Analogue Expense Tracking

Analogue Expense Tracking

I tend to get a little obsessive about our bank account. I track every single dollar that enters into or goes out of our account. I want to know where, how, and when we are spending our money. I want to keep accurate track of when our bills are due, what has been paid, what hasn’t been paid, what has cleared the account, what hasn’t cleared the account, what never showed up, etc. etc. Some months (like this month) I have more bills to pay than others, because a bunch of annual renewals came due and I had some medical bills come in, so I need to make sure all of those get paid as well. The only efficient way I have found to be able to do this is in an analogue  format.

Hello, handy dandy transaction register!

Now, I have online banking and I utilize that tool a lot. I know that the bank will keep track of all my bills and transactions and everything like that also, but my brain isn’t optimized to function digitally. If I’m not writing it down every day, if I’m not paying meticulous detail, it’s just not going to stick in my head. Plus, while my bank does a pretty good job of trying to categorize items correctly, sometimes it just doesn’t. I hate having to go back and recategorize or label transactions that didn’t get categorized correctly (or didn’t get categorized at all!). Analogue transaction tracking also allows me to keep an incredibly accurate visual record of when my bills are paid and when they cleared the account. This has trained me to think not in terms of what the account balance is, but rather what we have left to spend – just because there is money in the account doesn’t mean it’s there to be spent!

I start out writing down all the bills I have to pay and the amounts that are due (not shown here – nope! sorry!). Some of these are actually bills (like the mortgage, the power bills, car payments, etc.) and some are just monthly expenses (dog food, gym memberships, etc.). If it’s money I know will be used for someone or something else, it goes here. I use my bank’s bill pay feature to pay 99% of our bills, so the date that gets written down in the DATE line is the one on which the money is set to be sent, not the due date. (All our bills get paid ahead of time so the actual due date is often later on in the month. I don’t bother to keep track of that because by the time they actually come due, they’ve already been paid. If your schedule is to pay your bills as they come due, you’ll definitely want to write that date here instead.) If I have to write a physical check, the date I use is the date on which the check is sent out, and I make sure to notate the check number as well. As the money clears out of our account, I highlight the row – that way I know the money has been received by the person or institution to whom it is owed, and I can take it off my radar.

This is especially useful if you are writing a lot of physical checks. As we all know, checks have to be mailed, which can take a while, and then they take an additional 3-5 business days to clear out of your account once they’ve been received. It’s so easy for us to write a check and assume the bill has been paid, but it’s all too likely (and happens all too often) that the check perhaps was never received by the person for whom it was meant. As someone who works at a lending institution, let me assure you of one thing: your biller does not care when or whether you sent them a check, they only care if they have received it. This system is an easy way for me to keep track of my physical checks to ensure that they are received and cashed in a timely manner. If it’s been longer than a week and I am still showing the check pending, I’ll go ahead and call the biller just to ensure they didn’t receive the check and apply it to the wrong account. They’ll often notate the check number and will usually call me back to inform me when the check has been received.

Flipping over to the next page shows our transfer register. I’ve got a series of automatic transfers set up for various things, and this is an easy way for me to make sure the money is being sent where it’s meant to go. The same system as above applies, wherein the date the money is meant to transfer is notated and the row is highlighted once the funds have cleared the account. The far left column is just a notation of Funds Transfer (FT) to other bank accounts vs Automatic Deposit (AD) into an investment account.

This is where the real action happens, though. This is where I notate any and all transactions into and out of our bank account outside of regularly scheduled funds transfers or payments of bills. These transactions are color-coded according to their category (household/pets, groceries, food/alcohol, medical/personal, and miscellaneous/hobbies) and are logged on a daily basis. Part of my morning routine is reviewing our bank account and notating transactions from the previous day. This allows me to sit down at the end of the month and say, “Hey, we’ve spent too much money going out to eat this month. We need to cut back on that.” Or, “Hey, we’ve dumped a lot of money into our personal hobbies lately, let’s try investing that money instead.” It’s an easy way to keep us accountable to where our money goes.

Transactions registers can be picked up free-of-cost at just about any banking institution in the country. They are the exact same size as a checkbook, and I keep mine tucked in the back pocket of my no. 5 Foxy Fix. I’ve washi-taped my color code onto the front cover, and it just folds inside into the book. Not featured here is the deposit log – this is found on the very first page of the transaction register, and is where I notate all deposits of money into our account.

I’ve been keeping an analogue expense tracking system for well over a year now, and it has been a game changer for how I view our funds. Obviously, it’s totally modifiable to your particular situation, but this is what I’ve found works for me!

Have you got any particular system for keeping track of your expenses? Let me know in the comments!

Here’s a picture of Mama Pearl – just for fun!
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