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Do you know where your money goes?
I didn’t until I started to track my spending, back in March 2018.
It is embarrassing to admit that I had no idea how much it cost to live my life at the time.
I was under the impression that as long as I spent less than I earned, it wasn’t an issue. While spending less than you earn is the most important money habit of all, I wasn’t planning for my future by investing for retirement. I was just working, banking an income and spending in whatever way I pleased.
Then one day in January 2018, I literally woke up in a cold sweat, terrified about retirement. I remember being very anxious at the thought of working another 20 years in a stressful job because I hadn’t saved enough for retirement.
I didn’t really know this as a fact at that precise moment – it was what I suspected to be true. Because I didn’t know how much I needed to retire.
How could I when I had no idea what my current expenses were?
How can I predict what my expenses will look like in the next 10, 20, 30 years when I have no clue what I’m spending now?
So I started to track my spending.
And then I knew for certain that I didn’t have enough saved for retirement.
But now, I can do something about it.
Take control of your money today!
Download this FREE Personal Expense Tracker Google Sheets Template to start tracking your expenses
What I used before Google Sheets
Back then I used a free app from the MoneySmart website – Track My Spend. It was really useful and allowed me to get very granular with my expenses because I entered each line item on a receipt into the app.
It was also good with small cash purchases. I could just open the app while shopping and record the transaction immediately.
But the app is no longer supported and does not work on my phone anymore.
I found out the hard way after updating the software on my phone. I was devastated. All that granular data. GONE.
Luckily I do enter the monthly amount per category in a spreadsheet so all is not lost but it’s a shame that the detail is lost.
And this is where using apps can be a pain. They can be deleted or not supported by the developer and is therefore totally out of your control.
Using an app
In saying that, I do use apps 🙂 And at first, I thought maybe just having the free WeMoney app (affiliate link*) on my phone was enough.
I’ve been using it for months and I love that it links all my bank accounts, superannuation (retirement account), brokerage account, credit cards and debit cards.
This means I can open ONE app only at any time and know where I’m at financially, with a glance. It saves so much time compared to opening multiple apps or logging into several websites. (Um .. I may have a few bank accounts)
I can also easily see how much I’ve spent to date this month on my credit and debit cards.
The app allows me to categorise my credit and debit card purchases so I get the overall big picture of where my money goes.
* both of us get $5 and they plant a tree if you use my link to download the app and connect to one financial institution
Getting granular with tracking expenses
There’s nothing wrong with using an app if you just want a big picture overview of where your money is spent.
But I missed the nitty gritty-ness of entering each line item on a receipt.
Because it keeps me accountable and reminds me of why I purchased said item in the first place. I can’t hide behind a category like entertainment or self care. It teaches me to be intentional with my spending.
The act of physically entering each line item is also a pain in the butt so it discourages me from buying many things, knowing I have to enter them later.
The third reason I like getting granular is I get to analyse in greater detail any category I decide to work on. For example, my food expenses. This is how I found out that certain butchers charge a fee for using credit cards; that a bag of carrots is cheaper at a certain stall in the market and so on.
Staying with the food theme, I also know which vegetable I buy a lot of so it’s something to consider growing in my veggie garden.
You don’t have to be so granular in every category – just the category that you want more clarity on or a category that you want to reduce expenses.
Benefits of using Google Sheets
At the time I lost Track My Spend app, I was three quarters of the way done with March but it was now July and that meant entering April, May and June’s receipts as well.
I didn’t want anything complicated.
The new method must be simple to use, totally customisable (is that a word?) and quick to set up. Oh, and FREE!
So I experimented with … a spreadsheet. I know what you are thinking – I blog about personal finances, surely I love whizz bang spreadsheets. No, that is not me – I only have a very basic understanding of spreadsheets, acquired 30 years ago.
And so I was pleasantly surprised that making my personal expense tracker on Google Sheets was NOT difficult at all.
Column 1 – Categories
Column 2 – Items
The next 31 columns – dates of the month
Enter the $ amount for each row of expenses under the appropriate date
And then totalling every column and row
The END. How simple is that?
It is totally customisable to your circumstances and lifestyle. You get to decide on your categories. For example, Eating Out can be a category on its own or you can lump it with Entertainment.
It’s your spreadsheet so you can customise it to your heart’s content. Sometimes with apps, there are pre determined categories that may not suit your lifestyle.
You can be as detailed as you like under each category. For example, under my Food category, I list out each item I purchase but I also have rows that just say butcher, fruit & vegetables etc – for those times when I don’t have a receipt.
Once you’ve added a row for say artichokes, you don’t have to add it ever again because you’ll duplicate this month’s spreadsheet and rename it as next month.
Pro tip – make sure you clear all the $ amounts and double check all the rows and columns are zero before you start adding the new month’s expenses.
And as long as you have an internet connection, you can see your Google Sheets spreadsheet anywhere and on any device. So if you are bored waiting in line for anything, you can enter your receipts 🙂
I was very diligent when I first started tracking my expenses – I’d do it every Sunday but these days, I just do it on the last day of the month. Yes, I did lapse the last few months but I am back on track now, loving my new system 🙂
Having a system that is simple, customisable, free and that you enjoy using will make you more likely to succeed at tracking your expenses.
Making my own personal expense tracker in Google Sheets has rekindled my love of tracking expenses.
I will post the results every month on Instagram and Facebook, as an added accountability measure 🙂
2 Replies to “Track your spending with a Personal Expense Tracker in Google Sheets”
Thanks for this post. It is interesting to read how other people in the FIRE community track their expenses.
I use an app called Emma which links my bank accounts, credit cards and savings. To help avoid the situation you found if the app suddenly disappears, I export the results each month and then import them to Google sheets.
Tip: if you would like to use your tracking sheet offline then you can install the Google Sheets app and then mark the tracking sheet as available for offline. 👍
Keep up the good work 😊
I should have done that – export to Google Sheets but I was lazy and never thought about not being able to access the app at all 🙁
Big lesson learnt!