I like to keep things simple when I can! This series is all about simple expense tracking, business, personal or BOTH. It shows you tricks to find out what you spend, and keep track of it from year to year. Here’s what it looks like, all filled out:
Method 1: Calendar Expense Tracking
The first simple expense tracking method uses a calendar. Why use a calendar?
- In finance, timing is everything. That bill that drained your account on the 14th would have been no big deal two days later after you were paid. So keeping track of expenses in a way that shows you dates is often very important.
- It’s pleasingly graphic. I’m a person who likes to see things in front of me, laid out in a nice, pleasing pattern with plenty of white space. Graphic information makes more sense to me than a list or another way of working with data.
- It’s really flexible. You can keep track of everything on a paper calendar OR you can also put it all into an online calendar in iCal or Google Calendar. Just create a special calendar with its own color (green?) and type in your monthly expenses. You can also add TASKS on the side of the page or in Google Tasks to remind you to pay bills on certain dates.
- It’s a surprise budget. Filling this out every month will effectively give you a budget to stick to, and allow you to save money. With this calendar, you will learn what all your expenses really are. Your income will be clear. You’ll know how much is left over. And after all that, you’ll also know your limit for spending on going out to eat, coffee, clothing, and other things, right there under VISA Bill (explanation below).
Who Should Use This?
This calendar works for relatively straightforward households with 30 or fewer regular expenses per month. Beyond that you’re really no longer in “simple” territory. Simple expense tracking works for many households, but of course, if you’re doing more, then find a more complex system that works!
- This style of simple expense tracking works best for people who earn a salary, whether that’s a biweekly, bimonthly, or monthly salary.
- It’s great for seeing how much cash you have left to spend after your bills are paid.
- You can easily tell what’s paid and what’s not, and adds a level of clarity to your bank account spending.
- The calendar effectively creates a simple budget, great for people (everyone?) who wants to not run out of money and save for big purchases, holidays, and travel.
- If you want fancy reports, this method isn’t for you.
Let’s Get Started
Here’s what you do to set up your calendar for a month. Below is a calendar with sample common expenses and amounts (yours will vary!) that’s already filled out for you to see:
- Make a list of all your monthly expenses. Use your bills and your past statements to help you. Write down (1) What they are, (2) How much they are, and (3) When they happen each month. For example: Rent, $1000, 1st.
- Next, write all those expenses on your calendar on the days that they happen, with the amounts. After that, write in the days that you get paid in big, bold letters.
- Next, add up all the expenses that happen in between the two pay periods. Subtract that from your usual salary pay (or the amount you expect to get paid if you’re hourly).
Simple Expense Tracking
After the month starts, you can start tracking things. This is how you do it:
- Cross off or highlight the expense as it’s paid. You can do this once a week, or more often, but it’s best to at least do it once a week. You always know what’s still due, and you can add up how much it is and compare that to how much you still have in the bank.
- Update expenses that are variable, like groceries, gas, utilities. Add in expenses that are one-time, like oil changes, seasonal HVAC check-ups, car repairs or other similar expenses. Use the extra expenses to keep up with your total expenses for the month.
- Keep your calendar for the next year – you can use it to “remember” to add in annual expenses that way like some types of insurance, personal property taxes, Amazon Prime, backup services, Dropbox accounts and that kind of thing.
Wheres My Spending Money?
Everybody likes to go out to eat, buy clothes, and have extra incidental expenses and spending cash. You can find that here, too, under VISA BILL for $500.00.
Why a VISA bill? Basically, it’s a super simple budget using a credit card. Each month, you give yourself $500 to spend on incidentals using a credit card, and you pay it off every month. That way you build credit, but you DON’T get into debt, and it makes your main bill tracking super simple. It’s best if your limit is about the amount you want to spend every month.
What if you don’t want to use a credit card? You can always deposit $500 in a second checking account with a debit card each month. OR you can withdraw $500 in cash. OR you can simply track your spending as it occurs in your main bank account (however, I’ll warn you this method usually fails for people not tracking their expenses as they occur, and they tend to overspend).
For big purchases, like a couch or car repairs or holiday presents, put another expense in that says “Furniture $100” or whatever you think you can save. That way you’re budgeting for those bigger purchases every month. Keep track of the balance by writing it down every month, or put the money aside in a savings account.
At the end of the month, see how you did with your simple expense tracking. Looking back at your spending helps you learn from what happened.
- Oops, I forgot! Maybe you have a monthly or annual expense you didn’t think about that you can add to next month or next September.
- Did you overspend? It’s easy to do. Did you forget a bill was coming? Can you adjust somewhere to make sure you know how much money you have? Are you spending money on something that you don’t use or don’t really need?
- Didn’t see that coming. Sometimes expenses sneak up on us, like that car brake repair or the HVAC needing repairs. Part of the purpose of this budget is to get your expenses under control by seeing what they all are, and as a result, being able to save a little for the unexpected. If it happens without any savings, you may need to use your spending money this month in a less-fun way.
- I did great! Every budgeter needs a reward. You just kept to a budget and saved money! Congratulations! Maybe you even have some extra to buy yourself something nice!
Examples and Extras
The examples in my calendar are basics that many people have, but I’ll list them out below. However, make sure you’re not forgetting something by going through the last couple months or more of bank statements!
- Typical Costs: Rent or mortgage, car payment(s), car insurance, health insurance, life insurance, dental/vision insurance, telephone, cable/internet, student loans, music services (iTunes, Spotify), streaming services (Netflix and chilllll), groceries, gas/public transportation, electric/gas/water/utilities.
- Birthdays happen. Gift-giving can be expensive! You can add birthdays, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Halloween to your budget so you know how much you can spend on special occasions. This also helps you save for those things.
- Let’s go to Hawaii. Do you love to travel and take weekend trips? These can also go into your monthly budget along with everything else. You can also use this calendar/budget to save for travel to both fun destinations and family get-togethers.
- Annual Repairs. Anyone who owns a house or a car knows there are periodic expenses that need to be attended to. Make a list of these and when they occur so that you’re ready for them when they happen.
- Big Purchases. Couches wear out, mattresses need replacing, and cell phones seem to have a new one out every 2 months. Write in a plan for making these purchases. Maybe add an expense of $100 per month to put aside for a big purchase so you know it’s coming.
The pretty, easy to read calendar I’m using here is the academic version (July 2020 to June 2021) monthly Simplified Planner by Emily Ley. It’s 8.5 x 11 and has plenty of room to write. It has all twelve months with a To Do list (where I list the expenses and total them).
Like the pattern? It’s called Happy Stripe! Emily Ley has other planners, pens, notepads, page markers, and more in Happy Stripe.
This particular monthly calendar has a Bucket List page at the front, where you can write down the things you’re saving for and amounts. At the back there are two Future Planning pages, where you can write down expenses you expect to have next year.
Like this Tip?
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on Simple Expense Tracking using calendars!