Personal finance sites like Mint.com and accounting software like Quicken have made it easy to track your finances via computer. While these tools are useful, sometimes uncomplicated or low-tech personal finance budgeting and tracking techniques are a better fit for a person’s personality and needs. People looking for simple solutions for their personal finances might be surprised to find that one of these simple tools or approaches works better for them than a computer program.
1. Hardly anyone uses checkbooks or the small ledgers that always went with them anymore. However, a pocket-sized ledger for keeping track of spending can still be useful, especially for people who rely heavily on their debit cards. Jotting down each transaction and subtracting it from your overall balance is still the most fool-proof way to avoid overdrafts. If you are unsure if you have enough to cover a purchase, all it takes is a quick glance down at your ledger and you will know if you have enough in your account to cover the cost.
2. It is possible to skip tracking your spending altogether if you are willing to rely on cash. One approach could be to withdrawal all the money that you have budgeted for the next thirty days on the first day of the month. You can divide this cash into different envelopes, each one for a different category of expense (lunch money, gas, groceries, etc). When the money is gone for the month, you’ll be forced to stop spending in that category. Perhaps this is not the most convenient way to stick to a budget (what about unforeseen expenses, etc), but it is guaranteed to keep you from overspending.
3. Prepaid debit cards are an option for people who want to go on a financial diet but don’t want to rely solely on cash. You can deposit money into the prepaid account once per month and then use the card to cover your expenses. When the money runs out, you are forced to stop spending. You have to keep track of your card’s balance (be careful because some card issuers charge you if you check too frequently), but you can get a similar result to the cash-and-envelope method. The monthly cash or prepaid debit card options are good for people who have been struggling with sticking to their monthly budget.
4. If you want to assess your spending rather than simply sticking to a budget, the best option is to collect all your receipts (request receipts from cashiers or retailers who don’t usually give them). You can divide the receipts into different categories – by putting them in piles or fastening them with paper clips. You can then tally the totals from these papers and see how much you spent on different categories for the month. Receipts can also be useful when checking your monthly statements from your bank or your credit card company. This might seem like a lot of extra paper floating around, but you really only have to keep your receipts for one month, then you can throw them away.
5. Use checks to pay your bills. It is completely possible to throw away your checkbooks and take care of all your bill payments online. This is a convenient and hassle free way to pay for your utilities and services. But you lose an element of control when you pay online, especially if you set up automatic withdrawals or automatic payments. Paying by check allows you to track your spending and pay your bills from one single place rather than on many different websites. You can keep a ledger and have all your payment info for the month in front of you in a single place.