Budget: Where Did My Money Go?

When it comes to your finances, is there too much month left at the end of the money?

Everyone would like a bigger paycheck. Yet, more often than not, a healthy bottom line and financial success has more to do with controlling our expenses than increasing our income.

If we were asked to recall any check we wrote for over $500 during the past month, we would likely remember all of them. If we were asked to recall every purcharse we made in the past month that totaled $3 or less, we’d have a more difficult time. It’s not the large amounts of money we have trouble tracking. It’s the small amounts we don’t keep track of. Those seemingly insignificant $1.99 purchases leaking quietly out of our wallets add up to a stream of cash flow that needs to be redirected.

Does “pocket change” really add up? For many of us, a stop at the soda machine is part of our daily routine. Three quarters sliding into the coin slot doesn’t feel like much money. But that .75 cent daily purchase equals nearly $275 a year (and approximately 54,750 calories!) Small purchases add up to big dollars; dollars that could be working for you, your family, or your business.

Want to see where your money is going? For 30 days, track all of your expenses. Everything. To the penny. Carry a notebook with you and record in detail what you purchased and how much you spent. If yours is a family budget, make sure your spouse and children each have their own notebooks to record their expenditures. As you record what you spend, be specific. at the end of 30 days, an entry that reads “Lunch at Harrigan’s $5.79” will be more useful to you than “Food – $5.79”. Remember, track everything! If you put .60 cents into the parking meter, write it down. The goal is to get an accurate picture of where your money goes.

At the end of 30 days, categorize your expenses. Again, be specific. Use the Budget Categories you see here as a guide.

Tracking the details of your spending for 30 days reveals an accurate picture of your spending patterns. You’ll be surprised at what you learn. It may be the first time you see on paper the amount of money you spend in areas you haven’t given much thought to. As one person who did this tracking exercise recently observed, “I didn’t realize going out to lunch every day was costing me so much money. By cutting back to two days a week and bringing my own lunch on the other days, I could save $15 a week. That’s $780 a year I can put toward a family vacation!”

Tracking your expenses for 30 days offers another benefit. You’ll find that the simple practice of recording your expenditures will curtail your impulse spending. Knowing you have to write down how much money you’re spending on a candy bar causes you to think about whether you really need it. You’ll tend to spend less money when you record your purchases.

Tracking the details of your spending for 30 days will show you where your money is going. It will also help you find money you didn’t think you had. Our friend who decided to brown back his lunch three days a week freed up $60 of monthly income.

It’s not uncommon for people who do this tracking exercise to “uncover” $300 or more in monthly income. That’s $300 or more of available cash flow we can re-direct toward paying of debt, saving for a future purchase, or investing.

An accurate picture of our spending patterns is crucial to establishing our financial priorities. Track your expenses for 30 days. See where your money is going. By trimming unnecessary spending and re-directing those dollars toward your financial goals, you’ll find more money at the end of your month.


  • Wages Paid
  • Bonuses
  • Interest Income
  • Capital Gains Income
  • Dividend Income
  • Miscellaneous Income

Income Subtotal


  • Mortgage or Rent
  • Utilities: (Gas/Water/Electric/Trash)
  • Cable TV
  • Telephone
  • Home Repairs/Maintenance
  • Car Payments
  • Gasoline/Oil
  • Auto Repairs/Maintenance/Fees
  • Other Transportation
    (tolls, bus, subway, etc.)
  • Child Care
  • Auto Insurance
  • Home Owners/Renters Insurance
  • Computer Expense
  • Entertainment/Recreation
  • Groceries
  • Eating Out
  • Gifts/Donations
  • Healthcare (medical/dental/vision, etc)
  • Hobbies
  • Interest Expense
    (mortgage, credit cards, fees)
  • Magazines/Newspapers
  • Federal Income Tax
  • State Income Tax
  • Social Security/Medicare Tax
  • Personal Property Tax
  • Pets
  • Miscellaneous Expense

Expenses Subtotal

Net Income (Income less Expenses)