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Options for tracking and managing your spending

Creating a budget may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Learn about the tools and techniques that can help simplify budgeting and help you reach your financial goals.

The material provided on this website is for informational use only and is not intended for financial or investment advice. Khan Academy assumes no liability for any loss or damage resulting from one’s reliance on the material provided. Please also note that such material is not updated regularly and that some of the information may not therefore be current. Consult with your own financial professional when making decisions regarding your financial or investment options.

Khan Academy doesn’t provide legal, tax or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.

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Video transcript

Keeping a detailed budget can be one of the best ways to help you save money and avoid overspending, but not everyone has the time, or the desire, to sit down with a spreadsheet on a regular basis. You may have even tried to keep a budget before but it didn’t work out – you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are some ways you can manage your money without a traditional spreadsheet. Now, the most important part of managing your money is making sure your needs are covered. This will require a bit of math, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Start by figuring out all of your regular monthly expenses. This will be your regular bills, like rent or mortgage payments, all your utilities, insurance payments and any other loan or credit card payments you make each month. Then, estimate your other necessary expenses like what you spend per month on groceries and transportation costs. Add all these costs up and you’ve got your baseline – what you need to cover every month. When it comes to paying your regular bills, setting up alerts on a calendar can help to remind you to pay them a few days before they’re due. Or to make it even easier, you can try automating some of your payments. You can sign up for automatic bill pay with your utility companies, lenders, and in some cases even with your landlord. The amount you owe each month will be automatically withdrawn from your bank account, or charged to your credit card. Automating payments can save you time and effort every month and help make sure your bills are paid on time. Just be sure you always have enough money available in your account to cover all of your automatic withdrawals. And if you use a credit card, make sure you can pay the balance in full each month in order to avoid paying interest on those charges. If you change your mind and decide that automatic payments aren’t for you, you can always cancel your scheduled payments and go back to paying manually. Automatic payments can also be a great way to help you systematically pay down debt if you set up extra payments toward your loans. And they can help you grow your savings if you set up regular contributions to a savings account. This can be especially helpful, if you’ve had trouble saving in the past. To help yourself prioritize saving, you can try thinking of saving as a bill you have to pay to yourself. Even if it’s just a small amount, making automatic payments to yourself can help you build up an emergency fund or a retirement account. Once you’ve taken care of your regular bills and savings, you have a bit more flexibility with what’s left. But if you find yourself overspending from month to month, you might want to try tracking your spending. One simple way of doing this is using the “envelope method.” While it might sound old-fashioned, putting a set amount of cash in envelopes each month for different purposes like groceries, transportation, dining out, and just general spending money can help you set limits on what you spend. So then, if you find yourself spending more than you had available in any of your envelopes, you might need to make adjustments the following month. Another way you can keep track of your spending with little effort is to use a single debit or credit card that can track and categorize your expenses for you. By keeping all of your purchases on one card, you’ll only have one monthly statement that shows how much you’ve spent and where you spent it. So it can be easier to see where you might be overspending and how you might cut back. Plus, many banks now have online tools that can categorize your spending for you, so you’ll be able to get an idea of what you spent on different things like entertainment, groceries or dining out. Many banks also offer account alerts that will let you know when you’ve reached certain spending limits. If using a single card is too limiting, money management software or apps can help you link all of your accounts and automatically track your spending and saving for you. Many of these have even more detailed tools to help you analyze your spending and they also have alerts that can warn you if you might be overspending in one category. And finally, if you feel like setting limits on your spending is a challenge, consider making one of your goals a small reward to yourself. Whether it’s a treat at the end of a long week or putting aside a little extra toward a large purchase you really want, rewarding yourself might help you feel more motivated about managing your money – as long as it doesn’t push you into overspending. While a detailed budget can be a great motivational tool to help you cut costs and reach your savings goals, it’s not the only answer. As long as you pay attention to the basics... make sure your needs are covered; manage your debts and savings; and avoid overspending, you'll be setting the groundwork for a more secure financial future.