When it comes to following a budget, tracking your progress is essential to your success. However, the more you start tracking your finances the easier it becomes to start obsessing. Most people don’t realize that as with anything else you track such as your weight or progress in a certain skill, if you focus too much on your budget it can become an addiction.
While you might start off just checking your budgeting tools each day, before you know it you may find yourself constantly staring at a spreadsheet trying to figure out where every single penny has gone and projecting things like how much you will be able to make and save along with every possible expense that might come up during the next several years. Maintaining a balanced budget is definitely a fine line between tracking your income and expenses closely and having it become a full blown obsession. Below we’ve outlined some tools that will make monitoring your budget easier along with some warning signs that might tell you when you’ve gone too far.
Free Budgeting Tools to Monitor Your Spending
Budget Spreadsheets- In this day and age everyone seems to be more interested in apps, software and cloud computing rather than a good old fashioned spreadsheet, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still work wonders. Most budget spreadsheets have the same elements; they are just designed a little differently. Each budgeting spreadsheet will have a place for you to enter in your monthly income as well as additional income you may get throughout the month such as bonuses, gifts, etc.. In addition to listing out your income you’ll also be able to break up all of your expenses into categories so that you can track them easier. If you’re not familiar with how to set up and create spreadsheets yourself, there are tons of free budgeting spreadsheets available throughout the internet. You can find a great article that covers ten of the best free monthly budgeting spreadsheets by clicking here.
Mint.com- When it comes to free personal budget software Mint.com should be more than enough tto suit your budgeting needs. Mint is a free personal budget software that allows you to track all of your personal finances in one easy location. Mint was recently purchased by the intuit company because their Quicken online personal budget software was never really took off. For some people Mint being free seems too good to be true, however, Mint is able to remain a free software because they get referral fees from products and services that they recommend within the system. Within Mint you’ll be able to break up all of your monthly income and expenses into categories and then actually set up email or SMS alerts that will notify you if you’ve gone over budget in a certain category.
Some of the downsides with Mint include the fact that it’s not an ideal tool for small time investors as well as there is always the issue of security. While the Mint.com system is secure, if someone was able to hack your personal computer and gain access to your account they’d be able to access a lot of your information in one area.
However, those security issues exist whether you are using an online tool or have a program like Quicken on your home computer so it would seem the benefits of having a tool like this far outweigh the risks of the off chance that a hacker is able to access your home PC.
Pageonce Personal Finance- Mint seems to have more of the market when it comes to free online personal budget software but smartphone apps are quickly becoming the most popular way to manage your budget. While Mint.com has an app for the iPhone, Pageonce is arguably the most popular personal finance app for all iOS, Blackberry, Android and Windows Phones. Within Pageonce you’ll be able to not only track your spending but also pay your monthly bills all from one convenient location. Similar to Mint.com you’re able to set alerts within each of your budget categories so that you’ll be able to tell when you’ve overspent in one of your budget categories to keep yourself close to your monthly goals. You’ll also be able to pay all of your bills through one convenient location either by credit card or through your bank account.
While there are hundreds of tools out there, the most important thing is to find a tool that will work for your needs and something that is easy enough for you to use that you can stick to it.
How to Tell When You’re Obsessing
Now that you know of some tools you can use to effectively track your finances the next important thing to know is whether or not you’ve taken it too far. As we mentioned above, there’s a fine line between being financially responsible and financially obsessing.
Hermit Status- If you’re trying to stay within your monthly budget, expensive nights out to the club that yield high bar tabs will have to go but if you find yourself turning down every single invitation to go out with friends and family, you’ll know it’s gone too far. Some people have been known to get so budget focused that they turn down invitations from friends to a free activity such as a walk around the park for fear that they might want to do lunch or dinner afterwards, if you find yourself getting to this point it’s time to take a step back and splurge a little.
While it’s important to keep track of your finances and stick to your budget it’s also important to understand that sometimes you need to live a little. The best way to plan ahead is set yourself a monthly “going out” budget. That way if friends or family do invite you out, you’ll know what activities will work within your budget.
Sandwich Math- Another way that you’ll be able to tell if you’ve gone too far is if you have broken down the cost of individual daily items. The classic example is someone who said they knew they had gone too far with budgeting when they knew how much each ingredient in their sandwich cost individually, each slice of ham, each piece of bread, each piece of cheese. And it’s not just sandwiches, mothers have been known to break down the cost of each individual wipe that they use when they change their babies diapers or each scoop of formula. Not that it’s bad to know these expenses but if they affect your actions that’s when it’s gone too far.
If you feel that you’re budgeting has gone too far the solution is pretty simple, just take a break. Now don’t go on a spending spree especially if you have a large amount of debt, but take a week or two away from checking your spreadsheet or budgeting apps each day. Also, it can help to turn off the budgeting alerts that you can set up within Mint.com or the Pageonce app. When it comes to budgeting and overcoming debts, slow and steady wins the race.