TRACK YOUR ACTUAL MONTHLY SPENDING
The objective in tracking your actual spending is to get a very clear picture of exactly where you have been spending your money. To do this, IDEALLY you SHOULD gather your records from the past year and organize them into expense categories: fixed expenses, periodic expenses, and variable expenses.
YOU CAN START IMMEDIATELY, BY ESTIMATING AND TRACKING YOUR EXPENSES WITH OUR MONEY TRACKER WORKSHEET. Simply, estimate your next three months expenses, track and record every expenditure, cash, credit card or check. Consider estimating your last three months income and expenses and compare them to your actual. Here are some of the kinds of records and reminders you might collect and examine to help you determine the exact figures for your past spending habits:
After you have collected these records, set up a folder for each of your expense categories. Gather these receipts and statements and put each of them into the appropriate folder, depending on whether they are for fixed, periodic, or variable expenses.
It is a good idea while you are organizing your records to start a financial calendar. This is a calendar that you use only to keep track of when your bills are due, how much is due, and to keep other notes (such as what you may still owe). By keeping a financial calendar in the same place with your other financial records, you will have all of your financial information in one place.
Remember to track cash payments or money orders. If you didn't keep a record of payments you made in cash, spend a few minutes to try to remember
them and write this information in the appropriate folder. Don't forget to use your memory!
Accurately looking into the past is a way to discover how you've spent your money so you can decide if you need to spend it differently in the future.
These are the major, set expenses you must pay every month like rent, mortgage, car or truck payments, child support, etc. These payments are the same each month. Record your fixed expenses on the MONTHLY MONEY TRACKER WORKSHEET. Fixed expenses such as utilities often vary from month to month depending upon the weather. To get an average, look back at your utility bills for at least one year, add up the total you have spent, and then divide that number by 12 to get the average amount you spend per month.
Periodic expenses are expenses you pay regularly, but not necessarily every month. These include medical expenses, house and car insurance, property and income taxes, car repairs, etc. To determine how much you spend on a specific periodic expense on a monthly basis, gather all of your receipts for that category during the past year and divide the total by 12.
Many people forget to include their periodic expenses when they prepare their budgets because these are usually payments they don't make every month. Remember that they are still “regular” payments because they must be made in certain amounts at certain times. The best way to make sure you stay current on your periodic expenses is to follow these steps:
1. Include them in your spending category.
2. Make a note on your financial calendar of when and how much must be paid in that spending category.
3. Put the monthly portion of the total amount you will have to pay into a savings account so that you will have the total payment available on the due date.
EXAMPLE: Monthly Expense for Car Insurance
Dee's car insurance costs $1,200/year. She can't afford to pay the entire premium at once, so she has been making quarterly payments of $300 each. How much should Dee budget each month for her car insurance, even though she doesn't have to pay it each month?
$1,200/12 months = $100/month
How does Dee make sure she has $300 each time her quarterly payment is due?
She puts $100 each month into her savings account (where it will earn interest), or into her “car insurance” envelope. Every three months Dee will have $300 to send to her insurance company.
You can go through the same exercise for all of your other periodic expenses, and then enter the average amount spent on each of them each month on your MONEY TRACKER WORKSHEET.
Your variable expenses may or may not be necessary to your basic needs, but they show how much you actually consume. These are usually the best areas to cut back spending. They include clothing, eating out, long distance phone calls, cable, newspapers, entertainment, etc. You will find a list of these kinds of expenses on the WEEKLY MONEY TRACKER SPENDING WORKSHEET. You can use this worksheet to track variable expenses over the next month.
To determine how much you spend in each category, you need to track these expenses day by day, week by week, for at least a month. Make at least four copies of the sheet, and better yet, make extra copies for all family members to use when they spend money on these items or you could underestimate these expenses. Write down every dime, nickel, and penny you spend for the next few weeks.
It may seem silly to you now to write down every penny you (and even the other members of your family) spend on every little thing, especially for four weeks. However, if you think about it, you will probably see that some weeks you tend to spend more than other weeks, and some weeks you will have expenses that you don't have in other weeks.
For instance, you may find that you spend more on eating lunches out during particularly busy weeks when you are too busy to pack a lunch. Even though that particular expense doesn't happen all the time, you do need to pick it up on your tracking worksheet because it still reflects one of your spending habits.
OTHER TOOLS YOU CAN USE TO TRACK YOUR SPENDING
If you can't imagine carrying a sheet of paper with you, then think about using one of these techniques:
You can also record your every expense on your financial calendar. If you record your spending here, you will always be reminded of the fixed and periodic expenses that you have coming up before you spend money unnecessarily on a variable expense.
The important thing is to write down any amount of money you spend. At the end of every day, add up all you spent in each category.
At the end of the week, total each category. After a month, total each week to get a monthly total and record this amount on the MONTHLY MONEY TRACKER WORKSHEET.
After you have recorded your actual daily expenditures on your Weekly Money Tracker Spending Worksheet and you have transferred the total to your Monthly Money Tracker Worksheet, your Monthly worksheet will now have all of the actual dollar amounts you spend plus all of your monthly fixed and average monthly periodic expenses you pay over the course of a year.
Now, compare this chart with the estimates you recorded at the beginning of this lesson. How close were the two? Are you surprised? Does the difference between what you thought you spend and what you really spend now tell you where all the money goes?
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