How to Adult: 5 ways to track your spending

December 20, 2021

Once you have a budget in place, stick to it with an expense-tracking method that works for you.

 

If a vibrant social life is important to you, we know it’s difficult to turn down post-work happy hours. But those paired with lunches out and afternoon matcha pick-me-ups can really add up. Take control of your account balance and make a habit of tracking your spending.

Start by creating a budget, if you haven’t already. (It’s hard to know where you’re overspending if you haven’t determined your typical expenses.) Then experiment with different ways of monitoring your cash flow. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution: The best tracking method for you is the one you’ll stick to. Read on for five ideas to try.

 

1. Open separate bank accounts

If you’re a visual person, compartmentalizing your money may help you track your spending. For example, consider opening another bank account – separate from bills and savings – purely for “fun money.” Designate a small percentage of every paycheck to this fund. Tap into it for non-necessary items, such as dining out, new clothes or concert tickets. But once the balance hits zero, don’t allow yourself to spend any more.

 

2. Download an app

If convenience and accessibility are important to you, downloading a budget app on your phone. It allows on-the-go monitoring of your spending with the swipe of a finger. Countless third-party apps are available. Or check with your bank to see if it offers a mobile banking solution with an expense-tracking feature. The new U.S. Bank Mobile App, for example, has a Money Mentorship component. It analyzes spending habits and helps you better understand where your money is going.

 

3. Label envelopes

Carrying a debit or credit card in your wallet sometimes makes it too easy to go over budget. That’s why the envelope method works well for people prone to throwing extra items into their cart when they shop.

Using your budget as a guide, withdraw the cash you allocated for items like food, gas, makeup and entertainment. And then put the amounts into their respective envelopes (label them to avoid confusion). The next time you need groceries or want to purchase movie tickets, you must use the money from the designated envelope. And when it’s gone, it’s gone.

 

4. Break out the pen and paper

Sometimes the simplest solutions work best, and there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned pen-and-paper tracking. We even created a printable weekly spending journal to help get you started. Every time you swipe your card or fork over cash, write down the item and the amount, no matter how small. The basic act of putting pen to paper and acknowledging your spending may make you more money aware.

 

5. Create a spreadsheet

Many people love spreadsheets for expense tracking since the columns are easy to customize to individual needs. Plus, they do a lot of the calculating legwork for you. Hold onto receipts or keep track of purchases with pen and paper. Then transfer the dollar amounts to your spreadsheet on a daily or weekly basis.

Over time, you’ll be able to flip through months of spending-habit data. This will help to both identify your weak spots and celebrate how far you’ve come on your financial wellness path.

It’s easy to overlook small purchases. By keeping track of your expenses, down to the penny, you’ll have a better understanding of your purchasing habits and that may inspire you to spend that money elsewhere. Perhaps it could go into a vacation savings fund. Or you could allocate it toward student loans to pay them down faster. Realizing the impact small purchases can have on your finances may cause you to think twice before swiping your card.

 

Inspired to save even more? Here are simple strategies for saving on daily expenses.

Related content

Loud budgeting explained: Amplify your money talk

How to financially prepare for pet costs

How to Adult: 5 ways to track your spending

Family planning for the LGBTQ+ community

Preparing for adoption and IVF

11 essential things to do before baby comes

Webinar: Uncover the cost: Starting a family

3 tips for saving money when moving to a new home

Pros and cons of a personal line credit

Tips for handling rising costs from an Operation HOPE Financial Wellbeing coach

Tips to earn that A+ in back-to-school savings

Mindset Matters: How to practice mindful spending

Uncover the cost: Wedding

How to manage your finances when you're self-employed

How to save money while helping the environment

Working with an accountability partner can help you reach your goals

7 steps to prepare for the high cost of child care

How to decide when to shop local and when to shop online

How to save for a wedding

Stay on budget — and on the go — with a mobile banking app

Multiple accounts can make it easier to follow a monthly budget

5 things to consider when deciding to take an unplanned trip

5 tips for creating (and sticking to) a holiday budget

How can I help my student manage money?

How to increase your savings

Good money habits: 6 common money mistakes to avoid

Key components of a financial plan

Don’t underestimate the importance of balancing your checking account

How to gain financial independence from your parents

How to manage money in the military: A veteran weighs in

Are professional movers worth the cost?

Beyond the mortgage: Other costs for homeowners

Spring cleaning checklist for your home: 5 budget-boosting tasks

Should you buy now, pay later?

U.S. Bank asks: Do you know what an overdraft is?

Tips for working in the gig economy

Save time and money with automatic bill pay

Helpful tips for safe and smart charitable giving

Growing your savings by going on a ‘money hunt’

Why a mobile banking app is a ‘must have’ for your next vacation

Tips to raise financially healthy kids at every age

How I kicked my online shopping habit and got my spending under control

It's possible: 7 tips for breaking the spending cycle

Financial checklist: Preparing for military deployment

Here’s how to create a budget for yourself

Webinar: Common budget mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Allowance basics for parents and kids

9 simple ways to save

Do you and your fiancé have compatible financial goals?

3 ways to keep costs down at the grocery store (and make meal planning fun)

What military service taught me about money management

6 pandemic money habits to keep for the long term

College budgeting: When to save and splurge

How to save money in college: easy ways to spend less

Costs to consider when starting a business

Adulting 101: How to make a budget plan

You can take these 18 budgeting tips straight to the bank

How I did it: Learned to budget as a single mom

Your 4-step guide to financial planning

Consolidating debts: Pros and cons to keep in mind

Improving your credit score: Truth and myths revealed

Dear Money Mentor: How do I set and track financial goals?

Lost job finance tips: What to do when you lose your job

What I learned from my mom about money

Financial gifts can be a valuable – and fun – choice for the holidays

What financial advice would you give your younger self?

Practical money tips we've learned from our dads

What’s in your emergency fund?

Certificates of deposit: How they work to grow your money

How I did it: Deciding whether to buy an RV

Practical money skills and financial tips for college students

Money management guide to financial independence

Personal finance for teens can empower your child

U.S. Bank asks: Transitioning out of college life? What’s next?

How to track expenses

30-day adulting challenge: Financial wellness tasks to complete in a month

Webinar: Uncover the cost: College diploma

Transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce

Military homeownership: Your guide to resources, financing and more

U.S. Bank asks: Do you know your finances?

Webinar: Uncover the cost: Home renovation

U.S. Bank asks: What do you know about credit?

7 financial questions to consider when changing jobs

How to best handle unexpected expenses

Start of disclosure content

Loan approval is subject to credit approval and program guidelines. Not all loan programs are available in all states for all loan amounts. Interest rates and program terms are subject to change without notice. Mortgage, home equity and credit products are offered by U.S. Bank National Association. Deposit products are offered by U.S. Bank National Association. Member FDIC.