A hack to keeping track of expenses

One of the first tasks to successful budgeting and money management is to keep track of expenses.  You may be able to guess where money is going, but until the numbers are in front of you, that’s all it will be: a guess.  Only the very rich can afford to guess with their finances; everyone else needs to be keeping track of expenses.

I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) for years to track my expenses.  To me, tracking my expenses involves a careful enough categorization that I can target the hot spots.  I always get so far behind that I do just what it takes to get my taxes in order, but little beyond that.  After the receipts have piled up too high, it’s just demoralizing to look at.

Some receipts are easy!

I’ve been using Quicken as my expense tracker.  There is a lot of capability in Quicken to download transactions automatically from my banks, credit card providers, etc.  This saves a lot of fat-fingering.  However, all I get are the total amounts of each transaction.  So, if I go to Walmart, for example, and buy groceries and clothing, all of that will show up on one receipt when I check out.

Each transaction in Quicken allows for a split categorization; this is the place where I can divide a single transaction into, say, food, clothing, home and garden, etc.  Of course, that involves fat-fingering in the amounts from the receipts, which sometimes have cryptic descriptions on them.  Further, you need the receipt, of course.

Yesterday I went to Sweet Frog with my family.  When the cashier asked my wife if she wanted a receipt, she said no.  I told her that I would have liked the receipt so that I could keep track of the expense.

What she told me next was the hack.  She told me, “Well, it will show up as a charge to Sweet Frog.”  Sweet Frog is a frozen yogurt shop, and that’s all we buy there.  So I know how to categorize that entire transaction, even if I don’t have the receipt.

For some receipts, it’s easy to categorize the whole amount.  That makes it easier to keep track of expenses.

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