Our fellow blogger Alex just wrote a post about all the expenses us as apartment renters should be aware of. Every expense he listed rings true, no matter what your situation is. So the question now is, how do you keep track of them all? How can you continue to pay your bills and fund your social/fun life without going into debt? I just happen to have a few tools and tricks to share with you that can help organize your finances and your life.
Yes, spreadsheets! You don’t have to be a whiz kid or a mathematician to use Microsoft Excel. I’ve made spreadsheets for my apartment furnishing budget; my bills budget; and my budget for groceries, laundry, and extra purchases. I use them to remind me of how much I can afford to pay in every scenario and also keep track of my spending.
Here’s a screen shot of my Monthly Bills Budget:
My groceries/laundry/extras spreadsheet is particularly helpful because while my monthly bills are mostly pre-set amounts, those other expenses can always be adjusted. If you end up spending less in groceries than you budget for, you can reward yourself with a trip to the movies or that pair of jeans you’ve been eyeing. You can also save a little more than usual, which will definitely add up in the long run.
Here’s a screen shot of my Groceries and Extras Budget:
If you don’t see yourself taking the time to do the manual work of spreadsheets and you’re a big debit/credit card user, other great tools to use are finance trackers like Mint.com, BudgetTracker.com or Manilla.com. Mint.com is a very visual tool that can help you see where all of your money is going. It has color coded pie graphs that automatically split your money into categories; it tracks your credit & bank accounts, and factors the accounts into your spending. You can also create budgets for yourself that Mint.com will help you track. When you’re close to hitting your budget for the month, you’ll get a warning notification. Just know that it can’t track your cash spending other than withdrawals out of your bank account. So you will still need to keep an eye on how you use your cash. Manilla.com is similar in the sense that they are great with helping you keep track of all your accounts. They will even set up bill payment reminders for any bill you link to your Manilla account. One of their coolest features is called Bill Share. It allows you to share your account with whoever you want and lets you and that person manage the bills and expenses in the home. This really comes in handy when you’re splitting the bills with your roommate(s) and you want to keep track of who’s paying what. If you’re a little leery of connecting your bank account to a website, BudgetTracker.com is a good choice too. You can manually enter your account transactions and schedule bill payments with their calendar feature. All of these sites have phone and tablet apps so you can take your finance trackers wherever you go.
If you have a bunch of paperwork and you can’t begin to figure out what to do with it all, I suggest a file box. You can get a cheap one at an office supply store like Staples, buy a few hanging folders to put in the box, and begin to organize your life. You can make designated folders for your receipts, tax documents, bank statements, and whatever else you may keep for your records. This way whenever you need to get to something, you’re not flipping your bed over trying to find it. It will make your life more organized and managing your finances less overwhelming.
Direct Withdrawal/Pay (automatic payments)
I swear by this option! If your memory isn’t the strongest when it comes to things like dates and times, having your bills paid automatically can truly keep your finances in line. No matter which company you pay your bills to, they should have a Direct Withdrawal or Automatic Payment feature in their system. It’s easy to sign up for it and it usually starts by your next bill cycle or earlier. You should already know how much your bills are each month, so as long as you look at your statements to make sure they’re taking the correct amount, you’re good to go! This is also a great way to make sure none of your bills are incurring late fees, plus it keeps your credit score intact.
You can use any combination of these tools and tricks, or pick one that makes most sense to you. Either way, you can’t go wrong! Keeping track of your money will always keep you ahead of the game and leave you in a more comfortable spot with your finances. You’ll also further solidify yourself as an adult and lessen the chances of having to move back in with mom and dad… and you know you NEVER want that to happen.
Do you guys have any finance tracking tricks up your sleeves? Let’s trade notes in the comments below!