Every month, receive financial wellness tips and participate in a financial challenge.
Did you participate in the January Money 2020 Challenge?
February: Categorize Your Expenses
In 2019, a Debt.com poll of over 1,000 Americans showed that 67% of respondents use a budget, and that number was down from 70% in 2018. When asked why they don’t budget, most people (40%) responded that they earn too little to budget. The second most common answer (21%) was that budgeting was too time-consuming.
While this poll may not represent all Americans, there’s no doubt that these attitudes toward budgeting are common. On top of that, budgeting can be scary, especially if you feel like you’re scraping by financially, or are facing a lot of debt. (If this sounds familiar, you actually have the most to gain from budgeting, believe it or not.)
Budgeting doesn’t have to be scary, and you don’t need to do it all at once. Gather your expense trackers from last month’s challenge and get ready for this month’s Money 2020 challenge: categorizing your expenses.
Money 2020 is a monthly newsletter series that will help you achieve your financial vision – whatever that may be. Each month we will focus on a different theme, and we’ll include a small challenge related to that theme. This month’s theme is categorizing your expenses.
Time to bust out your highlighters! This month, we’re going to be using our expense trackers to categorize our expenses and add up how much we’ve spent in each category.
Gather your expense trackers from last month, whether you chose pen and paper, spreadsheets, or the trusty Notes app. Go through each expense and assign it to a category. You can be as specific or as general as you want. For example, you can count restaurants, groceries, and coffee shops all as “Food”, or you can break them up into their own categories. Tip: If you know you have a “problem spending” area (or anything you want to spend less money on), like shopping, entertainment, or restaurants, you should make sure that it has its own category.
Here are some suggestions for categories and subcategories you may want to include:
- Rent or mortgage
- Property taxes
- HOA dues
- Home maintenance or services
- Car payments
- Bus passes
- Fast Food/Vending
- Coffee Shops
- Health insurance
- Renter/Homeowner Insurance
- Life insurance
- Car insurance
- Disability insurance
- Health & Fitness
- Out-of-pocket health care costs (doctors, dentists, eye care, medications)
- Gym memberships
- Saving, Investing & Debt Payments
- Emergency savings
- Retirement accounts
- Credit card payments
- Loan payments
- Personal spending
- This is a catch-all for anything that doesn’t fall into the essential categories above: clothes, gifts, personal products, etc.
- Recreation & Entertainment
- This is your “fun money” category: vacations, concerts, movies, streaming services, hobbies, etc.
- Have a random, one-off expense that doesn’t really fall into a category? Put it here!
Of course, these categories aren’t going to cover everything for every person. If you have pets or children, they’re probably going to be their own category with subcategories. As you go through your expenses from the last month, it will become clear which categories do and don’t apply to your budget.
Once you’ve categorized all of your expenses, add up each category for the month and hang onto it. And don’t stop tracking your expenses! Try to keep tracking them for another month, and grouping them into categories as you go. This will help you get a better idea of your spending for next month’s challenge: actually making your budget.
Here are some ways you can track your expenses and include a category.
- Expense Tracker with Categories Spreadsheet
- Planner Inserts (you can add the category in the description or repurpose the “Payment Method” column)
- Printable Weekly Tracking Sheet with Categories
- Use a notebook or your phone’s Notes app
Why categorize our expenses? The obvious answer is to help us eventually make a budget, but the act of going through each expense and assigning it to a category can help us learn where we’re over-spending before we even add up our totals. If you’re wincing every time you assign something to the “Amazon” category, pay attention to that feeling! This can help you know what categories you might want to cut back on during future challenges.
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