The first step of budgeting is to become familiar with your spending patterns. Here is is a free printable expense tracker to help you.
If you get to the end of the week, or the end of the month and you have no idea where your money goes, then tracking your expenses day to day is a fundamental exercise in getting to know your spending habits.
It’s an eye opener – it can be a surprise just how much little expenses add up!
I no longer track expenses, I use a proactive money management plan that saves time as well as money. It’s super easy and effective. But it can be a really good idea to do a month or so of expense tracking to really get a handle on your spending.
Like any habit, remembering to write down every expense takes a little time getting used to.
To make the task easier, I’ve created some printable household expense worksheets do download.
An expense tracking worksheet is great for tracking cash expenses, particularly those that don’t include a receipt.
Instead of forgetting what you’ve spent, you can write down your expenses immediately on the wallet-sized expense tracker.
[2018 update – how times change in a few short years! Alternatively, you can use a Smartphone app.]
Home Expense Tracker
The first expense worksheet is for use at home. Print it out and put in on the fridge or somewhere convenient so that you and others in the household can write down the day’s expenses.
If you keep a conventional budget, these expenses can then be transferred to your budget at a convenient time.
It’s a good idea to keep the expense sheet with an envelope for receipts. These can then be used to balance your bank and card statements.
The problem with convention budgeting software is that it is based on bank statements, not actual expenditure.
So if you withdraw $50 from the ATM, you have no record of what you actually spent that money on. Also, if you use EFTPOS in store and buy items from several budgeting categories, there is no record on your bank statement of the breakup of expenses.
This is where keeping receipts is important. Whether you use budgeting software, an App, Excel or paper and pen, your receipts allow you to balance your bank statements and still break up your expenses into something meaningful.
This is a really important point.
There’s no point just tracking your expenses. You have to also use this data to analyse your spending. That means taking these expenses, organising them into meaningful categories and then tallying the total.
Anyway, back to tracking…
What about cash purchases where there are no receipts?
This is where you tracking sheet (or app) comes in handy. You can write your spending down as you spend it so you can allocate and analyse it later. That $50 ATM withdrawal might be $5 for coffee, $10 for work lunch, $25 for groceries, $10 for the kids’ tuckshop. When you allocate expenses to a category and then tally each category, you get a clear picture of your spending patterns.
The expense sheet comes with a section at the bottom to make tallying up expenses into their relevant categories easier. Then you can input these weekly totals into your budget in a matter of minutes.
Print the worksheet on both sides to save paper.
Wallet-sized Printable Expense Tracker
The second printable expense tracker is for the wallet. This one can be cut out and folded into wallet sized convenience for tracking expenses on the go.
It is very easy to forget what you spent your money on and how much, especially on expenses that don’t come with a receipt. Writing your expense down on the spot mitigates this problem. You should be able to print this sheet (up the same way) on both sides of the paper.
Both worksheets are in PDF format, so you’ll need a PDF reader like the free Acrobat to view the files. Download the files by clicking on the links below and saving.
I’ve tracked my expenses, what now?
A month of tracking expenses should give you a very good idea as to your regular spending habits.
Now it’s time to create a budget based on your spending patterns and financial goals.
The important thing is to take the information you’ve gleaned from this exercise and make it work for you so that you are prioritising your spending according to your goals.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.