Thursday, August 9, 2007

Save More by Tracking Down Your Spending

It does not matter for what purpose you are saving money, it could be for college, for a new car, a house or to become debt free. What matters is that you want, at all times, to save the maximum possible amount. One trick to help you doing that is to have a tight control over your personal finance by knowing exactly how much you spend, for what reason and when.

The first time I actually looked at the numbers I was surprised by the amount of money I was spending in small things. A lot of small, cheap, things were adding up to a point that more than 40% of my spending was going “under my radar”.

Have all information in one place

Most of us have more than one saving or checking account, investments, multiple credit cards, cash holdings. With all that data spread through your financial life it is easy to get lost. Gather all data in a single location. The first time I did that I started an Excel sheet and started entering my balances for everything I had and then followed by all spending I did from that day one. Each time I reached a new month, I would open a new tab in my sheet, rollover the balance from the previous month, added my income sources (such as my salary) and continue the process.

Step by step:

  1. Gather your balances in one place (preferably one that does calculations automatically for you such as Excel, Google Spreadsheets, Quicken, etc).
  2. Each day update your sheet with your spending as a negative amount (bills you paid, anything you bought, etc), including the description. Example: Loan payment -$1500
  3. Each day update your sheet with money you made as a positive amount (salary you received, lottery you won, etc ;)).
  4. Do that until the end of the month and then roll the balances to the next month sheet.
Analyze the data you have

Add up each type of spending you have so you know how much you spend per month with it. For example, add up all car maintenance, car parking costs, and car gas so that you know much your car costs. Do the same for house bills, entertainment, debt payment and other minor spending (Starbucks, Netflix …).

The moment you do that you will probably notice a few things you could easily reduce, such as stopping buying coffee at Starbucks but doing it at home and saving about $50 per month.

Plan your changes

Before you go over the top with the frugality idea, use your sheet to project the impact of cutting down one or two things. If you believe the sacrifice is worth the benefits, go ahead! One good tool to do that is by calculating your crossover point (a.k.a. financial independence) and then revising the calculation with your changes.

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