal care, clothing and housekeeping– clothing, shoes, toiletries, diapers, detergents, paper towels, etc.
- Auto & Gas – and other car expenses. Unexpected break downs, oil change, etc. Gas spending will depend on your commute within a given period.
- Giving – birthday parties, Christmas, school or church donations, occasional charity. This one varies a lot and quickly adds up!
- Medical – prescriptions, OTC medications, co-pays, medical bills not covered by health insurance, etc.
- Entertainment – hobbies, movie rentals, movie outings, parks admissions, etc.
- Miscellaneous – anything that does not fall in any of the above mentioned categories. Impulsive buys perhaps?
The list could go on and on. All those things mentioned above are hard to budget. You can have a ballpark figure of let’s say $800 or $1,000 a month but you will never know unless you track it. And once you track it for a couple of months, you will not only be able to see where your money is going, but you can prepare an honest and realistic budget.
That’s when my printable comes in.
Free Printable Finances Tracker
The printable I have prepared consists of 3 pages:
- Page 1 – Monthly Fixed Payments Tracker
- Page 2 – Automatic Payments Schedule
- Page 3 – Monthly Variable Expenses Tracker
Page 1 – Monthly Fixed Payments Tracker
This is a static page that you’re going to print and prepare only once. Write down your monthly fixed expenses and their due dates. I recommend checking it daily to avoid missing payments and late fees. Adjust as necessary once or twice per year.
Description of the printable:
- Bill: write one fixed expense per row. Write down yours in the order that works best for you. For easy and quick reference, I start with the bills due on the first day of the month and then work my way down.
- Amount: amount that has to be paid. If the bill varies by month (e.g.: the electric bill) I use the average amount.
- Type: type of payment used. This is good for quick reference as to what to do next.
- Day: columns 4 – 34. Mark the day of the month when the bill is due or should be paid.
This page will have a total amount of $X equivalent to the total money that has to be spent just to cover fixed monthly payments.
Page 2 – Automatic Payments Schedule
I wanted to dedicate a separate page for automatic payments. I have many payments in automatic and, although is nice to set and forget, the forget part is not fun. Those payments literally slip my mind and sometimes they catch me by surprise, especially the bank’s monthly fees. This printable definitely helps!
This is another static page and you can print it and prepare it once or twice a year – it all depends on how often and for how long you need to make those payments.
- Occurrence: write the frequency. i.e.: if payment is made weekly, monthly, bimonthly, quarterly or yearly.
- Date: write the day of the month or date when the payment posts.
- Bill: write the name of the payment
- Amount: write the amount of money deducted from the account.
- Account: write the bank account or credit card where the payment is deducted from.
- Website: write the biller’s web address, for quick reference in case you need to make changes to the payment account.
- Username & Password: write login information to the biller’s account.
Page 3 – Monthly Variable Expenses Tracker
This is the star of the show, the reason why I came up with this printables and post.
After a couple of months, this tracker is going to help you prepare a realistic budget. It will also help you watch where the rest of your money is going after your fixed payments are done. You will print it and prepare it monthly.
- Day: 31 rows, one for each day of the month.
- Type of Expenses (7) columns: one for each of the variable expenses categories I mentioned above.
- Total Down: Column for total per day.
- Total Across: Row for total per category.
Download Now Your Free Printable and Spreadsheet
Luckily, we live on an era where technology is literally at our fingertips and we can deposit checks, transfer money and pay our bills at the touch of a button and all transactions are immediately and automatically recorded and saved. But, no matter how ‘automated’ we’ve become, is always good to have on hand a financial tracker to help us, do just that: stay on track.
You can download both files for free by clicking on the links below. As always, please abide to my TOU.
If you can’t download now, I always suggest to pin now the image below and come back later!
How do you track your finances?