I was wondering what you guys use in order to keep track of monthly expenses and to create budgets. I’ve been trying to go about this in a more organized way recently, but I was wondering how others go about it.
Do you still use old-fashioned notebooks? Custom Excel spreadsheets you’d like to share? Do you prefer online apps like Mint, or commercial software packages like Quicken and Money?
I’ve been using Microsoft Money forever, but I’m sure I don’t use all its tools for budgeting, etc. I recently got the home/small business edition because I’ve started doing some consulting work and wanted a way to generate invoices. I recommend it, even though it’s a Microsoft product.
Also, assuming you can control your spending, credit cards are best for determining where your money is going. You can download your monthly statement and put each expense into a category. You also can get signficant rewards using credit cards. MS Money helps with this, as does Mint. When you use cash to pay for things, you have no record (except possibly receipts) of what you bought. Checks are a little better, but they can’t be as easily downloaded/categorized.
If you can’t control your credit card spending, then use your debit card and check your statement frequently. Also, try to have your bills paid automatically. This lessens the chance that you will pay an important bill late, and have penalties assessed. It also significantly increases the chance you will have electricity when you want it :). Naturally you need to have the cash in the bank when it’s time to pay the bill, but trying to manage money while paying bills late is a way to financial chaos, so avoid it:)
I pay all my bills online (one of the very few great life-improving things to survive the dotcom bubble) and just login to my bank’s website to audit transactions, primarily for fraud. I’m not on a budget.
My wife and I use Excel plus Money. Once a month, I download our credit card and banking statements to Money, then use its interface to quickly throw everything into the different budget categories we created. Then I view the category totals YTD and manually copy them over to Excel (there is probably a smarter way to do this, but it’s one of those things where it’s just easier to do the quick hack way at this point). In Excel I have my estimates for the year and a few monthly consumption numbers. It lets us get a feel for how we’re doing and if we’ll meet our goals. I like having the final destination as a spreadsheet because it’s portable and I can tweak a few numbers here and there.
I am somewhat tempted to automate my Money processing a bit better and move it to Google Spreadsheet.
I think this method is a good balance between time spent and value received. I could download the statements more often, but the only time I forget which category to put the transaction in is when we get cash at an ATM, which is rare. Looking at it every day or week would make me too anal about spending.
Hmm, Mint combines those Yodlee account-consolidator functions into a budget program? I might have to check this out and see if I can reduce my workload a bit. I typically go to my account-consolidatin-view website every day to look at checking and credit card balances.