Personal Finance

Tracking Your Budget

Tracking your monthly expenses will not always result in saving money, but it will give you a good understanding of where the money is going, and if there are areas you can cut back on.

A few years back my wife and I became interested in how much we were spending per month on going out to eat.  Since technology is an amazing thing, we were able to start tracking this through a budgeting website.  I became pretty interested in not only restaurant spending, but all of our spending and trends over time.  Now that I have a few years of data in tracking our monthly expenses, I wanted to provide some helpful tips and categories to include in tracking your monthly expenses.

It doesn’t take hours a month tracking all of this, maybe 10-15 minutes with good software (most of these sites are offered for free).

There are definitely categories I am missing, but they are fairly insignificant compared to what is included.  Any expenses that come directly from my paycheck (health insurance, dental, FSA, 401k etc.) are not included.  I also do not include investments like saving into a Roth IRA or 529, as I am only tracking money spent not money invested.

Below are all of the line items that I include in our monthly budget:

  • Mortgage 
    • Fixed amount every month
  • Car payment
    • Fixed amount every month
  • Groceries
    • These will vary monthly, but it is quite consistent for us.  This went up more than I anticipated now that my son eats real food.
  • Real estate taxes 
    • These are not exactly “fixed”, and for future planning I suspect they will increase.
  • Restaurants 
    • I recommend keeping groceries and restaurants as separate line items.  Do not lump together as “food”.
  • Auto/Home insurance premium 
    • Fixed amount every month.
  • Entertainment 
    • This category is highly volatile.  Some months it’s very low, and quite high in others.
  • Babysitter/Daycare
    • This is pretty much fixed every month, and I can pay for it pre-tax with my FSA.
  • Gas & Fuel
    • Every month is usually within $50 of all the others.
  • Shopping 
    • Also a very volatile category.  This does not include groceries.
  • Home Improvement
    • We don’t spend a lot here, but every time I go to Home Depot it goes into this bucket.  If we buy a piece of furniture, I include it here.
  • Cell phones
    • Fixed every month.
  • Electricity
    • For the monthly budget I use the seasonal average of prior years.
  • TV/Internet
    • We have a Wifi streaming cable service.
  • Church offering
  • Lawncare 
    • They come out 4 – 6 times a year for to keep the grass thick and weedless, and they can actually do the job cheaper and better than me doing it myself.
  • Life insurance premium
    • Fixed every month.
  • Natural gas
    • Low in the summer, high in the winter.
  • Trash/Recycling
  • Dog expenses 
    • I budget $50 a month for my Jack Russell, Oliver, but we are usually under that.
  • Security system
  • Water bill
  • Convenience store expenses
    • I started tracking this because I see the activity at QuickTrip when I go, and I’m probably a below average visitor for a drink or quick snack.  I think more people should track this.
  • Septic tank annual maintenance
    • This is a once a year expense, and I pay it happily to ensure nothing ever goes wrong with it.
  • Gym membership/Yoga 
  • Annual vehicle registration fees
  • Icloud monthly expense 
    • We have a lot of photos on an Icloud storage plan, which I also back up a few times a year to an external hard drive.  This literally costs $1 a month.
  • Vacations 
    • These do not occur every month, but when they do they are worth every penny.
  • Gifts 
    • There always seems to be birthdays/weddings/holidays/baby showers etc.
  • Haircuts 
    • My hair is like my portfolio, doesn’t grow as fast as I’d like.
  • Oil changes/Car Maintenance 
    • You should be able to predict most oil changes and expected maintenance.
  • Golf
    • I do not golf a lot, but I still like tracking what I spend on it.
  • Kid costs
    • Costs for my son, Saywer, that fall outside of food/daycare/entertainment.