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How to track your spending

By Paula Pant · Bankrate.com
Monday, August 12, 2013
Posted: 10 am ET

There are plenty of tools and options available to help you track spending -- and target places to save within your budget. Following are a few options.

Online programs

Websites such as Mint, Quicken, Manilla, PowerWallet and Mvelopes automatically pull real-time information from your bank and credit card accounts, allowing you to view all your accounts in one place.

These sites instantly graph data, allowing you to glance at a bar graph to quickly see how much you are spending on restaurants, gasoline, groceries, clothing and other categories within your budget.

You also can track your income relative to your expenses, so you will know whether or not you're heading toward a personal fiscal cliff.

These websites offer mobile apps that allow you to view your budget on the go. However, some of them only offer iPhone-compatible apps. (Sorry, Android users.)

Spreadsheets

The old-fashioned Excel spreadsheet is one of the most underrated budgeting tools. Many credit card and debit card companies allow you to automatically download data into an Excel spreadsheet. That way, you don't need to manually transcribe every transaction.

Once your data are in a spreadsheet, you can tag everything according to category and quickly assess how much you're spending monthly on groceries, gas, household items and more.

If you're sharing the responsibility for budgeting with others in your household, use a spreadsheet from Google Docs. Multiple people can edit these documents, and the changes update in real time.

If you have a strong allegiance to Excel, use a cloud-based system like Dropbox to share the document among multiple users.

Paper and pencil, envelopes

Finally, for those who aren't interested in high-tech solutions, Grandma's paper-and-pencil budget works just fine, thank you.

Write your intended budget onto a sheet of notebook paper. (For example: $300 per month on groceries.) Then, stuff that money into an envelope labeled "groceries," and use the money to pay for those expenses.

Write down on paper how much you're over or under budget at the end of the month, and readjust accordingly. Just make sure you don't lose the envelopes!

Paula Pant blogs at AffordAnything.com about building wealth and living life on your own terms. She's traveled to nearly 30 countries, owns six rental units that produce thousands in passive income, and runs her own digital marketing company. Follow Paula on Twitter @AffordAnything.

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