How to better track your spending patterns

If you feel like you should have additional cash each month to save or invest, you’re not alone. 

Tags: Budgeting, Lifestyle, Planning
Published: December 05, 2018

Does this scenario sound familiar? You recently got a raise, but you’re not transferring any additional money into your savings account each month. Or, maybe you received a bonus or inheritance, and it feels like that money is disappearing with little to show for it.

Getting on the right track starts with awareness: Once you know where your money is going, you can take steps to get on firmer financial footing.


Make some discoveries

Tracking your spending is the first, crucial step toward eliminating spending patterns that can slow down your saving and investing. It can also draw attention to problematic purchases you might not be aware of, including fraudulent or double charges.

To get a sense of your monthly expenses, put them into two categories throughout the month: fixed expenses and discretionary expenses.


  • Fixed expenses include your rent or mortgage payments, vehicle payments, insurance, daycare, clothing, groceries, utilities, including gas, electricity, Internet, and any loan payments you’re required to pay each month. If you’ve been setting aside a certain amount for your savings, include that, too.
  • Discretionary expenses include dining out, entertainment, and leisure. Think family movie trips, vacations, or other expenses that you can do without, or at least trim. Really dig in: There are often discretionary expenses that you might not immediately think of, such as streaming video services or food delivery services that you subscribe to. These expenses can add up.


If you share expenses with your partner, go over your monthly spending together. If you share accounts, you’ll want to be aware of one another’s expenses and discuss your savings goals and a budgeting plan that works for both of you.


Assess your spending

After about a month of tracking your spending, you might notice any unnecessary expenses that are bloating your budget. Tracking your spending gives you the opportunity to articulate your priorities, avoid impulse purchases and trim costs when possible.

It’s not just discretionary expenses that you might find yourself second guessing. You might be surprised to see how much your Internet, cable and cell phone bills add up to each month. Maybe you can find a better deal on your car insurance, or perhaps you can consolidate your student loans to get a better rate. The opportunities for saving become focused and more attainable once you take a clear-eyed look at how you’re spending and the areas that are leading you astray.

Tracking your expenses can help you avoid lifestyle creep — the frequent food delivery orders or upgraded car lease that eats away at an increase in income.


Put a budget plan in place

It sounds counterintuitive, but one of the most important times to track your spending is when you get a raise or influx of cash. It’s natural for many of us to spend more when we earn more, but we often do so without a lot of forethought. That’s how you end up with a larger paycheck that seems to only do as much as the previous one.

Once you’ve totaled your expenses, stay on top of tracking them. Start a spreadsheet of your spending, or use your bank’s online or mobile app to track your expenses and build out your budgeting goals. Each person’s and family’s needs are different, but a good rule of thumb is to keep essential spending at 50 percent of your income, discretionary spending at 30 percent and save the remaining 20 percent. Whatever the right ratio is for you, sticking to it can make goals feel much more attainable. That Hawaiian vacation you’ve always dreamed of or new car you’ve had your eye on can be a reality sooner than you might think if you know where your money is going and can adjust when necessary.


Get advice from a professional

Staying on track with the spending plan you’ve created for yourself can be difficult, so you may want to consider speaking with a financial professional. A financial professional may be able to help you tackle the challenges you’re unsure about, such as saving more for large purchases or how much more to invest for retirement.

By being more mindful about your spending and budgeting habits, you may be able to set aside more money each month and pursue the goals that matter most to you.


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