By Sarah Hall, Consumer Education Services Inc.
It can be pretty difficult to keep track of your finances when you don’t know the basics — how much you’re really earning and how much you’re really spending.
Sure, you may be aware of the number that should be on your paycheck, but is that the number that’s actually getting deposited into your bank account? Or, could your employer be deducting too much for health insurance or tax withholdings?
And, sure, you may know that you went out to eat a couple of times last week, but are you really being truthful with yourself about how much those dinners out cost you (and how often you grab a latte or burger on the run)?
If you don’t keep track of your finances by knowing exactly how much your spending is impacting your budget, you’re not alone.
In one survey by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, most people had created a budget at some point, but few did the hard work of comparing their budget to their spending on a regular basis.
The start of a new year is the perfect time to turn a new leaf and decide once and for all to keep track of your finances. And one of the best ways to do that is to closely watch your spending habits and ensure your paycheck has every cent that should be coming to you.
Here are five tips to help you keep track of your finances in 2018:
- Create a single place to store your financial information: Do you always feel like you’re scrambling to find the latest utility bill or pay stub? Whether it’s a filing cabinet or an expandable file or a simple manila folder, develop a system and stick with it. Put all of your pay stubs, bills, bank statements, credit card statements and any other relevant information here.
- Find a budget spreadsheet that you’ll really use: There are all kinds of budget spreadsheets out there. Many are online, but, for those who still prefer pen and paper, there are options for you, too. Which one works for you depends on your needs and habits. Find one that you can use and get to work.
- Monitor your paycheck: Every time you get a pay stub, take a close look. Make sure that the total amount is correct and that your employer isn’t withholding too much money for taxes, your retirement fund or health insurance payments. Paycheck calculators can help you ensure that you’re getting what you’re owed.
- Track your bills: Some bills, your rent or mortgage, for instance, are the same every month. Others, such as your water or electricity bill, will fluctuate. Using a budget spreadsheet, track those bills every month. Over time, you’ll note patterns. You’ll know, for example, to plan for a higher electricity bill in the summer when the air conditioning is on full blast and a lower water bill in the winter when you’re not watering your garden.
- Don’t forget about your cash purchases: About 60 percent of all payments are made with credit and debit cards or other non-cash methods, according to that Consumer Financial Credit Bureau report. For tracking purposes, that might be a good thing. It’s easier to keep a record of credit or debit card purchases because your monthly statement lists exactly where you spent your money. It’s not so easy when you’re spending actual cash. On a daily basis, track all of your spending — by card, cash or check. Keep a small notebook in your purse or your car so you can quickly jot down the cost of that pack of gum or the six pack of soda you picked up at the store.
Tracking your finances takes effort, but it’s worth it. Over time, you’ll be able to uncover trends and find new ways to save, improving your financial health in the long run.