Tracking Expenses Isn’t Easy

On my last net worth update, I declared that I would be tracking all of my expenses for the month of August.

Let me tell you right now – this is not easy. I almost want to throw in the towel already.

You see, every pay check, I withdraw a set amount of cash for “whatever I want”. Lunches that I bring back to my desk to eat, dinners with the BF after work, and any other little purchases here and there. Whenever I run out of cash, the idea is to stop spending until the next pay period. Simple, right?

However, I find myself spending much more than my allotted cash for the month. Once I run out of cash, and I see my credit card sitting in my  wallet, I let myself swipe a few times until my next pay day.

No wonder the battle with my credit card debt just never seems to end.

Even as I started blogging, I’ve always avoided really tracking expenses because 1) it’s time-consuming, and 2) I was really scared of what I would find. In general, as long as I was saving and as long as I’m making progress on some of my debt, I felt like I was already ahead of the pack. But that simply isn’t true. I never really broke down all the numbers, never truly examined where each dollar is really going. Yes, I’m saving and yes, I’m getting rid of debt – but every month I still feel like I’m drowning.

Last month, J. Money over at Budgets Are Sexy asked a question I always avoided asking myself: Do You Have Money Left Over Each Month? I don’t really know the exact numbers yet, but I know that at the end of each month I’m holding my breath until my next paycheck. I know I have an emergency fund in place in case anything goes wrong, but if my spending habits don’t change, then how long will that emergency fund last me? Not too long, I’m afraid.

So, this is why I’m going to commit to tracking expenses for August – so I can see if I have any money left over to throw at my goals or even if I’m in the red for the month. I’m scared to see what I’ll find, but I know that I can only get better once I know the full picture.

You can’t get better unless you know all the problems, right?

Do you think tracking expenses every month is important? Has it helped you?



  1. Tre September 1, 2014

    It is a little frightening when you see where your money is actually going!
    Tre recently posted…Modest Money Top Finance BlogsMy Profile

    • Lisa E. September 2, 2014

      Hehe, isn’t it??

  2. I agree, I’ve just started tracking this month, and frankly It’s a hassle.

    However I’m persevering as I can see the benefit, as before I was just guessing what I was spending money on – it will be great to really know and be able to analyse it.
    Louise @ Good Financial Choices recently posted…Net Worth 0 – August 2014My Profile

    • Lisa E. September 2, 2014

      It really is a hassle! I’m just try to push through it.

  3. Leslie Beslie August 29, 2014

    Tracking your expenses shouldn’t be time consuming. If you’re using a spreadsheet, make sure it’s accessible on Google Drive or Dropbox so you can update it anywhere. Or write your expenses down in a notebook. If you jot down what you spend immediately after you do it, there shouldn’t be any problems. This will take you, literally, about 30 seconds. And you’ll never forget to write down an expense.
    Leslie Beslie recently posted…What To Do When Parents Ask for MoneyMy Profile

    • Lisa E. August 29, 2014

      Hmm, I guess so. Sometimes I feel like I’m in such a rush that I have to wait until later to track. But maybe once I’m in the habit of tracking my expenses immediately, it shouldn’t be too hard.

  4. save. spend. splurge. August 26, 2014

    Without tracking my expenses (I track EVERYTHING), I can’t really know what I overspend on Wardrobe each month 😉

    No seriously though, you should just grab receipts for everything and then enter the expenses at the end of a day into a sheet. Takes 2 minutes.
    save. spend. splurge. recently posted…Is a mortgage a form of savings?My Profile

    • Lisa E. August 26, 2014

      LOL I know what you mean, girl. I guess the act of tracking everything just seems more daunting that it really is.

  5. Travis @Debtchronicles August 25, 2014

    There’s a saying that I love – although it usually is used in the context of fitness, I think it applies here too – “I didn’t say it was going to be easy. I said it was going to be WORTH IT.” 🙂
    Travis @Debtchronicles recently posted…Club Stores are NOT Always CheaperMy Profile

    • Lisa E. August 25, 2014

      Ahh, so so true, Travis!!!

  6. Daniel August 23, 2014

    I have a bit easier time tracking expenses since I don’t really carry cash. I usually pay for everything with a credit card that has a low limit, so at every pay period I go through and pay off the credit card bill. I don’t know if that’s the smartest thing to do financially, but it helps curb large expenses since I have to actually plan to free up space on my credit card.

    • Lisa E. August 25, 2014

      That’s a great strategy, especially because it’s easier to track expenses with your credit card statement. Cash makes for a harder time, since you’d have to keep receipts and things like that.

  7. Athena August 22, 2014

    I “try” to track expenses and was doing really good earlier this year and then my budget got the best of me. I am thinking that I need to start again. I usually just pay all my bills and use whatever I have left after putting money away in my savings but that’s not working out so hot.

    • Lisa E. August 23, 2014

      It’s a tough habit to maintain – so time-consuming!

  8. Naomi August 22, 2014

    You hit it right on the head with this post! Up until last month I was letting give me my overall financial picture until this month I decided to do it for myself! It totally is a time consuming task even though I’m using a spreadsheet. I’m taking it a step further by breaking out items in categories even if they were bought in the same store (think groceries, gift cards for a present and nails for possible diy project). would just clump the one store into the category it fits into best, leaving me with a false representation of spending. Seems like we’re both looking forward to the end of August to see what the results are of our more hands on money management experiments.

    • Lisa E. August 22, 2014

      That’s one thing I didn’t like about Mint – it never really gave me a clear picture of my spending in one store. Especially Target, hehe. Good luck with this girl!

      • Femme Frugality August 23, 2014

        Target owns my budget. So bad. We have a hard time with the end of month calculations because our pay is extremely variable. We are either celebrating or chewing our finger nails at month’s end. Sounds like you are taking some positive steps!
        Femme Frugality recently posted…Financially Savvy Saturdays: 1 Year Anniversary!My Profile

  9. SavvyFinancialLatina August 22, 2014

    Tracking expenses is challenging Lisa! Personally I think it sucks, but I find myself if I don’t track our expenses, we end going over budget. Every. Single. Time. I just wrote about it actually. Completely with GIFs 🙂
    Tracking expenses helps maintain expenses in control. No other way around it.
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted…Controlling the Budget- Castle EditionMy Profile

    • Lisa E. August 22, 2014

      Do you track expenses daily or do it once a week?

  10. Erin @ Journey to Saving August 22, 2014

    Before last month, I only went off a budget. I had an ideal amount I would spend, but I wouldn’t *actively* track my spending during the month. I had an idea of what was going out, but not any hard numbers. Of course, I’d get discouraged when things didn’t go as planned at the end of the month.

    So last month, after every purchase I made, I entered it into my budget spreadsheet. It’s helped me keep myself accountable, and I have a better idea of how things are going as the month progresses. I know it sounds annoying (and trust me, I slacked for a week and then went back and entered everything), but it’s been working well. And if I happen to have any cash transactions, I just email myself so I remember to enter it.
    Erin @ Journey to Saving recently posted…A Reintroduction of SortsMy Profile

    • Lisa E. August 22, 2014

      This is exactly why I want to track my spending, even if it’s just for one month. My budget has helped a ton, but I feel like this is the next step to really seeing what my financial picture looks like. Anything I swipe is pretty easy to track. My cash transactions are the ones I always forget to track!

  11. Neville Bendiola August 22, 2014

    Tracking expenses NEVER work for me. I work better off of a budget – including for personal spending. As long as I meet the budget, it does not matter to me what I spent it on! For example, I splurged and bought a $75 shirt, so I cut back on eating out a week later to avoid going over budget. The shirt was expensive in my opinion, but within my spending budget.

    • Lisa E. August 22, 2014

      Tracking expenses never worked for me before. Not sure if this is going to be an ongoing habit, but I just wanted to see how I did for one month 🙂 A budget has worked for me so far, or so I thought, but I still think I can make more progress on my debt/ I figured tracking my expenses would help me see where my money is going and maybe I can adjust my budget from this month’s findings!

  12. Kirsten August 22, 2014

    A few months ago, when I created our latest budget, I was all gung-ho to track expenses and reconcile our budget in a sit down with the hubs. Hadn’t happened once. Life (and two small kiddos) get in the way. Since we never charge anything, I know we are doing ok, but we could be doing so much better if we were really thoughtful about our finances.
    Kirsten recently posted…My Magic NumberMy Profile

    • Lisa E. August 22, 2014

      I can’t imagine how tough it is to track expenses for a family! Major props to you and the hubs!

  13. Gary @ Super Saving Tips August 22, 2014

    Years ago, I didn’t track my expenses, but then I met the woman who would become my wife, and she tracks everything. She got me into the habit and I haven’t looked back since. Tracking all of our expenses each month allows us to see exactly where our money is going and how we’re doing compared to our budget. Having that information lets us see when and where to cut back. I think the best advice I can give on getting in the tracking habit is to use a tool. We use Quicken, but there are plenty of apps now that let you track your expenses.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…Restaurant savings: 11 ways to dine out and saveMy Profile

    • Lisa E. August 22, 2014

      I used to use Mint, but I guess what I’m stuck on is tracking expenses that I pay for in cash. I heard Quicken is a great tool!

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