How to track your spending patterns

August 12, 2021

If you feel like you should have additional cash each month to save or invest, you’re not alone. 


Does this scenario sound familiar? You recently got a raise, but you’re not transferring any additional money into your savings or retirement account each month. Or maybe you received a bonus or inheritance, and it feels like the money is disappearing with little to show for it.

Getting on the right track starts with awareness. Knowing where your money goes is the first step in building a financial plan that helps you work toward your financial goals. These four tips can help you get there.


1. Make some discoveries about your monthly expenses

Tracking your income and expenses is the first, crucial step toward eliminating spending patterns that can slow down your saving and investing. It can also draw attention to problematic purchases you might not be aware of, including fraudulent or double charges.

To get a sense of your monthly expenses, put them into two categories: fixed expenses and discretionary expenses.

  • Fixed expenses include your rent or mortgage payments, vehicle payments, insurance, daycare, groceries, utilities (gas, electricity, Internet) and any loan payments you’re required to pay each month. If you’ve been setting aside a certain amount for your savings, include that, too.
  • Discretionary expenses include dining out, entertainment, and leisure. Think movies, vacations, or other expenses that you can do without, or at least trim. There are often discretionary expenses that you might not immediately think of, such as streaming video or food delivery services that you subscribe to.

If you share expenses with your partner, go over your monthly spending together. If you share accounts, you’ll want to be aware of one another’s expenses and discuss your savings goals and a budgeting plan that works for both of you.


2. Assess your spending

After about a month of tracking your spending, you might notice unnecessary expenses that are bloating your budget.

And it’s not just discretionary expenses that you might find yourself second guessing. You might be surprised to see how much your Internet, cable and cell phone bills add up to each month. Maybe you can find a better deal on your car insurance, or perhaps you can consolidate your student loans to get a better rate. Even streamlining your streaming subscriptions can make a difference.

The opportunities for saving become focused once you take a clear-eyed look at how you’re spending. 


3. Put a budget in place

Once you’ve totaled your expenses, stay on top of tracking them. Start a spreadsheet of your spending or use your bank’s online or mobile app to track your expenses and build out your budgeting goals. Each person’s and family’s needs are different, but a good rule of thumb is to keep essential spending at 50% of your income, discretionary spending at 30% and save the remaining 20%.

Whatever the right ratio is for you, budgeting can make goals feel much more attainable. That vacation you’ve always dreamed of or new car you’ve had your eye on can be a reality sooner than you might think if you know where your money is going and can adjust when necessary.


4. Get advice from a professional

Sticking to a spending plan you’ve created for yourself can be difficult, so consider speaking with a financial professional. A financial professional may be able to help you tackle the challenges you’re unsure about, such as saving more for large purchases or how much more to invest for retirement.

Being more mindful about your spending and budgeting habits may help you set aside more money each month to pursue the goals that matter most to you.


Tracking your spending is the first step in creating your personalized financial plan. Read more in your four-step guide to financial planning.

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