We all know that the best way to keep track of anything is to write it down.
When I was a competitive swimmer I wrote down my workouts to keep track of kilometres and training days. When I was a coach I had my athletes write down how much they ate and trained during tapers. When I was a trainer I had my clients track their diet and exercise for a few weeks to understand calories in versus calories out. We write our family schedule on the calendar, keep track of the kids' school assignments in their agenda books, and make grocery lists when we need to pick up a few things at the store. But what of our money?
Most of us probably have a budget of some sort written down somewhere - a general list of roughly how much we have coming in and going out each month, whether we're well-to-do or barely scraping by. But a lot fewer of us bother to actually keep track of exactly what we're spending our money on, how much, and how often.
Whether your finances feel completely under control or kind of getting away from you a bit it's a useful exercise to track your spending every now and again, just to see exactly where that money's going. Sometimes a week or two of writing down every dollar that goes out will show that your budget needs to be revisited - maybe you're spending more on groceries than you used to, but the kids aren't wearing through clothes as quickly as when they were younger; maybe cutting out that morning coffee on the way to work every morning would free up that few extra dollars you were hoping to put into RRSP's; maybe the credit card balance you thought you were slowly paying down is actually creeping back up each month on extra spending you don't think about.
Particularly if you use credit rather than cash - even if you pay it off completely every month - it's important to pay attention to exactly where that money's going. It's easy to spend more than you'd planned when you're just plopping down a card rather than handing over your actual hard-earned cash.
Try tracking your spending for a few weeks: every dollar you spend, big or small, from the mortgage payment to gas for the car, your grocery bill to your morning coffee. Then compare it to your budget. Is your spending in line with what you thought? Is it in line with your budget? Does your budget need to be altered, or your spending?
If you don't pay attention to your money it's easy for it to just slip away. Are you keeping track?
(Originally published as "Are You Keeping Track?" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com)