For this week’s edition of MBT Talks, the MBT editorial team decided to do a little experiment. For two weeks, we tracked our expenses in a variety of ways to see what we could learn from our spending habits. Laura and Amy used expense-tracking apps on their iPhones, and Simon used a combination of pen and paper, as well as referring to Mint.
Amy: Did you guys ever track your expenses prior to this experiment? Or attempted to do so?
Laura: When I’m traveling abroad, I will write down everything I spend. Here, I did that for a while and then it was too hard to keep up, so I just end up checking my bank account every once in a while.
Simon: It’s too tedious. I did poorly tracking my expenses using pen and paper. Every time I came into work I’d put down what I spent the previous day. I tracked my cash expenses but I didn’t track my credit card expenses.
Amy: Was that a good method for you? Doing it the day after?
Simon: Not really. I would always forget a few bucks here and there, and that adds up.
Amy: Was that effective?
Laura: Yeah, I think so. Any other time it would probably slip my mind. Case in point: Simon.
Amy: I was super diligent last month, ever since I purchased Saver and started using it, but this month for this experiment I also used Toshl Finance, which Laura told me about. So I ended up testing both at the same time.
Simon: It became more work.
Amy: Every time I spent money I double tracked it, and that’s probably why I got lazy doing it. I just stopped using the second app after a week.
Laura: Saver is definitely a better app.
Amy: I think that Toshl beats Saver in that it has a recurring expenses option, so that if you pay for the gym on the first of every month, Toshl will repeat that expense every month.
Laura: For me, I only tracked my discretionary spending. I don’t track any recurring expenses, because I’m not trying to track that, because I know it’s already there.
Amy: I tracked everything just to get a better sense of just how much money I used every month.
Laura: Did it change your spending?
Amy: I feel like I need to do it for at least another two months to get a better sense of how much I use and to budget accordingly. But I know that some people track their expenses down to the penny don’t really work for them. Do you guys agree?
Simon: Tracking in general doesn’t work, in my opinion. Being in the mindset that you care about your money — you know what’s going in, what’s going out — is more important. That’s the biggest thing, that you’re not going overboard.
Amy: I think it’s different because Simon isn’t a big spender, so you would know how much you earned and how much you spend. Whereas I buy a lot of small miscellaneous items, and when you buy it, you don’t think about it. But afterwards, it adds up. So tracking expenses helps me visualize where I spend little spurts of money.
Simon: Don’t you guys notice when you spend $100 on a purchase though?
Laura: I wouldn’t spend all of it at the same time, so it’d be like $50 on Friday, $40 on Saturday, $10 on Sunday, and then on Monday, I’ll be like, “What happened to my money?!”
Amy: It’s also easy for expenses to get lost on credit cards, because you just charge it and don’t look at it again. Do you guys plan on keeping it up after this two week trial run?
Laura: I think so. I spent about $240 and it’s only been less than two weeks of using the app. It was a “Holy crap!” moment I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t track the expenses.
Simon: I think tracking spending takes a lot of willpower. And budgeting is a whole other story. For our next MBT experiment, we should try allocating ourselves $10 a week.
Laura, Amy: What?!
Amy: You can do that by yourself, Simon.