After nearly 10 years of figuring out how to track my money through tools and apps, I keep coming back to an old-school system

Westend61/Getty ImagesThe best way to track your money is the way that works for you.
  • After nearly 10 years of writing about money, I’ve tested all kinds of tools and apps in a quest to figure out how to track my money.
  • No matter what, though, I find a simple Excel spreadsheet fits my needs best for three reasons: It keeps me honest, it allows me to track multiple systems, and it allows for flexibility.
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My days start and end with the most basic money management tool you’ll find – an Excel spreadsheet.

I’ve been a personal finance writer for about a decade now, and I’ve tested many fancy online tools and apps and resources. Still, despite all the latest helpful technology, I keep coming back to my trusty Excel document. Here’s why.

1. It keeps me honest

Although it’s tedious, as soon as I can after every purchase, I physically log it into my Excel document to keep a running total of my monthly credit card purchases against my overall budget. I categorise things with colour blocks – yellow for purchases that will be paid out of my husband’s and my joint checking account, white for those I’ll cover out of my own funds, purple for my health insurance payment and other health-related items – and so on and so forth.

I know there are online tools that do this for you – allow you to set categories that the system automatically puts into buckets. I’ve used these, and what I found was that I was always double-checking the system for errors or switching the buckets around anyway. So I figured, why not cut out the middleman?

2. It’s the best way I’ve found to track my multiple systems

My elaborate Excel system actually includes multiple sheets which, yes, can get cumbersome. However, for a Type A dork like myself, I’m not bothered. I keep four Excel docs:

  1. One that tracks our monthly joint expenses against our budget
  2. One that tracks my own monthly credit card purchases against my own personal budget
  3. One that tracks the full year of expenses for which I’m solely responsible (versus what my husband pays for with his salary) against the income I plan to earn for each month (since I’m a freelancer, this can vary, but tracking it this way helps me set monthly goals)
  4. One that tracks what is currently in my checking account against the bills that will need to be paid in the near future

That’s a lot of documents, and I could probably consolidate somewhat, but I’ve used this system for years, and it works.

It takes me about 20 minutes each morning to check the Excel sheets against my checking and savings accounts to make sure everything looks accurate, and I usually close out the day by doing a quick five-minute check back, as well.

3. It allows for flexibility

As a freelancer, my income can be sporadic and varied. Some months are busier than others, and I often have to wait a while for checks to come in. Having a system that allows me to manually move things around as needed makes tracking much easier.

Budgeting and personal finance is all about finding the system that works best for you, the one that will best help you stay on track with your goals. I love that there are so many products available these days to help people better manage their money. However, if you feel like you’ve tried them all and you still haven’t found a system you love, allow me to suggest the simple Excel document. It just may surprise you.

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