3 Foolproof Ways to Monitor Your Budget

By Allison Eklund

Allie Eklund
Allie Eklund

Ever heard of Blue Monday? The supposed “saddest day of the year” falls on the third Monday of January. Although there’s no scientific research saying what the cause is, if I were a betting woman, my guess is because this is about the time in January when those resolutioners drop like flies. Those lofty goals we write out on a champagne buzz seem to fade mid-month. If one of your resolutions in 2016 is to save more money or improve your finances, you’re not alone. According to a recent study, behind losing weight, improving finances is one the top resolutions that is broken.

When it comes to sticking to a financial plan, here are three very different ways to effectively monitor your own budget. Because the fly by the seat of your pants “orange” personality isn’t going to keep an up to date spreadsheet, let alone receipts from last week.

 

1)The Spreadsheet

This is for the analytical, number cruncher. If you get excited about large data sets, this one’s for you. Coming in as one of the more labor intensive options, you must keep receipts, monitor your checking account, and have a finite understanding what your life costs. If you don’t enjoy using excel, maybe don’t try this one at home. Included is a template that you can adopt as your own. One user recommends using Google Docs “so that you can update your budget from any computer, anywhere.” Google Docs even has templates for you to use. Successful adopters of the spreadsheet budget recommend updating your documents bimonthly. If you prefer the Microsoft platform, but don’t yet have a template, check out PearBudget. Also, here’s a cheat sheet if excel isn’t your forte.

This budget requires a basic understanding of creating and updating spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. Knowing how to create basic formulas for calculating the math is also important. For best results, details such as categories matter. This allows you to see, month to month, where your spending is increasing and/or decreasing.

budget spreadsheet

2)The Cash Envelope Budget

The extremist, as this is truly no nonsense. The ideology used is “I can’t spend what I don’t have.” The most stringent of the three, this is the hardest budget to keep to because it doesn’t allow for spending mishaps. This method forces you to be mindful of every purchase you make. There is something really powerful about the visual component of watching the dollars in your envelope go down.

To start, tally your monthly expenses. Here is a budget blueprint to get you started. Let’s say all expenses minus rent/mortgage are totalled at $1,000.00 for the month. That means you withdraw $1,000.00 in cash, and divide into expense categories that make up your budget. For example, if I’ve allocated $400.00 for food and groceries this month, I would put that amount in an envelope earmarked for only food and groceries. If I spend $150.00 on one dinner out at the beginning of the month, I will quickly feel the consequences of this. On the contrary, if I am mindful of my food budget for the month and have extra dollars at the end of the month, that money can be used how I please, because it’s already been budgeted for.

Caution: carrying cash is a risk, it’s not recommended to carry all your month’s cash in one place, so be sure to break up your amounts and keep your money in a safe place. This option may require more trips to the ATM.

 

3)Mint.com

For the cashless economy, this cloud-based app is all about ease and convenience. This option is for the person who is not looking for a hard line budget, but more of a holistic, macro tracking system. A great feature of this budget option is the automation. You automatically get notified when large amounts are either debited or credited to your accounts. This is important as we live in a time where credit card theft is a real threat. The automation feature extends to real-time investment tracking, too. Daily values are reflected on this platform. Credit cards, student loans, all checking and savings accounts, 401(k), or just investment accounts you’ve accumulated are eligible to be monitored by MINT.

I will caution that Mint is not 100% accurate. On occasion, the technology will code a charge inaccurately. For example, below you see that MINT wasn’t sure how to categorize a charge at a local fitness studio. The quick solution to this tech glitch is that you can easily change the category of any expense in your account.

mint screenshot

 

Whatever your Myers-Briggs personality type is, there is a budgeting solution for you. If you truly want to stick to your financial goals and plan for your future, learning how to budget is vital to that. It can be tedious at first, but you’ll be grateful you found a system that works for you in the long run. Hopefully, the above options can help turn your 2016 financial resolutions into reality and, with practice and patience, lifetime habits. Happy budgeting!

 

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