By this point you’re probably sick of hearing me harp about the importance of tracking your spending.
The regular readers will recognize that I mention it during pretty much every net worth update. I bring it up whenever I’m interviewed by the media. And there’s even that time I linked to someone else talking about it in a recent monthly Link-O-Rama.
Safe to say, the horse is sufficiently dead.
So of course, I’m going to talk about it again.
I know, I know. With the frequency and ferocity that I talk about tracking your spending, you’d expect recording your expenses for a month to be the personal financial equivalent of winning the Powerball. And that’s not quite the case.
BUT… it’s pretty darn close.
Put simply, tracking your spending is THE easiest way I know to gain control of your finances. Period.
Why? Because to improve something you have to understand it. And to understand it, you have to track it. Otherwise you’re just fighting a ghost.
Once you’ve shined a light on your ghost of a budget, it can no longer hide. And when every detail of your spending is highlighted, it becomes laughably easy to spot the areas of improvement. Progress becomes unavoidable.
Unfortunately, Most People Don’t Track Their Spending
As amazing as all those benefits are, most methods of tracking your spending are a huge pain in the ass.
Meaning chances are, you’re not doing it.
How do I know? Because I run an entire blog that hinges on my spending patterns, and even I couldn’t muster up the willpower to consistently track my spending every month.
Sure, I review my spending once a month through Personal Capital. But for good measure, I prefer to manually record my expenses in a spreadsheet too.
This may seem redundant, but I’ve found there’s a certain magic to putting pen to paper, or in my case, keypad to excel spreadsheet. As Raptitude explains, simply becoming aware of the numbers behind your behavior will change your priorities, and soon you’ll find yourself spending (and saving!) more efficiently.
In the past, this involved opening Microsoft Excel at the end of each month, combing through my credit card statements, racking my brain to remember small transactions from weeks ago, and then praying I didn’t miss anything important.
This sounds intimidating, and it was. I appreciated the result, but I started to dread the chore.
I attempted to ease the process by keeping running a note in my phone. Even this proved easy to forget, and it turns out the electronic equivalent of napkin paper notes isn’t the most organized tracking system.
I thought I was S.O.L., right until I stumbled onto the iPhone’s Numbers app, and I’m now convinced it’s the single best system to easily track your spending patterns.
How to Track Your Spending with Apple’s Numbers App
I first came across this awesome strategy thanks to DirtCheapWealth.com. The premise is simple enough: use an app already installed on your phone to track all your spending.
After manually recording your expenses, the app automatically organizes your spending by category. At the end of the month, you’ll have a super snazzy report to help you spot any patterns.
In other words, forget the spreadsheets, credit card statements, and napkin notes. Numbers makes gaining control over where your money is going as easy as sending a text message.
As it turns out, the app has been sitting in my phone next to Garage Band and iTunes U (whatever that is) for years. At some point, I must have shuffled Numbers into my “Extras” folder, which is the abbreviation I use for my Folder of Annoying Default Apps that Apple Somehow Keeps Installing on My Phone.
Basically, Numbers is Apple’s version of Microsoft Excel. And it just so happens to be the easiest spending tracker ever, because:
- It’s extremely simple to use.
- It’s in your pocket all day long. Score one for convenience!
- You don’t even have to download anything.
Setting up the spreadsheet to automatically categorize my spending caused me a little headache at the start, so I thought it’d be beneficial to publish a quick tutorial.
Don’t be like me and spend a few hours googling for instructions that don’t exist. Spend 10 minutes setting up a template using my instructions below. Once the template is set, it’s not an exaggeration to say that tracking that tracking every single expense takes no more than a few seconds a day.
1) Create your monthly budget template
Open the app, click the “Create New” plus sign, scroll down to personal finance, and select “Personal Budget.”
2) Customize the budget
Apple will have already entered an example budget. Rename the categories by double clicking on the cells. If you want to add more categories, click any cell and press the blue “=”sign.
3) Make transactions insanely easy to track
Press the “Transactions tab.” This is where you’ll add a line item each time you spend money during the month.
You’ll notice that clicking any cell in the “Category” row lets you quickly classify your spending, rather than recalling and typing out each category by hand. This is a huge time saver, BUT if you’ve added or changed any of the default categories, your new categories won’t show up on this multiple-choice list just yet.
The key to making this app ridiculously easy to use is to get those categories working smoothly. We want everything to match, which allows the budget table to automatically update.
To do this, we need to edit the row’s formatting to be what Apple calls a pop up menu. Here’s how:
First, delete all the example transactions by dragging the blue circle in the corner and clicking “delete.”
Then click “C” to highlight the entire row, and click the paint brush button to open up cell formatting.
Choose “Pop-Up Menu.” Here you can edit all the categories to match your budget.
When you’re done adding categories to match your budget table, make sure to scroll to the bottom and make the “Initial Value” set to “Blank.” This will make adding new rows, aka transactions, easier as the month goes on.
4) Enjoy the easiest budget tracker ever!
It’s time to start tracking!
Each time you open your real-life wallet, simply take out your phone and spend the 3 seconds it takes to add a new transaction to your Numbers spreadsheet. Staying in total control of your money could not be easier.
At the end of the month, you can export your fancy report in all sorts of formats, including Excel and PDF. You can even share your reports with others, if you feel like bragging about your frugal wizardry! DirtCheapWealth does a good job explaining how to export and share the reports here.
I can say with 100% honesty that tracking my spending may be the single most important habit that set me on my course of big saving.
And Numbers is far and away the most convenient method I’ve found to do so. Put simply, I’ve been completely blown away by this app, and I hope you are too!