Sunday, August 28, 2016

Keeping track of money - how I (attempt to) do it

I did really well at tracking all of my spending in the first two weeks of August. Then came the week of summer school and I completely and totally forgot to even think about it. I very nearly gave up then but once I got back from Dusseldorf I actually sat down to see what I could recreate. Whenever I have tracked before it has never quite matched up anyway and, to be honest, I've rarely managed to keep it up for an entire month. Rather than just deciding it didn't matter, I've now added another field into my spreadsheet to try and figure out exactly what the discrepancy is and account for it as best I can. My budget spreadsheet runs from Fridays to Thursdays and luckily enough 1st September is a Thursday so the mis-match between the end of the month and the end of my budget month is only one day. I can manage to not spend any money for a day, or at least to use my credit card if I need to get some groceries.

Some general notes: My aim in setting up the tracking portion for cash spending on my spreadsheet was to see what percentage of income I was spending on certain categories. So I have a cash section and a banking section, for what of a better word. The banking section is divided into the following sections:
  1. Rent
  2. Private pension/investments
  3. Various charities
  4. Transfer to Irish account
  5. Basic income supporter (see here for details - I've just started contributing €6/month to this)
  6. Annual expenses (incl. holiday savings)
  7. Transport
  8. Other house related
  9. Dental insurance
  10. Visa (my old Irish credit card)
  11. Phone/internet
  12. Mastercard (my German points-earning credit card)
  13. Misc. (food etc.) - cash
  14. Misc. (food etc.) - debit card
  15. Bills (not including phone)
  16. Tax account
  17. Bank charges
  18. One-off out
  19. One-off in
It's a little bit of a muddle as it has evolved to this over the years but since I'm the only one who has to understand it, that's ok. Some items, for example, visa, really don't need to be there anymore as I only use that visa card as the holding card for the deposit when I rent a car. Not quite ready to give up the card though (want to have €4,000 in savings first, as that's the limit on that card) so here it stays for now.

Private pension/investments: At the moment I'm still just contributing a very small amount to my private pension. I reduced it once I knew I was going to be on unemployment for a while and since I now have some debt, I won't increase it again until I'm a bit more secure, if at all. It's mostly a tax efficicency vehicle so I'll see what my accountant has to say about it next year. I added a field for investments as I wanted to start at least investing a small amount into an ETF fund but still haven't gotten around to setting that up.

Phone/internet at the moment just covers the landline and internet as the topping-up of my current mobile phone happens online and I use my mastercard for that.

Bills is generally just the gas and electricity, although in my new place I don't have a gas bill.

At the moment one-off in includes the income from my translation work and I'm happy enough with that. To the side of my main spreadsheet I have a small box to list the one-off things happening in any month and those numbers feed in here. So at the start of a month I check if any annual or quarterly bills will be due, note if I'll need money for a particular trip or gift and so on. I don't add one-off income until if has actually hit my bank account. Trying to keep it as real as possible. I also use this category to account for any money that I transfer from savings to my current account in order to, for example, pay for annual expenses. Basically this spreadsheet is focused on my current account, in case that wasn't already clear.

In an ideal world, and if I was better at tracking (and accounting, come to think of it), the amounts for misc. cash and misc. debit card would equal the amounts that I track in the daily cash portion of my spreadsheet. As I do sometimes use my mastercard for these expenses however, things were always a bit skewy. So I've now added the mastercard amount to the reconciliation for that portion, as well as including mastercard expenses in the tracking. Much better.

The only thing is that the billing period for the mastercard is different than everything else and I can't change it. So, since it runs from around 10th to 10th (sometimes 9th or 11th, depending on weekends), I track any spending on that card after the bill has been isssued in the following month's numbers. It means I'm not really tracking one month in one place but it's the least complicated way I've come up with, at least for me. I must stress that my spreadsheet is generally focused on helping me to not overspend and to get control of my debt. If I ever move fully into needing something to figure out more than that, well, this should be a good basis for it I think.

The cash section of my spreadsheet is divided into the following categories:
  1. Transport 
  2. Food - necessities
  3. Food - luxuries
  4. Canteen food
  5. Toiletries
  6. Gifts (incl. postage, card and wrapping)
  7. Clothes
  8. House/garden
  9. Medical
  10. Other (lotto, etc.)
So the idea is that every day, I add in whatever I have spent in cash, debit card or mastercard. And all of that should add up to the amounts for these in the banking portion of the spreadsheet. I track a daily and a grand total for these items. At the moment, I have a €79 discrepancy between those two totals and am only certain of the reason for €50 of that. But, I didn't count the money in my purse at the end of last month and am not certain I managed to remember absolutely everything spent during the week I forgot to track so hopefully in future this will be less of an issue.

For all of the above categories, both from the banking section and the cash section, I also have space in my spreadsheet to show me what percentage of income each one is. Of course, everything all together should give me 100% but that has never happened. So it's more of a general guideline really. Not sure if it's my spreadshset or my tracking that leads to difficulties but for now, it's close enough for me. 

So, that grew to be a much longer post than I had planned on. I'll post actual numbers on Thursday when I know exactly how it has shaped up. So far it's telling me that I've spent (or will spend, as non-cleared items are already included in the totals) 91.36% of my income. 

If anyone has any questions about any of that, let me know and I'll try to explain. There are lots of ways I could improve this spreadsheet (starting over from scratch perhaps) but it works pretty well for me so I'll stick with it for another while.

1 comment:

Mrs. Mac said...

First time (I remember) visiting .. great to see someone attempting/working out a budget; that's how we got completely out of debt before my husband retired several years ago. So hats off to you .. keep on keeping on! We followed Dave Ramsey (American financial 'guru' on the radio, internet). :)

P.S. Thanks for stopping by my blog 'rant' post about Face Book .. and getting back my landline telephone.