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:
|Outgoing Payments or Transfers|
|Gas and Electric|
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!
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!
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!
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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