Tracking my expenses has become one of the most valuable aspects of my financial life.  Some people might scoff at my promotion of expense tracking as a crucial financial tool, but I can tell you for a fact, it has changed the way I save and spend.

I started my expense tracking in college and I’ve been tracking where my money goes for over a decade now.  With just following a few rules, I’ve been able to use expense tracking to save me thousands — if not tens of thousands — of dollars over the years.

Make it Simple

Tracking expenses doesn’t have to involve special apps for your phone or overly detailed charts and graphs.  Personally, used a simple notebook in college in which I could jot my daily expenses and simple spreadsheets, and it worked out just fine.


While I’m not saying that technology can’t be helpful when tacking expenses when going to school, going overboard with all kinds of fancy technology and programs to detail expenses could just end up making it more trouble than it’s worth.  A daily journal, ledger book, simple spreadsheet or similar record can help to keep things easy enough that it doesn’t turn you off doing it and may help avoid the headache of trying to learn new ways to do what is really a quite simple financial activity.

Give it Time

Had I just tracked my expenses for a few days or even weeks during those first few crucial months away at school, it might not have served to make the activity worthwhile.  Such a short timeframe might not be enough to compile information from which to glean valuable insight into the way in which you spend and may also not be long enough to make the process habitual.

Track Every Cent Every Time

Dropping a few expenses here and there can lead to a few more forgotten costs next time you’re out spending money, and then a few more the next time, and so on until you’ve ditched your college expense tracking altogether.  I’d made sure that I tracked every penny of every purchase while at school.  This way it became habitual and I didn’t become complacent in my tracking.

After years of doing this, my expense tracking has become so second nature that I wouldn’t want to do without it.

Review Regularly and Look for Takeaways

Even now, nearly a decade removed from my college education, expense tracking allows me to find multiple aspects of my spending that are relevant in some way and that teach me how to adjust or improve my spending habits.  By continuously reviewing where my money is going, I can find all sorts of trends in my spending habits as well as learn where and how I might be able to trim various costs.

As the years have progressed, most major costs have remained the same since my college years, replacing things like books and tuition with the costs of raising children.  Through my tracking I’ve been able to look back and see rates of inflation in things like transportation costs, health and insurance costs, food expenses, and similar items.  This in turn helps me pinpoint ways to control or at least better deal with such expenses on a regular basis.

Branch Out and Narrow Your Focus Once You’re Ready

Once I mastered my expense tracking during my freshman year at school, I realized that I could break my tracking down into more focused expense areas.  I’ve since them built separate tracking spreadsheets to gauge individual budget areas within my personal finances.  I’ve used these separate expense trackers to save on housing costs, cut utility costs, reduce food expenditures, reduce vacation and entertainment expenses, and find similar savings along the way, all of which can be critical money saving methods not only while going to school, but once one graduates as well.



The author is not a licensed financial or educational professional.  This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, financial or educational advice.  Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion.