Seeking Clarity: Your Personal Finances

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to sorting your finances is trying to understand and track all your income and outgoings. Most of us have multiple online portals: Perhaps a couple of banks, credit card companies, investment companies, energy companies, tv, broadband, mobile phones etc. This leads to dozens of credentials and a general hassle when it comes to logging in to see balances and transactions.

Personally, this frustrates me. A LOT! Mrs Scot and I have a process where once a week we log into each account and check our balances. The two main reasons we do this weekly is to ensure that:

  • No fraudulent transactions have occurred (paranoid much)
  • To track spending and make any necessary adjustments

We then transfer all this information into a master spread sheet which tracks spending categories, bills paid and overall net worth.

 

Spending: What to Track

For me, the trick in keeping expenses down lies in what you do with the data. We can all look at our bank statements and scan a list of restaurants, coffee shops and pubs and think little of it. Only when we start to categories and total these expenses – represent them as a percentage of our overall income – do we realise their significance. A Pie Chart speaks volumes… (literally)!

Spending tracking is quite a personal thing – we all have our unique weaknesses and we all know where we need to watch our cash. The classic examples of this would be spending too much money on coffees or takeaway food. A few pounds/dollars here and there goes unnoticed, but the monthly spend is actually huge! For some the downfall lies in shopping for unnecessary items, for others it is fancy cars and mortgages that they can’t really afford. We are all different, we all have different interpretations of what is acceptable to spend money on. Regardless of what you think your weaknesses are, it is important to track all categories of spending. Here are some of the items from our spread sheet:

 

Clothing
Entertainment
     Dining/Eating Out
     Movies
     Other
     Sports/Recreation
Groceries
Insurance
     Auto
     Homeowner/Renter
     Health
     Life
     Other
Loans
     Auto
     Home Improvement
     Home Equity
     Other
     Student
Mortgage Payments
Medical/Dental Costs
Outgoing Payments or Transfers
Mobile Phone
Home Phone
Retirement Savings
Subscriptions
Utilities
     Cable
     Gas and Electric
     Internet Access
     Other
     Water

If you are new to Personal Finance and don’t yet track spending…. now is the time to start! Obviously you can customise the above to meet your own needs; perhaps you don’t want to go into as much detail, or perhaps you don’t want to track the constant expenses in the same way. Tracking at least some items is certainly better than tracking nothing!

Using Technology to Track Spending

My friends across the pond are familiar with the success of MINT – a tool that enables you to connect multiple online accounts to a single portal. Essentially, the technology securely reads the balances and transactions in your accounts and displays them all in the once place -  a convenience tool! I was always quite jealous that we were unable to use this in the UK, until I recently discovered a new company called OnTrees.

“OnTrees is the free and simple way to see your money life all in one place. Find out what’s happening across your accounts and track your spending on the move. OnTrees works by allowing you to track recent transactions across your bank accounts, see a clear breakdown of your spending into categories and set up budgets and alerts to manage your money more effectively. You can create your OnTrees account in seconds and connect your bank accounts in minutes.”

I am a great believer in this new Technology and strongly believe that the easier it is for people to check their account balances and recent purchases, the more responsible they will become with money. I think half the problem with the nation’s financial problems is ignorance… the fact that we are all unaware on how much we are spending and the effect that this has on our finances! What’s more, there are some fantastic mobile versions of these tools available to use on-the-go!

OnTrees Mobile App

It becomes pretty obvious you are spending too much when one of those pie segments get a little on the large side! I love the fact that OnTrees goes a step further on just displaying balances; next time you buy a coffee you are not supposed to or reach your drinking budget you could be setting an alert message off! What a great way to stay in control of your finances!

 

SUPERmarket Spending

A major British supermarket has done something similar recently, by introducing self-service shopping; you are issued a scanning device upon entering the store which has an on board computer and display screen that tracks spending and offers. No more shocks for shoppers when they reach the till and realise how much they have spent and gone are the days of an attendant at every checkout… Win-Win situation!

scan as you shop

I must admit, I am glad that Technology is finally being used to help people with their finances!

Over to you guys… Has anyone linked their accounts? How do you track spending on the go.

 

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Comments

  1. I love the scan as you shop idea! It’s great for mathophobes like me! You know I keep trying things like technology and apps, but I always come back to paper and a simple excel spreadsheet. Everyone is different that way!
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..I’m on a Money DietMy Profile

    • Fair enough! I think the Scan and Shop idea will go viral in time… it really makes sense rather than have somebody manually scan all your items. And you are right – it is great for those who are not great with numbers!

  2. We use Mint.com to track our finances and love it!
    Deacon @ Well Kept Wallet recently posted..Get Paid to Lose WeightMy Profile

  3. I love that scan and shop idea. That is brilliant and I’d never go over budge that way.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Debt Movement: Get Rid of Debt Payments Once and For AllMy Profile

  4. Jamie Dickinson says:

    I remember the scan and shop idea from years ago in the supermarket. Then it was just about making the check out process quicker. It’s great that it’s being brought back in a more sophisticated form to help people track their spend.
    Jamie Dickinson recently posted..2013 Resolutions: The Good & the BadMy Profile

    • Yes Exactly! I think Morrisons trialled it years ago, but now the onboard computers really allow you to see what you are buying, check deals etc. Definitely the future of supermarket shopping!

  5. I recently made the switch to YNAB, it doesn’t track expenses automatically like Mint does but it sure beats the paper and pen method.

  6. Justin@TheFrugalPath says:

    I’m really shocked that a store would implement the scanning device. It just seems like a way for people to now want to spend. However, from a personal finance PoV, I think that it’s a great idea and would love to have them implemented at my store.
    Justin@TheFrugalPath recently posted..Which Debt Would You Pay Off First?My Profile

    • They are absolutely fantastic… I think from the stores POV it is win-win. The customer likes to be in control of what they spend so come to the store… the store can greatly reduce the number of checkout assistance and hence overall overhead!

  7. My online banking has awesome transaction tracking features, so that’s what I use! Simple is best.
    eemusings recently posted..Link love (Powered by heat waves and new opportunities)My Profile

  8. Hi, I wasn’t aware of OnTrees, but I have found and use moneydashboard.com that appears to do the same thing. I think I’ll sign up for what you use too and see what the differences are. I don;t think MD has alerts (though I could be wrong), so that seems like a major point in OnTrees favour.
    Matt recently posted..Save Your Shoes!My Profile

  9. I track every penny I spend the old-school way: entering everything into Excel! Granted, my spreadsheets are auto-linked to charts and graphs, but it’s still pretty standard.

    I think the act of recording everything forces me to see the big picture, which helps me keep myself in check.
    The Happy Homeowner recently posted..Yes, My Boyfriend is Paying Me RentMy Profile

    • Hey! Sounds like your method works pretty well then if you are still going with it! Love a few graphs that automatically update! I always feel so productive. I am with you on the thought that constant recording and reviewing helps to keep the big picture in mind! :)

  10. I don’t track spending on the go. I feel it beats up the issue and becomes deeply exhausting. I budget, and whatever I have for that budget in a bi-weekly period I make due with.
    Eddie recently posted..10 Priceless Gifts That We Can Give Ourselves in 2013!My Profile

    • Hey Eddie. That sounds like you have a decent method that works for you… I reckon that some people aren’t that disciplined though and need to track things more vigorously to ensure they stay within their limits. Do you use a spread sheet to budget then?

      • I use a spreadsheet. Fill all my numbers in by hand, no computer. I’m kinda old school when it comes to that. I suppose it’s the whole feel, and I carry the spread sheet around until next pay (bi weekly) – so the spread sheet is divided into two parts – fixed and variable expenses for 1 pay check and 2nd paycheck in a month.
        Eddie recently posted..10 Priceless Gifts That We Can Give Ourselves in 2013!My Profile

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