Some people find it difficult to dig themselves out of old habits, particularly when it comes to not keeping within their budgets so they can save money. With any habit or lifestyle change it helps to have an easy monitoring system so you can track your progress regularly. When you first begin, monitoring for weight loss is done daily, for budgets it is best to be done daily & weekly until you have a rhythm then you can go monthly.
I have a spreadsheet I look at daily where I track how much I spent that day, then it totals for the week and month. Before you start tracking you need goals and limits you are trying to achieve. To figure out what goals and limits you should have to track you need to look at your past “actuals”, which is essentially what you’ve actually spent in the past few months. You can go back, 3, 6, or 12 months and take an average based on category; categories being groceries, gas, utilities, entertainment, etc. You do this by downloading all your statements from your checking, credit cards and anything else expenses would come out of or go on. After you have all your statements on Excel (often downloaded as *.csv files), separate them by month and combine them in a spreadsheet, all you need is the transaction date, description and the amount. In the next column assign a category such as income, gas, groceries, restaurant etc. Once that is all filled in for each category you can do one of two things based on your Excel expertise. You can filter by month, then by category and sum the amount for that category, saving that number to the side. Or, you can create a pivot table, by month, category and then amount (recommended). With this information you can average by month what you spend on each category. Then create a budget or a standard from which to compare your actuals with every month. If you find that you are spending more than you are making, adjust your budget accordingly but realistically. Typical areas easy to cut are restaurants, groceries, entertainment and clothes. Once you have you plan in place, start a spreadsheet in a place where you will see it everyday, on your cell, your laptop, or at work. Put at the top the categories you need to monitor (not utilities or non-variable expenses like rent, just variable non-essential spending) then list every day what you spend in each appropriate category. Sum by day and by week.
Once you start doing this you can catch yourself at an earlier period of time when you are overspending in a certain category such as going out to eat or clothes. Then you know by let’s say Wednesday that you need to stop going out to eat because you’ve reached your limit for that week on restaurant expenses. At this time I find that I usually get more creative or I start appreciating more of what I already have and own. Particularly what it comes to groceries you can get creative in the kitchen and start mixing and matching what you already have at home. This also helps you spend more time with what you’ve already bought if you’re one of those people who buys things because they interest you at the time but don’t really use them or appreciate them after you’ve brought them home. At the end of the month you will feel much better about how you’re doing financially, your credit card bills will not be much of a surprise and you’ll feel more in control of your expenses.
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