This is a guest post from Sheryl (a.k.a Cdn Gwen) in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.
As I said before, I tracked every dollar I spent in November, using 3 different trackers (I started with 4, but it quickly became clear that one method was not what I was looking for).
November may not have been the best month to start doing this, as I had a week off work as vacation time, so my spending was not “usual”. I spent $297 on groceries (I did stock up on some sale items) but I also spent $200 dining out (which is I believe is about $150 more than usual) as well as $160 on entertainment (which is usually closer to $50).
I learned some other things while doing this as well. Firstly, it is a pain in the butt. It might not be so bad if I was only using one tracker, but by using 3, I tripled my work. I also am getting a clearer picture of what I want to see in a budget spreadsheet, and what I don’t really need. The nerd in me loves the idea of knowing how much I spent at each store, how much was on fresh produce versus how much on meats and grains, but the part of me I try to keep in reality now knows that I really don’t need to be that detailed.
Another thing I learned was that I can utilize laziness for this to a certain degree. The more I spend, the more work I create for myself. If I shop less, there is less admin time spent to log the expenses. As much as I love playing with spreadsheets, I don’t want to have to do it every day.
The trackers I used were:
Spenz – This is the one I stopped using, I wanted to like it, and if all I wanted to know was where I was spending my “blow” money, this would have been perfect.
Pear Budget – Very simple and easy to use. It doesn’t allow an abundance of categories, 10 Variable and 10 Irregular (which for me might be a good thing), and keeps track of the dollars only, not where I spent them, (although I can use the Excel comment to make notes such as who the gift I bought was for and why etc). I’m going to continue playing with this one as it has a lot of what I’m looking for.
SimpleDBudget – At first, this was my favorite, I could create all the categories, and sub-categories I wanted. I entered the date, and where, and why I spent, but at the end of the month, the analysis only showed me some pie and line graphs for each category I made, but didn’t cross reference that data with anything else (except for over or under budget, and percentage of budget.
Budget Tracker 3.1 by Duck Software – This one allowed for 13 categories in total, and I didn’t I found it labor intensive to use, for example, I had to click on every field I wanted to enter data in (a new field for each day of the month) as opposed to “tabbing” my way through it. It totaled my categories, but that was the extent of the analysis.
December is presenting it’s own challenges already. My boyfriend is now making less income than he was before, so we are living on less money, plus there are the added expenses of Christmas. I don’t buy for many people (mainly my daughter and a few other small gifts) so I’m confident I can get through the season without damaging my finances too much. I’m taking a break from tracking in December (although I will be looking at some other programs, or working on my own spreadsheet solution) but will resume in January when life gets back to “normal”.