Budget Hack: Keeping Track of Expenses Creatively

This post may contain affiliate links. For more details, please view our full disclosure.

Keeping Track of Expenses

Balancing a checkbook, analog or digital, is a boring process.  Let’s be honest.  It means keeping track of receipts or logging things into your device as soon as you buy it.  The latter of which I’m betting most of us forget to do.

But it’s important.  Incredibly important.  I had a friend dodge getting his identity stolen because he picked up a ten cent charge on his bank statement.  The bank said it originated from a foreign country where they had recently seen hackers “testing” accounts before withdrawing large sums of money.  They were checking to see if he was paying attention.

It’s also important because banks make mistakes.  And because knowing where you money is going currently is the first step in shifting it to where you want it to go in the future.

So I’ve got some tips to make it not so mind-numbingly boring for you.  Tried and true tips to make keeping track of those expenses a little more fun.

End All of Your Purchases with a Weird Number of Cents

If you’re balancing a checkbook, seeing ten $30 charges each time you buy gasoline isn’t fun to parse out.  Especially if you go to the same gas station regularly.  But if each time you end your transaction in a weird number of cents, it’s a lot easier to identify each receipt against what your bank says you owe.  So instead of paying $30 every time you fuel up, spend $29.92, $30.58, $30.61, etc.  Just make sure that you’re regularly balancing so that those odd number of cents don’t add up to push you a few dollars over budget.

Use Excel to Track Your Spending Habits

I got really excited when my bank(s) started implementing spending pie charts.  I had been doing it for years on Excel, and I thought I wouldn’t have to do it anymore.  It’s years later, and I’m still disappointed in my bank’s system.  The categories include: healthcare, travel, automotive, restaurants/entertainment, everyday spending, merchandise, and other.

What do those last three even mean?  The categories are so broad, and my purchases are so often erroneously assigned to the wrong category that their pie charts tell me little to none about where my money is actually going.  I budget with Excel, where I make my own budget categories, and then plug in how much we actually spend, anyways.  So making a pie chart that gives me an accurate reflection of our spending habits is just a few clicks away.  That way I know what we’re spending our money on everyday as opposed to inherently legitimizing a bunch of purchases into “everyday spending.”

Use Visuals

If you need a little motivation to get the mathematical cogs turning in your brain, get a visual.  Have something your saving for?  Or some place you’d like to go?  Or an early retirement number?   Take that image and make it the first sheet of your Excel document.  Or glue it to the cover of your notebook.  Or the front of your checkbook.  Or make it the wallpaper on your phone.  Wherever you keep track of your expenses, make sure that your “WHY” is always in sight so you’ll be able to overcome all of those, “But I don’t want to…..”s.


How do you make keeping track of your expenses more enjoyable?



17 thoughts on “Budget Hack: Keeping Track of Expenses Creatively

  1. taylorqlee

    I use Mint and I love their Spending Trends graphic! So pretty! It really keeps me motivated to keep on top of my spending.

  2. Ben Luthi

    I’ve been using You Need a Budget for the past few months and it’s been awesome. It’s a lot prettier than an Excel spreadsheet (which I used before), and it incorporates all our accounts to show us where we are in each one, where we are on our budget, and what our net worth is, making it more exciting 🙂

    And the best thing, in my opinion, is that unlike Mint, it doesn’t automatically sync your transactions. You have to enter each one and reconcile your transactions with your online accounts. I firmly believe that tracking those expenses is the most important part of having a budget.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I agree with you there! Tracking the expenses puts a little more pain into overspending! I like the concept of You Need a Budget. We budget a month out like their model suggests. Have not taken the plunge yet!

  3. Caitlin

    wow! your friend is smart! I would have never noticed that. I definitely use Excel and it helps me so, so much ( I love that program). I like the idea of using different cents so you can notice. I always round-up!

  4. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom

    We put everything on our credit card, so we don’t need to keep many receipts around. Unless they’re for side hustle purchases. Started using GNUCash, a free open source accounting software, to track our budget and I’m having so much fun geeking our and setting everything up!

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Never heard of them! Sounds neat though! I try to still hold onto my receipts for credit card purchases so I can check them against my statement just like in the good old days with the checkbook. But with everything electronically, I can see how it’s a fading practice!

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      There’s an idea!!! I check my charges once a week or more, but that sounds like a good system, too! Does he make only gas purchases on his card?

  5. Mrs. Maroon

    I love messing around in Excel. Is it odd that I was wildly excited about the new year so that I could completely re-do our tracking spreadsheet?? I like checking Mint / Personal Capital (we use both) for a quick glance at the accounts. But the nitty gritty tracking comes through manually entering the expenses in Excel. I honestly trust what the online bank account tells me as opposed to double checking against all receipts. Just last night, Mr. Maroon and I questioned ourselves for relying solely on the bank account. I’ve heard so many people use the phrase “trust but verify” — perhaps it’s time to actually implement it!

  6. jadevictoria54

    I’ve been using Learnvest.com, I have the free account. Just hook up you accounts to LV and let it sync. It is incredibly easy to read and understand. They show you charts, info-graphics and trends of your money. Plus their free education is amazing! You can sign up for different boot camps and get an email every day with exercises. They last anywhere from 3-10 days. I can’t recommend them enough! (Not the paid version, not worth it just the free one). 🙂

  7. Ms. S

    Balancing the checkbook boring?!!! I love the balancing act. Did it since I was 17 years old, moved away to college and started managing my own money :-). It was ingrained in me because I always saw my mom doing it while growing up. She wouldn’t leave the cashier until she wrote down that expense in her ledger. LOL This is my first year since then not using one because husband and I have combined finances so it makes it difficult.

    I have an number (excel for Mac) spreadsheet that keeps me on track and I review our bank accounts multiple times a week. A little OCD.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *