Any Recommendations?

This is a guest post from Sheryl (a.k.a Cdn Gwen) in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

I am looking for a free (or very inexpensive, and only if it is really worth it) spending tracker.

I have tried doing a budget (a la Dave Ramsey style), but have always found I do better to just know how much I have available to spend (i.e $200.00 for the next two weeks) and stay within that. I figure that as long as my fixed expenses are paid, and my debt has decreased, I’m on the right track.
I would like to take this a step further and start analyzing where my money goes. I’ve been playing with a few free programs I ‘ve come across, but they are not quite what I’m looking for. I would like a spending tracker that I can customize the categories, don’t have enter a “budget” at the beginning of every month, and preferably something that I can keep a running tab of my net worth.  Something that I could compare month over month would be nice to have as well.

I’m not a compulsive spender, however, sometimes I feel I can do better, and I believe I have to know where I am to be able to make a plan to get where I want to go.

Any suggestions?

24 thoughts on “Any Recommendations?”

  1. Try Mint.com. You enter your bank account information once and it can see all your transactions from each account. You have the option of adding a budget or net worth by entering all your assets liabilities once. Good way to track expenses if coming from multiple accounts.

  2. I second the mint.com suggestion. It requires minimal intervention from me, so I’ve stuck with it longer than any other tracker.

  3. It is always easier to enter the expense as you incur it or you will forget what you spent how much on.
    Two I have used and found effective is iexpense on the iphone or another really cool app called spenz for iphone, or blackberry.
    What is cool about spenz is that it learns your spending habits to make it easier to enter expenses.
    If most mornings you buy coffee and a bagle from Tim Hortons at around 8am. When you launch the app at 7:56 there is a button right there to press and enter your total for “coffee” or what ever else you have purchased.
    Check it out http://spenz.com/

  4. Another vote for mint.com.

    I have stopped buying anything with cash just so it shows up on my mint account. Added bonus being that on my credit card I get 1% back.

  5. Then set yourself even less of a budget. Start watching ‘Til Debt Do Us Part on Slice.ca (which is free if you have the Internet; you don’t need to spend bags of money on cable every month). Gail Vaz-Oxlade is my hero. You are the only one who can determine what your needs and what your wants are.

    WRITE everything down in a notebook that you spend. You don’t need to waste money on some schmancy electronic gadget — you still have to enter the figures and then later find what you’re looking for. Writing things on a reasonably sized page means you can grasp the total in its entirety in one horror-filled swoop. Writing it down makes it real after the heady rush of spending money. Move to cash, rather than debit or credit.

    You don’t need categories. The idea is to REDUCE what you spend, so why do you need categories??? Stop playing games with yourself.

    If you want to horrify yourself further, you keep all the receipts of everything you spend in labelled envelopes (personal, dog/cat, kids, food, clothing — however you choose to label them), then take them out and marvel at the total it all ads up to at the end of every week/month/quarter. You won’t remember half of what you bought or why it was so important.

    Stop spending money mindlessly and make a shopping list. Do not go out with more than you need.

    Believe me, I was/still am the queen of wasting money. Spending only cash nips that in the bud because deep down I am extremely frugal with cash. It’s the unreality of debit and credit that kills me.

    Rethink what something really costs. If you divide out to the minute how much you earn in a month less necessities, you will come up with a figure for your “spare” cash. If you figure out how many minutes or hours you will have to work to buy something that isn’t a necessity, like a bag of chips or a magazine that you’ll toss after one reading you’ll be stunned into stopping.

    Find (free) activities that bring joy and make pleasurable memories to yourself — and others — and do them.

  6. If you bank with either RBC, CIBC or BMO they all have spending tracker apps that are part of their online banking. I don’t know if you can add in other institution’s accounts to get a full net worth appreciation, but it definitely will help you track your spending.

  7. I don’t use any tracking applications. A simple notebook and pen will do, but I actually do mine in Excel. Reduce your expenses, stop unnecessary ones, and look for extra ways to earn more. Good luck!

  8. I use Quicken, which is great for tracking all aspects of your finances, and is very handy for reporting as well. It’s also extremely helpful at tax time when you have to report your capital gains/losses, and to track any other tax related transactions such as charitable donations, medical expenses etc. It may cost you a few bucks, but for me, it was probably the best investment I ever made as I can see how every transaction impacts my overall financial picture, and through the reporting I can make adjsutments in my spending if I’m going overboard in some category.

  9. I use mint.com with an Excel sheet for long-term plans and planning cash flow.

    It is great for tracking what you spend. Not so great for planning beyond one month. I login in for a few minutes every day to update the automatically entered lines of spending to put a note on exactly what we spent it on, and make sure the program put the items under the correct categories.

    I’d definitely recommend it, even if only to try it out. If you don’t like it, you can purge your account and data. I didn’t like it my first time around, mostly because of the lack of flexibility in categories. Anything that is beyond the average expense has to made a sub-category of uncategorised. I’ve since adjusted and am enjoying it.

  10. Mint all the way. It’s come to Canada, integrates with your bank and is automatic. You can set it to send you emails about interesting happenings in your accounts or when it thinks bill are due. It’s not that great for investment accounts, but very good for tracking spending.

  11. Thank you for your suggestions, they are all good ideas.

    A little more about me, I am a nerd (I lovingly call myself that). For my day job, I work with money numbers all day, categorising and scrutinizing expenses and multiple sales income streams. I really enjoy disecting financial statements and finding ways to reduce expenses.

    How I have my finances set up right now is as follows.
    My pay in deposited into 2 banks. One is where all my monthly bill that don’t change come out of (mortgage, condo fees, insurance, loan payment etc). The other is what is left over from my pay, which I leave in that account as an emergency fund, which as it builds I either skim some off to pay down my debt, or to put into my RRSP (have to pay back for the First Time home Buyers plan). My boyfriend contributes our living expenses, and he gives me the money in cash. That is what I buy groceries, gas, spending money, clothes, entertainment, health expenses etc with. I (usually) only spend cash. Anything that is left over of that goes towards my debt, and this is the money I feel I need to keep better track of.
    Just as when someone is losing weight, one or two pounds can be a big deal, I want to know if and why I’m spending $30 more on something this month than I did last month, and correct the behavior that is causing it if needed.
    I have only used my credit card twice this year, once to pay last years income tax that I owed, and the other to pay for my daughters wisdom teeth removal. I don’t buy a lot of “stuff”. I usually clothes shop twice per year to replace things that have worn out (same with shoes), I don’t stop for coffee on my way to work, I eat at home for about 95% of my meals. I pick up books at yard sales or try to find a trading group (the boyfriend just got an ereader given to him with 100 preloaded books, so I have lots to read for now).
    I know the level of monitoring that I like would drive most people crazy, but it’s what I like and a part of who I am.

  12. I bank with RBC and use their expense tracker. It’s great but what I did before that was to import all my bank transactions into excel (or google spreadsheets if you don’t have excel).

    How I do it now is to have my chequing account act as my “brakes” on spending. I transfer a set amount from my high interest (only 1% so not exactly “high”) savings account to the chequing account automatically every month, pay my CC almost every week but for sure every month in full. Usually I go under on the spending in a month and I transfer the excess into another savings account to save up for big things like furniture. If I go over on monthly spending (rarely and not by much), I transfer money out of the big item savings account (not the high interest one). I do a check-in weekly to see if I’m on track but everything’s pretty smooth overall.

    I don’t agree with the above that categories are *totally* useless. When I was monitoring years ago, they were invaluable for me to see that yes, I really was spending $200+ a month on books that I eventually gave away. (Hello? Library?) 😉

    I’d only bother analyzing the categories if you find you have spending creep otherwise it’s just a make work project. It might be valuable to do a few times a year though. Many people only have the potential for inflation in a few categories and the others just are what they are.

    I have all of my RRSP’s, TFSA and investing accounts through my bank so I know exactly what my non-house net worth is every month. I don’t bother including the value of stuff like my car, RV and other personal items because I have no intention of cashing out of them.

    Here’s a good template for NW if you’re looking for one:
    http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/net-worth-tracking-and-planning-spreadsheet-TC030007790.aspx

    Or this one if you don’t have access to excel:
    https://docs.google.com/templates?category=14&sort=hottest&view=public&author=Google&pli=1

  13. Sheryl

    Why not despot that cash into a bank account when you receive it. That way you can monitor all expenses from your credit card statements and get rewards. Take advantage of the system!

  14. If you only spend cash and you want to stick to a budget, then use envelopes. So much in one envelope for food, so much in another for gas, etc. When you get a receipt, stick it in the envelope you paid from.

    If you dislike carrying large amounts of cash, then split the money up into weekly segments.

  15. It’s not free, but for your situation, consider Moneywell. It manages multiple accounts (including a cash account) in one spot and uses an envelope budgeting system. There’s a small learning curve and it’s not perfect, but you get the hang of it. The trial version is free and allows up to 200 transactions, so you can get a feel for whether you like it before buying the full version.

  16. I use Moneydance. It’s not free ($49.99) but it does what you ask and then some. If you use an iPod or iPhone it has a free app which could be handy for your out-and-about purchases.

    I’d read some privacy concerns with respect to Mint, but can’t comment on how founded they are. Might be worth doing your own research and make that call for yourself if you’re considering it.

    Good luck and hope you find something that works for you.

  17. Another vote for Quicken. Their Cash Manager product is the least expensive option and does a great job for tracking expenses, budgeting and dowloads from my online banking very easily.

  18. It costs money but I like YNAB (You need a budget). It does everything you want perfectly, flawlessly, with two exceptions. You will have to enter a 1 time budget for each category (200 for gas, example). But it will carry it over each month, and it’s easy to change. It excels for irregular or one time expenses like car insurance. Other bad part is it doesn’t automatically pull data in by itself, you have to pull csv files from your banks or enter the transactions yourself. I don’t mind but lots of people.

    I haven’t used it but Yodlee seems like it might work too, it’s free and pretty awesome in its own right.

  19. +1 for Mint. I use it on my android phone. Only time I’ve had issues is when the bank changes their website, like Scotia just did…

  20. http://www.CalendarBudget.com

    I’ve been using it for a couple of years now, I believe. For me it’s well worth the minimal cost because it gives me exactly the functionality that I had been looking for that no one else seemed to provide … the ability to forecast. So even though there would be $300 available in the account today, if I have a $200 bill coming out in 5 days and I don’t get paid again for 10 days, then I really only have $100 to work with … and it helps you to see that … and to project forward. 🙂

  21. It looks like November is going to be test month. I’m in the process of downloading and/or setting up some of these suggestions.

    Thank you again for all your suggestions!!!

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