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How do you Track your Finances?

Written by Nickel - 51 Comments

A week ago, I dug into our Quicken archives and charted the growth of our net worth over the past ten years. It was a pretty enlightening exercise, and it was made possible by that fact that I’ve meticulously tracked our finances in Quicken since the beginning of 1997. Doing this got me to wondering about how others track their finances, which brings me to a question…

Do you keep track your finances in detail? If so, how do you do it? A dedicated software package such as Quicken, MS Money, or MoneyDance? An online service of some sort? Maybe a spreadsheet? Or perhaps you use (gasp!) paper and pencil?

Published on July 24th, 2007
Modified on April 23rd, 2010 - 51 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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51 Responses to “How do you Track your Finances?”

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  1. 1
    Andrea Says:

    We track ours in an excel spreadsheet of our own making. The dates (every two weeks=payday) are across the top and the different categories are on the left-hand side of the page (checking, saving, 529, mortgage, total cash, total investments, total cash+investments, two week change, etc). It doesn’t add any of the numbers up for us. I suppose we could make it do that but choose not to.

    I also started another excel spreadsheet that is our spending log and love it. It has date, place I spent the money, and the amount, then I color code the place- groceries is green, my fun spending is red, fun spending for hubby is blue, gas for me is pink, gas for hubby is turquoise etc and then we have joint entertainment-which is eating out, movies etc, car expenses, gifts, medical, household oh btw I put clothes, personal grooming expenses in the fun category for each of us. That way it helps me to keep it in perspective and not buy it because hey, it’s clothes right? or spend 100 bucks on my hair or something silly…I think a lot of women do that. Then I total it once at the end of the month.

    I really enjoy your blog btw. I’ve learned a lot.

  2. 2
    Steve Says:

    I track the increase / decrease to my net worth on a monthly basis with a balance sheet I’ve set up in MS Excel.

    If my net worth is going up I don’t worry about expenses to much. If it goes down I dig deeper into my spending to determine if it was the cause of the decrease.

  3. 3
    Kurt Says:

    MS Money (Quicken in the past) from 1998. Don’t go into too much detail (I download data every month or so), but it helps to put it all in perspective! The annoying thing is I can’t find an easy way to put my 401(k)/pension plan in there, so I’m missing a fairly large number when i pull up my “net worth” chart. I just try to tell myself it isn’t there so I’ll have a nice surprise come 2040. :-)

  4. 4
    nickel Says:

    Kurt, doesn’t Money have an option for portfolio accounts, or something like that? I’ve been able to keep track of everything in Quicken with no problems.

  5. 5
    Anne Says:

    I use Money (I put our 401ks under “Investment Accounts”). I’ve got about 3 years of data, and I keep detailed records of our income and spending, so the data over time can be really interesting. I guess I should say, it’s interesting if you’re like me and into tracking data. I can’t wait until I have ten years of numbers to look at. :)

  6. 6
    Mark Says:

    For me it’s a combination of tools. I use Excel, web sites, and GnuCash.

    I used to be a Money user. Before that, Quicken. Before that MYM (anyone remember that one?) MYM doesn’t even exist that I know of. The others are too feature heavy. Simple tools are just plain more effective.

  7. 7
    Blaine Moore Says:

    MS Money. I’m considering switching, but haven’t had the time or inclination yet.

  8. 8
    Seth Says:

    I use Open-source jGnash to track my accounts, and excel for my budget. I haven’t found anything that gives me the flexibility to do what I want in one package, hence the two. It’s a little more work, but it works for me!

  9. 9
    Squeezer Says:

    yodlee moneycenter

  10. 10
    Debbie Says:

    Short-term: home-made check-register-like things with a separate column for each place money can come from (checking, credit card #1, credit card #2). Another one to list all my changeable expenditures, including cash, with a different column for each budget category. These I carry with me in my purse. I have no excuse for not keeping them up to date.

    Long-term: spreadsheets. I enter the monthly totals from the above and everything else into spreadsheets so I can track my progress and see what is available in different categories for large expenditures (such as a new roof, a vacation, or a “new” car). These are on my computer and get saved (well, e-mailed to myself as an attachment) periodically.

    I used to have an electronic PDA which I loved, loved, loved, but it got wet and died, and then my second one died for no reason, so I don’t trust them anymore.

  11. 11
    Scott Says:

    We use the spreadsheet within Google Docs to keep track of the daily budget. That way, I can update the same sheet from either work or home if necessary.

  12. 12
    Crys Says:

    I use MS Money, and have since January 2005 to track every cent that goes in and out of every account I have. It allows me to take a look at the last few months and see where problems are. Recently I discovered that over the last 2 years I’ve spent over $3500 on a bill that I didn’t need, and promptly removed it from my monthly expenditure.

    I do have a copy of Quicken, but I don’t use it. And both are 2001 copies that I’ve also ripped and distributed to friends.

    I’ve also recommended several online services on my journal:
    http://tawodi.org/2007/03/25/digital-feng-shui/
    http://tawodi.org/2007/06/17/k.....-finances/

  13. 13
    SingleGuyMoney Says:

    I used to use Microsoft Money but figured I could do the same thing in Excel. It took me about 6 months of tweaking but I finally have a excel sheet to track my budget, my debt reduction progress and my overall net worth.

  14. 14
    seth Says:

    GnuCash rocks my world. Way better than Quicken or Money.

  15. 15
    nickel Says:

    How good is GnuCash at importing Quicken data? I messed around with Money Dance a bit recently, but it seemed like there were a lot of potential glitches that you’d have to fix manually. Totally not worth it when you have a decade worth of data. It has to be seamless or I can’t realistically change.

  16. 16
    Cory Says:

    I use Quicken to track my account balances and spending by category and excel to produce a net worth report and an income/expense report.

  17. 17
    Dr. T Says:

    I have been using quicken for a little over 2 years to track and categorize my expenses. It works pretty well although at times I find the program has more bells and whistles than I really need.

  18. 18
    Emma Says:

    I use paper and pen actually! I track bills separately in a spreadsheet though – but expenses are tracked on paper (groceries, petrol, health, schooling, dog, my allowance).

  19. 19
    MITBeta Says:

    I have been using Quicken since the late 90s. I finally have ALL of my data in it. In the past 401ks and IRAs weren’t all accounted for or updated properly for various reasons. So if you were to look at my net worth graph you would likely see a number of step changes as accounts came up to date.

    I would love to use GnuCash, but does it really have all the functionality of Quicken? I don’t like being held hostage to the upgrades and have found some financial institutions that don’t like being held hostage to the licensing for the data formatting.

    I’ll second Nickel’s question about importing… if I can seamlessly transition to GnuCash and it will do everything that I can currently do in Quicken, then I’ll go for it.

    For what it’s worth, I use a Google Spreadsheet for my budget also. The Quicken budget functionality is next to worthless.

  20. 20
    Cheryl Says:

    Peeking from behind my spiral notebook….! I am a paper and pencil gal for the daily spending stuff. I use Quicken for checking, so it tracks monthly for me.

  21. 21
    Brandon Pierce Says:

    I use iBank (http://www.iggsoftware.com/ibank/) to track my expenses and as a budget monitor. I also use a spreadsheet for monthly budgeting since it’s flexible and I can do quick calculations easily right there in the spreadsheet.

  22. 22
    Susanna a.k.a. Cheap Like Me Says:

    Quicken to keep track of all my accounts.

    Then I use Excel spreadsheets for tracking progress on our debts, my monthly business income projections and our monthly budgets.

  23. 23
    Flexo Says:

    Quicken, all the way.

  24. 24
    vh Says:

    I track & reconcile checking & savings accounts in Quicken, and keep track of IRAs, mutual funds, and retirement funds in Excel. Also use Excel to track, on a weekly basis, the status of the “cookie jar” fund set aside from my paycheck for each cycle of credit card charges (from the 21st to the 20th of each month).

  25. 25
    Kevin (The Credit Camp) Says:

    Thanks for the tip on jGnash. I will be sure to check that out in more detail.

  26. 26
    JamesW Says:

    Since I have excel, I use that. I tried using others but i found it a bother to try and learn different software. I just use a different worksheet every year.

    Might try something more sophisticated when the finances are more complex.

    ed

  27. 27
    Lulu Says:

    I started off tracking my expenses in an excel spreadsheet. Then I got Microsoft money and I use that instead. I track my finances in great detail so I always know exactly where I am spending.

  28. 28
    Tinyhands Says:

    For my investments I use an abacus but for tax planning I have quipu.

  29. 29
    Scott Says:

    We have used quicken since we got married over 12 years ago. It is great to be able to see the networth grow over time on that chart and to see what we spend year to year.

    This was an awesome tool in helping us figure out how my wife could stay home part time with the kids and still save.

    Other tools might be better or cheaper but I have all this data and REFUSE to lose it now.

    The funny thing about this is I started it because I remember my mom keeping track of the expenses using an old red ledger book. It is a great memory and a big influence on my approach to spending.

  30. 30
    Chris Says:

    I’ve got a spreadsheet that took me quite a while to build together, but now it has a good 2 years of solid data. There are 15 “sheets” in the workbook dedicated to different things. There’s a summary sheet that lists all my income and outgoing, bills, loans, etc. Another sheet is dedicated to my readjustments (irregularly billed items that are spread evenly throughout the year and saved up for weekly) such as auto insurance, pest control, – about 10-20 items there. Still more sheets give me all the data I’ve compiled on our vehicle maintenance schedules, mileage estimators and future maintenance costs, calculations on how often certain repairs occur statistically (like blown tires, etc) so I can set aside proper reserves, utility costs and cost vs consumption, net worth sheet, fuel spending, investment balances/growth, a sheet just with charts/graphs that show what % various household bills take up in our budget, how many miles each car is being used and how much that is costing is with their mpg (helps us decide which vehicle to use more often), a section for specific savings plans, bank account information/balances/spending trends, and a page of notes for anything that happened that month (some service canceled/opened, etc). I just print it and file it away on a monthly basis and use the 12 reports to compile a yearly summary that just gets filed away.

    Probably not much more than Quicken does. It was kinda fund to put it all together myself though.

  31. 31
    Millionaire Mommy Next Door Says:

    I started years ago with Quicken, but now use MS Money. I track everything with ease because I use the automatic bank transaction downloads. Works well for tracking my investment portfolio, too. Love the Lifetime Planner that’s included.

  32. 32
    matt Says:

    I use Yodlee through HSBC, called Easyview. I am a big fan of lazy accounting. I set up automatic payments for all of my bills and savings. As long as I meet all of my goals of paying bills and saving I don’t really care what I do with the money. But the leftover money doesn’t amount to much. I like yodlee to give me a glimpse of all of my accounts in one page. It also alerts me when bills are due and such. I tried quicken once but I could never get it set up and (unless I missed it) had to download all my own financial data. I have way too many accounts with financial institutions so that would be very time consuming. Yodlee is automatic and very nice.

  33. 33
    grapeshot Says:

    I just starting tracking my expense using a free Excel program called PearBudget.
    http://pearbudget.com/
    It looks super easy, which is what it would have to be for me to keep it up. We’ll see how it works out.

  34. 34
    Sam Says:

    We use Quicken, Networth IQ, excel document for our debt repayment and a word document for our budget. I’ve only been using Quicken since 1/07 and I’m still trying to figure out how to make it work properly. Quicken has been great for tracking spending each month and I like the reports and graphs that show how much we spend in each category. But, I can’t get Quicken to create a budget for us, as its supposed to, based on the financial data we have uploaded to Quicken. For some reason Quicken can’t get its head around multiple mortgages etc. for our investment accounts. I also can’t seem to get Quicken to properly track mortgage payments. I love NetworthIQ for tracking our net worth each month. We have a fabulous Excel document that we use to track our debt repayment (1 year project) which tracks % paid off, has bar charts documenting progress, etc. Finally, I have a word document that I’ve been using since 2001 to keep my rough budget, household and personal regular and semiregular expenses and escrow account upkeep.

  35. 35
    nickel Says:

    Sam: Sorry, but I can’t help with Quicken from a budgeting angle, as I’ve never used that functionality. Truth be told, we don’t really budget. Rather, we have aggressive savings targets and, once those are met, we let the chips fall where they may.

  36. 36
    The Div Guy Says:

    My wife and I have our monthly budget on an Excel Spreadsheet and I just eye ball our online checking account to see if the balance is the same as the past month. We used to track everything on Quicken but got tired of that. I do calculate our networth each month to see how we are progressing.

    Does anyone have a good site for tracking the total return of a stock portfolio?

  37. 37
    r Says:

    yodlee moneycenter. free, easy, fast, flexible and fantastic.

    I also use wesabe.com for some things.

  38. 38
    dong Says:

    I too am a huge fan yodlee. I’ve been using since at least 2002 I think. It really has made huge difference for me.

  39. 39
    Steve Says:

    I just started tracking my expenses. I download all my statements into Quicken for general networth tracking, but that doesn’t give me a clear picture on where I’m spending raw, so I have a Google spreadsheet with daily expenses which I update whenever I spend. I’ve only been at it a month, and at the end of September, I’ll be wondering how to tweak the spreadsheet so it can add up monthly income+spending+savings on the fly whenever the month ends. Anyone here know how to do that?

  40. 40
    Rick Says:

    I use Yodlee through Comerica since EasyView through HSBC does not retrieve some of my accounts. I also use a spreadsheet to take a monthly snap shot of my finances from Yodlee so I have a history.

    The history is crucial for creating charts to track growth progress. But I’m looking into either another way to do this or I’ll need to simplify my accounts. I don’t spend a lot so my habit will take care of the accounting. But this is a drawback also, since it makes sense to spend big on some things so you don’t save too much and become stingy. So a budget would help in this category.

  41. 41
    bewaechterin Says:

    From 1995 through 1999 I wrote down a net worth list each month (debts on top, assets next, then net at bottom).

    Since 1999, when entries in both categories increased, I have used an Excel spreadsheet to track my progress; I print out that on a quarterly basis and look through them all occasionally and calculate the relative change in my net worth. It’s rather comical to see what that figure was versus what it is now!

    Recommended this approach to a sibling but it was rejected outright as being “too much work”. Another sibling uses MSMoney with enthusiasm and success.

    Really like the Five Cent Nickel site (except for the ads) and find many commentors intelligent and creative!

  42. 42
    joseph skorich Says:

    i use excel to show how many hours a day i put in at work and it add all the hours up by itself

  43. 43
    Kaiser Says:

    We track all our detailed spending, transaction by transaction with MS Money. Been doing this for 3 years and I enjoy having all the history.

    Our basic family budget that brakes down all our income and where we allocate our monthly spending categories is done in excel because it’s easier to get an overview and change things that way.

  44. 44
    Jeff Pershing Says:

    I use numbers (apples version of excel) to make my chart of our finances. I also use networthiq.com and that is all other than checking the websites everyday of my financial companies.

  45. 45
    Jennifer Nikolaisen Says:

    I use My Yodlee. I heard about it in a finance course I took with Univ of MD from a fellow student a few years back and have used it for 4+ years – it’s absolutely free and updates my finances nightly. It was also recommended by Motley Fool as well – everything from the US Treasury (savings bonds) to TSP (Gov’t retirement funds), USAA, all credit cards, even my credit union, are all signed up to allow them to update my accounts — I can’t say enough about how much I love it, and would be willing to pay $$ to continue using it if it ever passed the fees on to consumers (right now they make money from places like your bank for allowing their banking customers free use of the site.. but it is free for everyone..!)

    Main site is http://moneycenter.yodlee.com

  46. 46
    Bjacobson Says:

    So which of all of these can keep automated track of all your accounts, saving, checking, mortgage, credit cards, etc and still give you the ability to manually enter cash receipts and expenditures. It seems they either do one or the other?

  47. 47
    Tony Says:

    I’m tempted to start using yodlee. Can anyone suggest (or give their opinion)on how hacker-safe is this site. Thanks

  48. 48
    Rick Says:

    Been using yodlee for over 2 years now without any issue and am a big fan of the service. Super easy to set up and no credit card late fees since using them because i never misplace bills. Surprised that more people on here on not using it.
    Was initially hesitant, but took comfort in that a lot of large banks subscribe to their service for their customers, including bank of america. To find the sign up link, google “money center yodlee”.

  49. 49
    Zachary Spencer Says:

    I do my tracking through a custom shared google spreadsheet. This lets me update my budget whereever I am on the road…

    As of now, I don’t have net worth calculation built in, but I really should… I’ll look at doing that…

  50. 50
    eve online download Says:

    I am genuinely happy to read this blog posts which consists of tons of valuable information, thanks for providing these information.

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