Have you ever taken a nutrition class? Do you remember the assignment you got to write down everything you eat?


The teacher gave assignment to write down everything I eat. I have a box of ding-dongs at home. Do I eat them and then start tracking or throw them out?

The Reason for the Assignment

There are a couple of reasons that tracking helps people make progress towards change.

  1. If I have to write it, I’m going to learn what I am actually doing.
  2. If I have to write it, I might make a different (even a better) choice.

After just a few sessions as a financial counselor I learned that people are bad at estimating. When people guess, the numbers will always be flawed in one direction or another. It’s like the old saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” If you aren’t sure where to cut, your results aren’t going to add up.

The method of tracking isn’t just for nutrition. It is also a great technique for getting your budget going in the right direction.

Clues that You Would Benefit from Tracking

  • Your budget is a “wing-it” method
  • Your budget never seems to work out
  • You know you’re a spender
  • The money runs out before the month

Blowing a tire is expensive and can throw off your spending plan. But an even more common and easier way to throw it off is by not keeping track of the little expenses. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? A quick stop for a drink. The vending machine. Popcorn with the movie. Five bucks to this kid, five bucks to another. A few extra things in the cart at the store. It adds right up.

Create Awareness

Tracking your expenses is going to give you a clear picture of where you money is going. Often times, we feel like there is nothing to show for all the hours we work. Without an operating and effective money management system, it’s hard to see or feel like you’re ever getting ahead. When you track your expenses you’ll learn how to stop wasting your money by identifying your “catastrophe” categories. We’ve all got ’em. And, I bet we all can say which category it is, the one we always struggle controlling.

Recently, a family member added up all of her restaurant expenses from an entire year. This was just the food from restaurants, not the grocery store. She was surprised, and disappointed, to find that she could have paid off her car with the amount of money she spent eating out.

Some people have hobbies that take a big chunk of their paycheck. Others, have addictions to shopping/tobacco/alcohol. You might know where your money is going but do you know how much of it is going there?

Reality might sting but working with honest numbers is going to get you further than any wing-it method you try. Knowledge is power. Even if the numbers aren’t where you want them, knowing what you’re dealing with is going to create a building block to work from, which relieves the stress you carry when you ignore your actual financial situation. Creating the financial awareness of where your money is going will help you make sure your spending matches your priorities. Make your actions work for you, rather than against you.

If you’re married or have kids, tracking is a great way to look at the facts and work together for better results. Set a goal together. When you create a plan with all of the people involved and everyone “buys” in, the plan in more likely to succeed. This is also a great method for teaching your kids about money and budgeting.

How To Track Your Expenses

  1. Commit to 30-days of tracking every penny in, every penny out.
  2. Choose a spending method. Know where the money is and how it’s getting out – cash, automatic payments, bill-pay, etc.
  3. Select a tracking method. Paper and pencil, Excel spreadsheet, print online checking history, receipts in an envelope, etc.
  4. Write everything. I mean everything. No exceptions. “But, I won’t ever have to buy snow tires again.” But, you bought them this time. There’s a method for the madness. Write it down.
  5. Weekly or at the end of the money, separate all of your expenses into categories.
  6. Identify your “catastrophe” category.
  7. Set goals.
  8. Create a spending plan and determine how you’re going to make it happen.
  9. Stick with the plan for a month.
  10. Evaluate and make changes to your plan, as needed.

PAYMASTER is a money management system with a unique approach to help you make the most of your paycheck. Proving successful for over 30 years, PAYMASTER will become a source of security and confidence and you will become addicted to its simplicity and success!  PAYMASTER was originally published in 1983 by Larry Hansen. An updated version will be available from Fruitland Home Spring 2017.

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