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My wife and I have historically struggled with managing our budget. Not because our money priorities are out of whack, or we have too much debt, etc. Rather it's just a time issue.

One person has historically been slated to enter in all the transactions, reconcile the statements, etc. I typically have not found the "download all your transactions" features of most banks to be very useful, since the transaction descriptions are often generic. Additionally, my thinking has always been that if I can just download everything, that will encourage me to be lazy and not look at it until download time.

The problem is simply that we're very busy people. I realize we're not alone in that, but when you work all day, do kids' activities in the evening, finally get dinner and laundry done about 9 and then have a couple hours to try to spend together before bed, it's really easy to let the daily "let's gather up all our slips, enter them and see where we are with our budget" go. And of course once it has slipped a couple of days, now it's a bigger chore requiring more time to get caught up. If you let it go all week, it takes up a large part of your already-filled up weekend.

Eventually, we get so far behind we're not tracking it closely enough and start to have overruns.

I almost wonder if I'd be better off finding some accounting student nearby to hire to come in, track all this stuff and produce reports, but it seems rather silly to spend money to track our spending so we don't spend too much money.

I'm curious to hear what has worked for others. Are we just lazy? Did you suffer from this problem and fix it? Are there services or solutions which have made your lives much easier in this regard?

It may be that there is no answer beyond "suck it up and do it." I'm just hopeful that others have faced the same issue and found some answers which if nothing else, at least made it easier.

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    How do you pay for most things? Cash, debt card, credit card, etc.? If it's not all cash, something like mint.com will manage it for you (for the most part). For cash purchases, you'd have the withdrawals show up, but you'd have to enter manual transactions for things you buy, which leaves you in the same situation. – Paul Kroon Oct 3 '11 at 10:11
  • @PaulKroon I actually stumbled across Mint.com last night and it looks like it's the answer to my prayers. If you'll convert your comment into an answer, I'll accept it. – wadesworld Oct 3 '11 at 13:06
  • Our approach is to simply avoid tracking everything. We track only a few categories of spending manually. We don't track most bills since that's factored into the weekly and monthly budgets already. – Larsenal Feb 14 '14 at 21:15
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As I mentioned in my comment, mint.com might work for you. The downsides are giving them access to all your accounts, and still having to manually enter transactions that are done in cash. If you are ok with those however, it can automate almost everything else for you.

  • Based on my initial testing, Mint.com seems to be the perfect solution for me. It auto-categorizes, has a mobile app, and solves the problem of "my wife can't enter data when the finance software is on my laptop." Being web-based, it's easy for both of us to keep track of where we are. – wadesworld Oct 3 '11 at 20:38
  • It isn't always great about categorizing things on your credit card bill, but it is decent. However, you pretty much almost always have to categorize things you write checks for. – JohnFx Feb 15 '14 at 0:00
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We're in much the same boat as you. We do make use of the transaction download feature of our software, but we don't let it auto-enter the amounts. We use the downloaded transactions to make entering our receipts easier. We each take responsibility for entering our own transactions, and then I go through and download bills, reconcile statements and such. I'm the numbers person in our house, so it's easier for me to take care of this stuff. We have all of our bills on auto-pay so that we don't have to worry about payments not getting made if we don't have time to get to our banking tasks on time. I try to set aside time on Saturday afternoon while my kids have their "screen time", or I'll do it in the evening after the kids are in bed.

This year, my wife has been much busier and hasn't had as much time to keep up with her data entry, so we've been doing less well at keeping up with things. Something we're considering (and this might work for you as well) is to use the envelope system for the categories where we're most in danger of over-spending. This way. we would have an easy way to see if we'd overspent a category even if we were behind on our data entry. If you're not familiar with the envelope system, respond here and I'll explain it further.

  • This. I rarely enter the receipts. I download the transactions into Quicken and then do a quick compare with the receipts I have to make sure the amount is right and that there isn't a transaction where I don't know what it is. – Mark S. Oct 3 '11 at 16:19
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I use online banking as much as possible and I think it may help you get closer to your goal. I see you want to know where the money goes and save time so it should work for you like it did for me.

I used to charge everything or write checks and then pay a big visa bill. My problem was I never knew exactly how much I spent because neither Visa or check writing are record systems. They just generate transactions records. I made it a goal use online banking to match my spending to the available cash and ended up ok usually 9-10 months out of the year.

I started with direct deposit of my paycheck. Each Saturday, I sit down and within a half hour, I've paid the bills for the week and know where I stand for the following week. Any new bill that comes in, I add it to online banking even if it's not a recurring expense. I also pull down cash from the ATM but just enough to allow me to do what I have to do. If it's more than $30 or $40 bucks, I use the debit card so that expense goes right to the online bank statement.

My monthly bank statement gives me a single report with everything listed. Mortgage, utilities, car payment, cable bill, phone bill, insurance, newspaper, etc... It does not record these transactions in generic categories; they actually say Verizon or Comcast or Shop Rite. I found this serves as the only report I need to see what's happening with my budget.

It may take a while to change to a plan like this one. but you'll now have a system that shows you in a single place where the money goes. Move all bills that are "auto-pay" to the online system and watch your Visa bill go down. The invested time is likely what you're doing now writing checks. Hope this helps.

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Look up You Need A Budget...the methodology is really the key and the software is elegant and practical. It's not about tracking spending, it's about planning what your dollars are going to do. The application automates much of the budget planning and data entry as it remembers your input (and is totally customizable). If you follow their basic blueprint, you can spend just minutes a week. They offer free online classes too (love this). I do not have skin in their game but have been a fan since it was just a spreadsheet.

And yes, they have a mobile app, which means you can enter transactions on the go with just a few taps and then have your data synced across the cloud or just across your network.

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    Does the YNAB app methodology address their time issue? Perhaps you could expand on your answer to explain how YNAB will solve the time it takes for the poster to manage their budget? – MrChrister Feb 15 '14 at 6:17
  • Wow just noticed this thread is from 2011. I edited my answer nonetheless. – Paul Bilyen Feb 25 '14 at 2:52
  • Not sure why the answer deserves a downvote? CEO of Intuit maybe? – Paul Bilyen Jul 11 '14 at 1:24

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protected by MrChrister Feb 15 '14 at 6:11

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