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Why Expense-Tracking Often Ends in Failure

When it comes to financial duties such as making Roth IRA contributions or transferring money into a savings account, I gladly carry them out with Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan in mind. But ask me to track my expenses and I couldn’t be less enthused.

Daniel Oines / Flickr |
Daniel Oines / Flickr

Following the expense-tracking challenge that the MyBankTracker team undertook, I’ve confirmed to myself how mind-numbing it is to manually log every single purchase -- you’ll remember to do it one time and then forget it the next.

One afternoon, I was trekking through Chinatown to pick up a few items in various supermarkets, where cash is the only form of payment. Still early in the challenge, I was motivated enough to pull out the small notepad and pen to jot down my spending.

Then, I proceeded to grab some takeout before heading to the bodega for snacks. With my wallet a little thinner and my hands occupied with bags full of food, getting home was the top priority -- tracking expenses was the last thing on my mind.

Before you know it, I’m in the office -- reminded of the challenge -- trying to recall how much I spent the day before. Since most of my expenditures were made with cash, not a credit card, it isn’t as easy to keep accurate records of my spending.

After repeated attempts to track expenses, and failing, it becomes a tedious chore that you’d rather avoid altogether. This tends to be the case for many people who’ve tried to track their spending.

Furthermore, I don’t belong to the league of consumers who finds any advantage in keeping meticulous records of every cent spent. My commitment issues with expense-tracking stems from my disinterest in the idea of budgeting.

While many financial experts advise establishing budgets, I’m a firm believer of transferring a decent portion of my income into savings and allowing myself to spend the rest as I please. I’ve never been in a situation where my spending triggered spending alerts telling me that my checking account balance was dangerously low.

Once a week or so, I'll simply pull out Mint’s mobile application to get a quick peek at how much I spent recently (without really stressing over each transaction amount). Although the app lets you input your cash transactions, I’ll never stick to it. Alternatively, I watch for ATM withdrawals, which usually indicates how much cash I’m using.

For me, that’s the closest thing that comes to tracking expenses.

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