Year of the Habit: Save your coin with this expense tracking routine
We’re back with another installment of our habit-building series, reminding you that you don’t have to wait for January to roll around to start a new habit! We’ve previously shared tips on how to drink more water, sleep better, and get more steps in your day, and now we’re shifting focus from building a healthy body to building a healthy BANK ACCOUNT!
Before we begin, note that we’re keeping our scope limited to spending habits, and we’re focusing on a fundamental building block for saving money: expense tracking. (In other words, if you’re looking for advice on investments or salary negotiations, be sure to speak to a professional!)
Now, let’s take a look at the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks you should be scheduling for yourself to get on top of your spending!
Pop quiz: How much money have you spent this month? This week? The last 24 hours? If you can’t answer any of those answers off the top of your head, or with a quick glance at your expense tracking app, then creating a daily tracking habit is where you’ll need to start! Taking just 2-3 minutes at the end of every day will make your weekly and monthly routines easier, and also keep the goal of reducing spending at the top of your mind, making it easier to spot overindulgences. Here’s how to do it:
- Be sure that you are receiving receipts for 100% of the purchases you make, either in paper or digital form. You can’t track what you can’t see!
- Choose an evening anchor habit you never skip, such as changing into sleepwear or brushing your teeth, and set aside a maximum of 5 minutes to update your expenses every single day.
- Check your wallet and your inbox to make sure you haven’t missed an expenditure, like the bagel you forgot you bought this morning, or a streaming subscription that just renewed.
- Remember to categorize each expense properly, so this info will be useful later. Even better, record the payment method (cash, debit, credit, etc.) so you can spot any trends in how you spend. Again, this shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, and it could take even less time if you record your one-off expenses as you pay for things during the day.
If you’ve been recording your expenses on a daily basis like a smart spender, then this task will also only take you about 5 minutes, just once a week!
- Pick a day of the week for your weekly spending review. (Recommendation: Try Sunday, so you can start Monday morning with fresh eyes on those coins!)
- Review your total expenditures for the last week by category. Ignore fixed expenses like rent or insurance for now, and set aside monthly subscriptions and other scheduled costs. Focus primarily on the expenses that change from week to week, like restaurant meals, snacks, or shopping for non-essential items.
- Choose one category of spending, and set it as your Weekly Savings Theme. Look at how much you spent last week, and aim to reduce the spending by 10-50%, depending on how aggressive you want to be. Remember to only choose one category at a time for the best chance at success!
Now that you’ve been tracking your spending on a daily and weekly basis for a whole month, now it’s time to review your progress and set some goals for the next month. This might take you 30-60 minutes (maybe even less!) if you’ve been sticking to your routine. Here’s how to review:
- Start by collecting your latest bank or credit card statements, in paper or digital form, or hop on your banking app to your payment history.
- Do a quick sweep of the past month’s payments to make sure that 1) you haven’t forgotten to record something and 2) you don’t have any unrecognized charges. (If you find any of the latter, report them right away!)
- Like you did on a weekly basis, look for a category of spending that you’re not particularly happy with, or which you’re spending far more on than you expected. This time, include categories we previously set aside, like monthly subscriptions. (Perhaps seeing all your streaming services added up has you looking for alternatives?)
- Set your Monthly Savings Theme, set a percentage you’d like to reduce this category by, and brainstorm some specific changes you can make to ensure you meet your goal.
Once you’re tracking your spending like a pro on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, you’ll begin seeing benefits emerge, and you might want to add a quarterly or annual review to your calendar. Looking for even more next steps, you cost-cutting superstar? Here’s your next read: I already track my expenses. What steps can I take next?