I think that budgeting is the only true way of actually seeing how much money is coming in and how much money is going out. Until you actually track your budgets for a few months, it’s all guesswork as to how much you actually spend on items. Loose change in the pockets can disappear pretty quickly on trivial purchases that add up over time.
Getting started on Mint is relatively easy and my wife loves it. Using the service Mint has provided my wife to get our finances under control and really “take charge”. You start by opening an account, and then you add links to your bank account, credit cards and other debt holders, auto loan, mortgage, or brokerage. You can also add assets to track your net worth. They do have bank-level security, and you can read more about that on their website.
Once you have all your accounts uploaded, the next thing to do is to create individual budgets or income/expense categories. Once you start earning income and making purchases you file these transactions in the correct budget. After you do this one time, Mint remembers the transaction and will automatically file the transactions in the appropriate budget every time thereafter. This makes recurring income/expenses very easy to track, and really puts your budgeting on auto-pilot.
So, as you can see it’s very easy to track your expenses once you set these individual budgets up. Think of Mint like one of those old-fashioned coin counters where you put the coin in the top hole and the quarters/dimes/nickles automatically sort themselves based on size. That’s what this program does for you. It automatically sorts all your transactions. All you do is create budgets and name them accordingly. The only thing that Mint can’t account for is cash transactions. You have to log on to Mint and post any cash transactions. This could be a painful and time consuming exercise for someone who uses a lot of cash, but in today’s society I highly doubt many people still use cash for most transactions.
Even if you decide to use a different program to track your budgets, or even if you resort to a paper budget, it doesn’t really matter. The point is to track your income/expenses in a manner that makes sense to YOU. If you find it easy, and it works then keep doing it. If you’re not budgeting EVERY SINGLE DOLLAR, then you need to start today. For example, if we look at our budget and realize that auto expenses were accounting for almost 1/3 of all monthly expenses we can decide its time to get rid of that automobile altogether or downgrade and get that spending in that category under control.
Work Hard or Work Smart?