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I'm an Italian student, and I'm trying to keep track of all my daily expenses, as well as my income.

My biggest problem is logistical: I've no problem analyzing my expenses once I collect the data, but I'm utterly unable to get it all! The little purchases such as coffee breaks before lectures, cocktails when going out, the occasional newspaper, etc., are impossible to track!

In the first weeks I tried to use receipts. They should be good, I thought. Well, they aren't enough. Little expenses are receipt-free, and in Italy tax evasion is high. So there is often no receipt.

Then I tried to switch to mobile: I've an Android phone, so I tried apps in the category "Personal Finance". But I've no time to unlock the smartphone, fire up the app, and fill out endless fields such as "category", "sub-category", "account", "amount", "currency"(!), etc. If I'm getting a coffee with a friend, it's very rare that I take my smartphone out, isolating myself for more than 5 seconds!

I looked at some answers proposed in questions here, such as this, this and this one. But they all provide solutions not tailored for my needs. Something somewhat good may be what's proposed by http://www.texthog.com/, but I would like to avoid, if possible, paying an ongoing fee.

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    Have you tried pen & paper? I have a half-height pen I keep in my wallet, for quick notes when I'm out. A quick note could facilitate remembering the expense, so you could enter it elsewhere when you do have the time. – Chris W. Rea May 24 '13 at 15:51
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    If a tech solution is out, Chris' answer is great, although it still takes some seconds to write. The only other thing I'd think of is to use a credit or debit card for every purchase, this will create a paper trail you can access through the account. – JoeTaxpayer May 24 '13 at 16:41
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    @JoeTaxpayer I guess it depends where in Italy the OP lives, since where I lived in Italy many places didn't take any credit cards. Cash only. That wasn't a major city, but I found a fair number of places in Rome that didn't take cards either. Heck, there are quite a few places where I live in Chicago that don't take cards, unfortunately. – John Bensin May 24 '13 at 20:54
  • Dj's answer below is fine, but OP expressed the fact that for him 5 seconds was too much. Tough to beat that even with paper/pencil. – JoeTaxpayer May 24 '13 at 21:22
  • You're right guys, credit (or debit) cards should be the best solution, but a part from restaurants and fast foods, very few shops in which I can make little purchases accept them. In fact there's the stereotype that cards are only used for big purchases - clothes, technology, etc. In this way if I try to buy an ice cream or a coke in the cafe close to my university with a credit card, at least they laugh... – Gianluca May 25 '13 at 10:04
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A pencil and a small notepad really work here, but if you have a smartphone then some way of using it makes sense as well. Try:

  • Writing, or buying, a small app which lets you record entries with just one word description (e.g. "Coffee") and an amount.
  • Use a memo feature of a phone to write a brief description and the amount every time you buy something
  • Record a voice memo every time you buy something - probably quicker than writing it but a bit more noticeable.

Transcribe all of these onto a better record at the end of each day. Also record the amount of money in your wallet/purse/pocket every day, and check to see if the amounts you've recorded add up to the amount you've spent. It'll be easier to remember that newspaper you bought at the end of the day, rather than a week later. Or just record the difference as 'miscellaneous'.

  • I think this's gonna be ok. Unfortunatly there's nothing, out there, this minimal. I think I'm forced to write my own app, perfectly tailored for my own needs. What kind of specs should it have, in your opinion? – Gianluca May 25 '13 at 10:06
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    Nobody can tell you what you want the app to do except you. – DJClayworth May 27 '13 at 2:57
  • Mint.com's app has this capability. – David Mar 17 '17 at 17:27
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Go the opposite approach. Budget a certain amount of cash and keep it combined. Don't exceed it (but next time budget more if you need to).

If you were in the USA (where card acceptance is near universal) what I do is simply use my visa check card for all purchases and download it to my personal finance software, where you can assign categories.

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