One of the core and timeless basics of personal finance remains – Earn > Spend. Click To Tweet
Most of us know to the final rupee of the amount that we earn. But how many of us really have an idea of how much do we spend each month? You might ask what is the big deal till the time I am able to just about manage every month with maybe a little pile of savings to account for.
In case of goal setting, one of the most important actions which keeps us focused is undoubtedly tracking. In any sales team, to be able to achieve their targets they know their numbers at the back of their hands because they track them everyday. Ask anyone who has managed a massive weight loss, and they would have tracked their calorie intake considering the equation of burn > consume is very simple. Expense tracking is no different. Even if you do not have concrete financial goals at the moment, just the goal of getting your finances in one place also needs expenses to be tracked.
WHY SHOULD I TRACK MY EXPENSES?
Apart from the macro overall benefit of being able to track your progress towards financial goals, there are some smaller more visible benefits as well like:
- Every rupee accountable: It shows a basic respect of your money. Money is hard earned and making a small effort to know exactly where each penny or rupee is being spent lends the whole aspect a level of seriousness it deserves.
- Stop spending on things you are not using: There are times when we agree to a regular spending habit and later realize we are not even using the service – Hotstar or Linkedin premium or maybe even the daily newspaper. Those spends will now be more prominent and you might finally make the effort it takes to stop services that you are not using. (Side note: Ever realize how easy brands make it to sign up for a service and the obstacles involved in stopping most of them?)
- Little things that add up: While tracking you will come to see that there might be some seemingly small expenses that you make everyday but cumulatively they could be pretty big. This could be a dessert addiction leading to a quick order on Swiggy or the drinking plan every other day. To me, David Bach puts this concept very well with the “Latte factor” (more on this next Wednesday). You can then decide if those things are important enough to justify the amounts being spent on them.
- The power of choice: You and you alone should be able to decide what do you want to spend your money on. In a lot of instances, thanks to peer pressure we end up spending or unknowingly we spend on things which add up to numbers that you might not be very happy about. Seeing it all in one place in front of you will give you the power to choose and decide what you want to spend your money on and what you do not.
- No unauthorised payments: There are times when some debits might be made to your account by error. This could be by your bank or any other small expense. If you are consistently tracking your expenses, you would be well aware of such instances and take the right actions for it.
HOW CAN I TRACK MY EXPENSES?
There are multiple ways that you can use to track your expenses. You could try and figure out in good time what works best for you.
Three broad methods of tracking expenses are:
- Old-fashioned paper and pen: I have seen my parents have a kharcha (Spends) diary for years with categories made for the fixed spends every month – like milk, groceries etc. While I use this method whenever we are on a long vacation (longer than a weekend), this is something I have not been able to do consistently. However, writing things down sure gives you more time to think and even remember the expenses better
- Customised excel spreadsheet: This is another excellent method that a lot of people find handy, especially those who spend majority of their day on a laptop. In fact, excel now has a few templates that you can play around with and make your own.
- Expense tracker apps: These are more my cup of tea. Here again there are 2 types of apps – Automatic and Manual. In the automatic app you connect your savings account and credit card account and it pulls in data and feeds it to the app. In India, since all our transactions are sent to us through text message alerts, most Indian apps track expenses by reading those text messages.
I have two concerns with this method – firstly I worry for my data security as personally I am not comfortable sharing such information with a 3rd party app and secondly in India where we make a lot of expenses in cash it might defeat the purpose partly. In come the manual apps where you enter each expense manually. Spend money > Whip out your mobile > Open the app > Enter the expense. Honestly it is just about developing the habit and then this becomes pretty much on autopilot too.
WHICH MOBILE APP SHOULD I USE TO TRACK MY EXPENSES?
Now, this is a trickier ask. I used to use Spendee but somehow I got out of the habit. With this blog in my life I now want to start that discipline yet again. What better day to start it than the start of a month. So, I am going to experiment and put to use 5 apps to track each rupee spent through any payment route (Cash/Credit Card/Digital Wallet) and see how they hold up for a month and report on my experience on 6th December (Wednesday).
Criteria for choosing the apps:
- The app should be available in India and track Indian ruppees (INR) or be currency agnostic
- Free version of the app should be available
- Available on Android and iOS
- Allows me to enter expenses manually and not insist on reading my transaction text messages (This ruled out Indian apps 🙁 )
- Rated more than 4 on Android (as that is what I am using)
- At least 500000 Android downloads
(Drumrolls) The list of the apps is as below:
I can just hope this post inspires you to track your expenses in a way most suitable to you. If I can track mine in 5 apps for a month (more time than the 21 days it takes to build a habit) you surely can do it too. Do it with me for a month and am sure you will be hooked.
Any questions, opinions or comments, do post it below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org