Our spending tracker is so simple I hesitate to even call it a spending tracker.
There’s nothing fancy about it. In fact, I went out of my way to make sure it was the opposite of fancy.
What can I say? I like my budgeting tools to be functional above all else.
And this spending tracker is definitely functional.
Here’s why I decided to start tracking our spending, what our spending tracker looks like (and why we went with Google Sheets) and how it’s been working for us over the last few months.
Why I decided to start tracking our spending
I started actively tracking our spending in December 2020. The reason was simple: I was losing track of what purchases were paid and which were outstanding.
We use credit cards for most of our spending. This creates a digital record of every purchase we make, plus it allows us to earn cash back. We generally treat our credit card like debit, spending money based on what we have and paying it off in full every month. Credit cards don’t work for everyone but they work for us.
Most of the time, we pay back our spending well before the end of the month. More often than note, I pay back our purchases before we even get home.
There is one exception: Christmas spending.
When it comes to Christmas gifts, I give myself permission to do something I’m sure all the personal finance guru’s would hate: spend money before I have it. I add money to our gift sinking fund all year, so it’s in the budget. But if I find a good deal on a gift before our gift sinking fund is ready for it, I don’t hesitate to make the purchase and pay it back after.
And most years, this has worked out fine. But for some reason in 2020, I found it hard to keep track of what was paid and what was outstanding.
Whether I liked it or not, I realized I needed to start tracking our spending.
My super simple spending tracker
Prior to December 2020, I didn’t track our spending.
I dabbled with tracking our spending once in a while but it never became a habit — and honestly, I didn’t really care that much about it. It seemed kind of pointless to me, just one extra thing to add to the financial to do list.
When I decided I needed to start tracking our purchases, I knew it would be important to keep the process as easy as possible.
That’s how I came up with my super simple spending tracker. This is what it looks like for me:
- In Google Sheets, I opened our family budget. This sheet is also very simple: each month gets its own sheet, which includes all our pay periods and breaks down where our money goes. I have a colour coding system to indicate what bills are paid, which ones are saved and what’s in the chequing account at any given time.
- At the beginning of each month, I add a sheet after the monthly budget sheet for that month’s transactions.
- The transaction page is made up of four basic columns: date, vendor, amount and status.
- I log all our transactions on the transaction page. When a purchase is paid for, I write paid in the status column. Other things I write in the status column include if a transfer from a sinking fund is pending or if it’s coming from somewhere else (for example, at Christmas, I might write “pay from gift line next pay day”).
- At the end of the month, I go through all the transactions to make sure everything has been paid for. Then, I hide the budget sheet for that month, the transaction log and move on to the next month.
The benefits of creating a spending tracker with Google Sheets
There are two main reasons I decided to keep our transaction log (and our budget) in Google Sheets:
- Accessibility: Housing these documents in Google Sheets means I can access them on all my devices. While I tend to do most of our budgeting work on my laptop, I like having the ability to pull our budget and transaction log up on my phone when we’re out of the house or if I’m at the office.
- Sharing: Before moving everything into Google Sheets, I was using an Open Office file on my desktop. I didn’t mind this — it wasn’t much different in terms of function than the Google Sheet — but it did make it harder to share it with Jeff. Storing our budget and transaction log in Google Sheets means Jeff can access it as well.
How has our spending tracker been working?
Has using a spending tracker made a difference?
As much as I resisted tracking our spending, I can’t deny that it has been very helpful.
Three key benefits that come to mind.
- Reduced stress: The status column means I never worry about missing a payment. I can tell at a glance what is paid, what is outstanding and, in many cases, why. This is particularly useful where my main credit card is with a difference financial institution, which means my payments don’t show up in the pending transaction column.
- Accountability: Knowing I have to record all my purchases in the transaction log has impacted my spending. Sometimes, the thought of having to write it down is enough to make me reconsider the purchase.
- Record keeping: Technically, our bank statements provide a record of our spending, but I like the “at a glance” nature of our transaction log. I think this will be useful to have in the future if I want to assess our spending in different areas.
Tracking our spending does not come naturally to me, but I’m glad it’s something I’ve started doing.
Our spending tracker is totally no-frills, super simple and I’m convinced that has been the key to our success using it over the last couple months. I’m looking forward to being able to look back on our trackers over the months to identify trends — for better or for worse.
Do you track your spending? What kind of tracking system do you use?
Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst
I have a very simple tracking system just like what you have! It works for me. I’ve also started keeping daily log of what I’m spending money on in a journal because it helps me to really visualize how I’m spending money on a daily basis, more than my tracking spreadsheet. (I think I use my tracking spreadsheet a bit differently than you, as I input my spending into the spreadsheet AFTER it has cleared my bank. So sometimes I can get behind on checking my bank account, oops, so I like having this daily log to make sure everything is going through correctly!)
The conclusion I’ve arrived at is tracking spending, like most personal finance things, is all about finding what works for you. For me, the easier I can make the process for myself, the more likely I am to stick with it. I do like the idea of keeping a daily log in a journal — I’ve done a bit of that on the daily pages in my planner, but not consistent enough to see how I’m spending on a daily basis. I can definitely see where that would come in handy re: not tracking items until they clear the bank, though!
Dividend Power says
Congratulations on accessing the data that is available for everyone. We like using credit cars for the points, which we have used for free flights in the past. Of course, not recently.
For sure. If/when we get into a place where we’re traveling more, we’ll likely take the same approach with credit cards.
NZ Muse says
I used to track my money religiously – using my online banking’s built in functionality.
I don’t anymore though! Partly life (kids, pandemic, etc) and some other stuff, including moving banks. Now my new bank has released its own tracking, but I’m at the stage when things are fairly regular/automated and tracking isn’t so useful for me anymore.
For the longest time, that was the extent of my tracking. I’d likely still be doing it that way if our primary credit card was linked to our primary bank account. The card options at our day to day bank just don’t compare to the one we use (based on what we use them for, anyway). All that being said, it has been interesting to see exactly where it is that our money goes each month (even if there are times when it makes me cringe a little!)