Budget tracking – Old Approach Revisited

There are times in your life when you really need to count all of your pennies in order to make ends meet, a few dollars in the wrong spot and you might be hard pressed to pay a bill or have food on the table. For those times I think that you really need to buckle down and become very rigid with your budgeting and tracking. Now this doesn’t always mean you have to be bordering on broke, there are times when you really want to achieve a financial goal and being very careful with your money can make a big difference.

This year I believe that I am in one of those situations, we’ve been getting by for a long time making ends meet but the credit cards are still mostly full and the savings are low. Its time for some more drastic measures. In the past I’ve tried half heartedly to stick to a weekly budget and where I find myself today is the need to really stay on top of my money but at the same time find a technique that allows me to stick to it.

How are we approaching this?

Weekly budgeting was something I always liked because a lot of items such as groceries, transportation, entertainment,etc… follow weekly patterns and just allotting funds for these monthly can be prone to error. But at the same time a lot of bills, most I would say, are monthly bills.

So I’m going back to a budget – a monthly budget, broken down weekly and tracked weekly.

The benefits of this are that:

  • I’ll be able to track spending weekly, adjusting the monthly budget as needed
  • The weekly spending follows the cycles of most of our consumables costs

Now as with most methods there are a few drawbacks or at least drawbacks as I see them.

  • You have to keep it up to date or you lose some of the benefits
  • It can be time consuming if you’re not careful
  • In our case this approach isn’t fully aligned to our pay cycles

As with any tracking method there are good things about it and bad but its the implementation that will make a difference. I’ve created a template for myself that I’ll be able to create a budget against. This info can be rolled up into a monthly net worth document that we can use to monitor progress. The biggest difference in my approach this time is that I’ll be using Mint.com to help me keep this up to date (with some manual entries from me along with bank tie ins).

Since I’m sure there are a few other Mint.com (or similar) users out there you might wonder why not just use this for everything? I find that it doesn’t give me a clear picture and it doesn’t take into account when things come out – its a little discouraging seeing how much you might still owe in a category for the month while the weekly breakdown takes it into smaller chunks.

I’ve been testing this out for a little over a month now and it seems simple enough but gives me enough of the information to help adjust my spending day to day while keeping me on a budget.

What systems have you used in the past? What has worked for you?

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