After determining your net worth (see this article for how to do this: https://faithfamilyandfinance.com/2016/03/24/how-to-know-what-youre-really-worth/), the next step to taking control of your finances is to track expenses. Here’s my full confession. I always knew I needed to do this. And I attempted it weakly a few times. My husband and I would start recording all of our purchases, but it usually lasted about ten days. I knew it was important, but it was so ornerous, and annoying, and time consuming, and I would just forget to do it. We tried saving receipts, but we would forget to write them down, lose them, or not receive receipts sometimes. Or forget what they were for. (What did we spend $60 on at Target?)
If you search in your app store, there are many apps you can find and download to record and keep track of what you eat, and your daily caloric and nutrient intake. I needed something like that for me to be able to keep track of my spending. Something automatic, so I wouldn’t have to remember. Something that would catch every cent, so we could have a clear picture of where our money was going.
Enter Mvelopes. Mvelopes tracks your spending for you! Mvelopes is a budgeting app that helps you keep track of your spending, set goals, categorize your money, keep track of your debt payoff, and so much more! I linked my spending accounts to Mvelopes
(checking, credit cards, auto loan, etc), and whenever a purchase or deposit happens it shows up in Mvelopes. Then, all I have to do is categorize the transaction. Mvelopes is an envelope-based budgeting system. This means you will have a digital envelope for every category you spend money in. You can have as many envelopes as you want (I have 148, so far)! You can make it as simple, or complicated as you would like. I can track any category I want. For example: I track eating out, gifts, grocery spending, gas for each car, school lunch spending, haircuts, subscriptions, utilities, library fines (oops!), date night, babysitters, and so much more! You name it, I have an envelope for it and I’m tracking it! It really is a game changer. Click here to check out Mvelopes: http://mvelopes.ltroute.com/click.track?CID=355693&AFID=414740
One of the features of Mvelopes is the Reports section. I love this section! In the reports section you can pull summaries of your monthly spending. Choose from a 3-month, 6-month, 9-month or 12-month time period, and it will break down each envelope, how much you spent in each category each month, and give you monthly averages. This feature has been so helpful for us as we have pulled various reports. Through Mvelopes, I track my spending and, through the reports, I can see, right in front of me, where our money went.
Why is it important?
But, let’s back up. So, why is tracking expenses important? Well, first off, it is eye-opening for sure! I had a good handle on where our money was going, but by tracking it and running monthly, quarterly, even annual reports I could begin to see patterns and take stock of the big picture, as well as the small details. I could look to see if we were spending in alignment with our values or goals, and if adjustments needed to be made. Small adjustments can lead to big progress. Tracking expenses lets you evaluate where your money is going, and if your spending aligns with your values. I had a client who sat down with her teenage children, and her husband and showed them that they had spent over $600 eating out last month! They were actually trying to save for a vacation, and they had a nice family discussion about whether they value eating out more than they value the big vacation they were working towards. Together, they decided to cut spending on eating out drastically, and accelerate their vacation fund. Not only did they gain awareness, evaluate, and realign their spending based on their family values, but this awareness also helped my client to be able to present to her family the evidence – the actual numbers. The family could see, could decide, and could take action on what their course would be, what they valued as a family, and work together as a team. Instead of mom being the ‘bad guy’ and telling everyone they couldn’t go out to eat, they were united in a common goal, and worked together to help each other. Who knew there was so much power in tracking your spending?
What I learned
Here are a few things I learned from tracking my own spending:
-My meal planning and shopping tactics are working and I am staying at or under budget on groceries almost every month!
-We are overspending on our gas budget. This realization helped us analyze our driving habits, and ultimately determine that we were being efficient and needed to make the gas budget higher.
-I was able to see how much we spent on Christmas and make a plan to save each month so that when December comes I will have cash ready and available to use for Christmas. In fact, all of our periodic expenses have become better budgeted for because of the awareness we gained from tracking our spending. We now save monthly for periodic expenses like Christmas, car insurance, car repairs, car registrations, dental and medical costs, and even our quarterly pest control service.
-We were spending money on a few things that we really didn’t value, but that were just convenient. We were able to shift that spending to a vacation fund instead, which is better aligned with our values and family goals.
-Although we don’t have much debt left, tracking spending showed us just how much goes to paying off debts. In a 12-month period we were able to see how much went toward these obligations, and this was extra motivation to get them paid off so that we could keep that money and use it for the future, instead of paying for the past.
-We are giving more than we thought we were, which was such a happy discovery. We try to be as generous as we can, but usually only give small amounts. By tracking our spending and analyzing where our money is going, we discovered that we were giving often.
-My husband and I could be on the same page. I could show him where his hard-earned money was going. It used to be gone, with nothing to show for it, but now I can show him where it’s going each month and we can be sure we both agree on where it’s going.
I am so grateful for all that my Heavenly Father has blessed us with. I want to be sure we are being wise stewards of what he has given to us. Like the scripture says in 2 Nephi 9:51, “Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy.” Tracking our spending helps us show ourselves and our Heavenly Father that we are making good choices with the means he has given us. Tracking our spending is the first step to taking control of our finances, and showing Heavenly Father that we are grateful for the abundance He gives to us, and that we want to use it the way He wants us to.
I encourage you to find a way to track your spending. Whether it’s a pen and paper, keeping receipts, compiling all of your bank and credit card statements and going through them, using an app like Mvelopes, or another one designed for this purpose, find a way that works for you. I chose Mvelopes because it is easy and automatic, and that means I will actually do it. Find what works for you and start tracking. At the very least, track for three months. This should give you a pretty good idea of your spending habits.
The first step to making changes or improvements it becoming aware of where you are and what is going on right now. Like a road map, you have to determine where you want to go, but also where you are at, in order to make your plan and route your progress. Creating your net worth statement, and tracking your spending are your first steps to knowing exactly where you are, so that you can develop your financial roadmap to where you want to be!
Here is a link for Mvelopes, in case you want to check it out: http://mvelopes.ltroute.com/click.track?CID=355693&AFID=414740 (Click on features and plans to see the different options. The basic is $4.99/month to use the app, up to $59/month, which includes monthly financial coaching).
(Full disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.)