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Tracking Non-Cash Expenses

Last Revised: 11/5/09


Goals for You to Achieve
Tracking Cash Expenses

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Tracking Non-Cash Expenses

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Future Goals: coming soon
How to Create a Menu Plan
How to Create a Spending Plan
Starting & Using a Grocery Pricebook
Analyzing Your Credit Card Debt
Repaying Credit Card Debt
When Your Credit Card Rate Goes Up
Categorizing Your Expenses
Anticipating Seasonal and Unexpected Expenses
Couponing
Determing What Auto Insurance Coverages You Need
Collecting Quotes on Your Auto Insurance
Determining What Home Insurance Coverages You Need
Collecting Home Insurance Quotes
Do You Need Long Term Care Insurance
Grocery Shopping for Singles
How to Freeze Your Credit Rating
Paying for Emergencies
Organizing Bill Payment
How to Haggle
DIY Car Care
What to Do After Bankruptcy
What Teens Need to Know About Money
"Paying Yourself First" Saving Method
Basics of 401k Plans
Basic Financial Math: interest rates, etc.
Buying Life Insurance
Identity Theft Prevention
Identity Theft Correction
How to Balance a Checkbook




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A Testimonial

I have been tracking daily expenses now for about eight months and find it extremely helpful in becoming conscious of exactly where my money is going.

Before then, I just had a vague idea and would sometimes wonder where my money was disappearing to!

What I have found helpful is carrying around a little pocket notebook that I keep in my handbag to record cash expenses (sometimes I write amounts and what they were for, sometimes I just tuck the receipts into the notebook). At the end of the day, it takes me less than a few minutes to type this information into my computer. At the end of the month, I total the cash amounts spent by category, as well as going through my bank account online to record any direct debit expenses (like mortgage, insurance, internet bill etcetera).

The trick for me was making it a habit. I had tried to track expenses previously but just found it tedious and would give up after a week or so. But now because I do it at the same time every day (usually just before I go to bed), I have stuck to it. Plus it has made a real difference to know where my money is going. I try to make improvements every month and when I study the end of month result, I ask myself, "Is this really where I want my money to be going? Am I getting good value for my money?" Tracking expenses (and income for that matter) makes me feel more in control of my finances and that has to be a good thing!

Just wanted to say also thanks heaps for your daily dose of FI inspiration. I find it so helpful and encouraging to receive your emails.

Thanks again,
Lynette

editor's note: please print this page. You'll want to have it handy as you take regular, small steps towards achieving your goal.

What we're trying to do.

Find out how much you spend each month on non-cash expenses.

Why we're trying to do it.

It's easy to spend money in the internet economy. There are all kinds of ways to complete a transaction. Many just require you to click a mouse or wave a plastic card near a reader. In fact, many of them really don't feel like spending at all.

There are many ways to pay for something today. You can use:

  • a credit card
  • a debit card
  • an online account (i.e. Paypal)
  • online banking
  • a check

Without knowing how much we're spending, it's impossible to avoid financial hardships. Understanding where our money goes is the first step to taking control of our finances.

How we plan on doing it.

We're going to list all of our purchases where we don't use cash on a 'Non-Cash Spending Sheet' or other tracking device for one month.

That record can be on a simple sheet of paper, the SpendTracker(r) device, or Mint.com.

editor's note: You can investigate these systems by clicking on the links below:

If you should happen to leave your sheet or device at home, make a note and add the entry when you get home. Don't forget anything. If you're spending money and not using cash, it should go on your non-cash spending sheet. Make an effort to be as complete as possible. Even items costing less than $1.

For each expense we're going to track: date spent - type of payment - amount - store - item - category of expense. You can create your own or download and print the free pdf that we've prepared. You'll find our version here. Just print out the file.

Don't worry too much about your entries. The main thing is that you know what they mean. Use whatever abbreviations make sense to you. The purpose is to help you know what's going on. It's not an IRS form (thank goodness!).

What will it take to successfully accomplish our goal?

one of the following:
- a 'Cash Spending Sheet'
- a SpendTracker(r) tracking device
- Mint.com online software
- Determination to list non-cash expenses every day for one month
- Ability to categorize expenses at the end of the month

Daily Goal

Days 1 through 10
(please fill in calendar dates here) _____________________________
- track your cash expenses as they happen on your selected tracking device (note paper, SpendTracker, Mint.com)

Day 10
(calendar date) _____________________________
- Reward yourself for achieving your goal for the first 10 days Days 11 through 20 - track your cash expenses as they happen on your selected tracking device

Day 20
(calendar date) _____________________________
- Reward yourself for achieving your goal for days 11 through 20

Days 21 through 30
(calendar dates) _____________________________
- track your cash expenses as they happen on your selected tracking device

Day 30
(calendar date) _____________________________
- Determine where the money is going. Just the daily listing will give you an idea of where your cash is going. But now we want to get a fuller picture. So after 30 days categorize the expenses. Use a few big categories (i.e. home, auto/transportation, food, entertainment, etc). You may need a special category. The purpose of this step is understand where the money is going. So use categories that will make that easy.

Day 31
(calendar date) _____________________________
- Determine a daily cash 'allowance'. If you're like most people, you don't want to be keeping track of every little cash expense forever. And, you probably shouldn't have to. The past month should give you a pretty good idea of how much cash you spend each day. Just divide the total spent by the total number of days. If you feel that your spending is just about right use that as your daily allowance. But, if you feel that you could save a little here and there, aim for a daily target slightly lower than the average.

Day 32
(calendar date) _____________________________
- Reward yourself for finding out where your cash is going and creating a plan to control it. Not something large, but enough to help draw you to achieving your goal.

Congratulations! You've achieved your goal!

Visual Aids

Some people find it helpful to have visual reminders around. Here are some ideas that might be helpful (but if you come up with something different, don't hesitate to use it):
- Post-Its(r) any place where you'll see them daily
- a visual reminder where you spend money (i.e. on your credit card, computer monitor or TV)

Other considerations

Someone may ask what you're doing. You may choose to tell them that you're taking control of your financial life. You might even want to challenge them to take control of their own financial life and send them a copy of this page.

Other questions

Q. Do I need to keep track of my expenses forever?
A. No, not really. As long as your expenses each month are within your targeted amount there's no need to know the details. But, if your spending goes beyond your target, you'll want to begin keeping track again to see where the extra money is going.

Q. How do I use the info I gather during the month?
A. You'll use it as a tool to help you analyze any problems with your spending. As long as your expenses are less than your income and allow for some savings you don't need to spend much time analyzing the data.

Q. What if I can't afford to spend as much cash as I do?
A. Then your tracking will be very important. You can quickly see where your money is going. And, the best place to find savings is where you have expenses. So look for categories where your expenses are too high. (for more on making a budget) Once you've identified the problem category look at the individual expenses in that category to see what can be reduced.

Send us your feedback.

We want to know what worked and didn't work for you. Your comments are the basis for improvements to this and all of our lessons.

Tell others how to achieve this goal. Ask them to be an accountability partner. We're more likely to achieve any goal if we have someone who knows of that goal. Someone who has promised to ask us periodically how we're doing. Just knowing that the question is coming is enough to help motivate us on some days. Finding that person is a real plus.

Better still, find someone who wants to achieve the same goal. Work together and hold each other accountable.

Join FI if you're not already a member.

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You are currently achieving this goal:

Tracking non-cash expenses

The steps are:
1. Determine what method you'll use to track non-cash expenses
2. List all non-cash expenses for 10 days
3. Reward yourself for successfully completing the first 10 days
4. List all non-cash expenses for 10 more days
5. Reward yourself for successfully completing the 2nd 10 days
6. List all non-cash expenses for 10 more days
7. Put all expenses into categories & total those categories
8. Compare total expenses to total income
9. If expenses are bigger than your income, evaluate whether any of those categories seem excessive. (see budget work sheet) If so, plan for corrective action
10. Reward yourself for successfully accomplishing your goal of learning where your money is going (well done!)

"The Dollar Stretcher" and Dollar Stretcher, Inc. does not assume responsibility for advice given.  All advice should be weighed against your own abilities and circumstances and applied accordingly.  It is up to the reader to determine if advice is safe and suitable for his/her own situation.


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