Tracking Your Finances and Celebrating Wins!

Tracking Your Finances and Celebrating Wins!

If you’ve been around Northern Expenditure awhile, you’re probably aware that I like to celebrate. (If you follow me on Twitter, you’re aware I celebrate with dancing gifs!) If you don’t track, you can’t celebrate!

Tracking Your Finances:

It’s a new year (yay for new!) and it’s time to start tracking your finances FOR REAL this year. Here’s what you need:

  • Basic Budget Spreadsheet – You need to know what you spend. My budget is very elaborate and all spending fits into categories (which allows me to track my spending and turn it into awesome pie charts!). Yours can be as simple or as complicated as you would like. But you absolutely need to keep track of where your money is going. Every single dollar of it!
  • Debt Spreadsheet – (obviously you only need this if you have debt) Since our only debt is our mortgage, I have a simple amortization spreadsheet that keeps track of my interest paid each month, my extra payments, and how much I save over the life of the loan on my extra payments. For other debts, a spreadsheet that includes how much interest you’re paying and allows you to play with how much you save and how much you cut your loan length by paying extra is good. Again, this spreadsheet is going to be different based on your needs (and you can probably find a free Excel sheet that works for you by Googling it).
  • Your Money or Your Life Chart – I’ve talked extensively about this already, but this chart helps you visualize your progress. I also keep track of my monthly savings amount on this chart.
  • Personal Capital* – This is the only automated tool I use that’s not a spreadsheet and it tracks everything: my net worth, my debts, my credit card charges, my investments, my investment fees. It also puts everything together in one dashboard so I can see everything with one login! The service is free.

What can you Track?

If you follow our monthly plan update posts, you’ll notice that I have a million metrics that I follow and one of them is always worth celebrating. In the past year, we’ve celebrated:

  • Our investment balance surpassing our mortgage balance (March 2016)
  • Over 50% savings rate (April 2016) – For my calculations, I use the total we saved/invested that month (I add retirement savings + extra mortgage payments) and then divide that by the total (pre-tax) much we made that month. You can decide, based on your savings priorities, what to include in your own calculation.
  • Hitting $100,000 in investments (June 2016) – while on vacation!
  • Our mortgage balance going under $70,000 (July 2016)
  • Monthly interest on the mortgage dropped below $200 (September 2016) – This is a metric I like tracking – each month and each extra payment made knocks down the monthly fee I owe the bank!
  • Mortgage balance dropping below $60,000 (October 2016)
  • My 4% monthly investment income breaking $400 (November 2016 – didn’t mention it in the update) – This is a metric from the YMOYL chart – it helps you track how much money you could safely withdraw monthly if you quit today.

We’ve also celebrated hitting financial goals we’ve set for ourselves, but the little celebrations keep us motivated along the way. You’ll notice that we had something to celebrate nearly every month this year. The more you track, the more milestones you can celebrate along the way that keep you moving forward!

Time to start tracking!

What metrics do you track that I didn’t mention?


Personal Capital links on the blog are affiliate links. At NO COST to you, we get a “thank you” commission if you sign up through our links. If you don’t feel good about that, open a new window and go directly to their landing page. 

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links which, at no cost to you, helps support Northern Expenditure and keeps our heat on in the winter. Thanks!

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18 Comments

  1. I really like to track my giving. Not just how much I give, but where I give each month. It’s good for smiles 🙂 You’re so right with this, Maggie. In my experience, there’s more power in tracking than in budgeting. It really makes me think twice.

    • MaggieBanks

      Tracking giving is GREAT and you said it perfectly: there’s more power in tracking than in budgeting.

  2. I just started using Personal Capital (thanks to your link!!), and I’m absolutely loving it! It only has about a month’s worth of data on my right now so I think it will become even more powerful as time goes on! Currently I track how much debt I pay off each month (Google spreadsheet) and my budget (YNAB). For me, nothing is more powerful than my budget. It helps me prioritize my spending right now and gives me the power to tell my dollars what to do.

    • MaggieBanks

      DATA!!!! I seriously love PC and hope you do as well! (Though, I agree, I wish it backdated data so you could get at least a year view upon first login.)

  3. I love celebrating wins. This weekend I went to some hot springs and spent the morning hanging out with a few girlfriends because I finally started tiling my shower. I set up that trip 3 weeks before so I would have some reward for starting on this super scary task. Not really a financial goal, but one of my goals for January.

    • MaggieBanks

      Oooo! I love that idea! I used to eat powdered donuts after every test in college… but stopped after the Freshman 35… 🙂

  4. charts are good as long as they are going up and to the right!

  5. I only really track my net worth and my pitches and submissions. I track my expenses through Mint, but that’s not super accurate. I do like seeing my net worth grow every month. I suppose I track my savings account, but that’s only because I’m racing to get it to 10K.

    • MaggieBanks

      The more you track, the more you can celebrate. 🙂 But I do get stuck on things I’m focusing on (mortgage balance drop!) even so.

  6. I love the idea of the Your Money or Your Life Wall Chart. I haven’t got one myself yet, but I’m seriously considering printing a massive chart and hanging it on a wall in my living room for everyone to see. Accountability doesn’t get much better than that – unless you do like us finance geeks and share your financial goals publicly on the internet 😉

  7. We love celebrating too! Usually we treat ourselves to a dinner out. We absolutely love going out to eat, but since it’s a huge money suck, we limit it to special occasions. Fortunately for us, there are quite a few special occasions throughout the year that qualify 🙂 Our big one for 2017 is for us to pay off our rental home! We’re currently sitting at a high 5-digit number, so it’s definitely a STRETCH goal, but one we will be tracking every month.

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

  8. Britt

    I am obsessed with tracking. I started tracking all of our debts in 2012 when we started really hustling to get our student loans paid off, and now it’s even more fun to track the positive numbers 🙂

    I am way more intrinsically motivated by tracking versus budgeting. It’s so fun to think “if I don’t make that purchase, I can enter a higher number in the spreadsheet on the first of the month”! I feel like it’s more rewarding than “I only spent X amount in this category”. But like you said, knowing where your money is going is priority #1!

    My stretch goal was to hit $90k net worth (cash & investments) by my 30th birthday in March, and I think we’re going to be about $3k short. I’m still waiting to see what my Q4 bonus is, but it will have to be MUCH bigger than I’m estimating for $90k to happen. But still, setting that stretch goal was hugely motivating and I’m sure without it, we’d be sitting much further from $90k right now.

    Yay tracking!

    • MaggieBanks

      Woo hoo! What an awesome story! and only 3k short of $90k is still amazing! Well done!

  9. Chris @ KeepThrifty

    Awesome progress! I’m 100% with you on the power of tracking – is an awesome way to recognize the great accomplishments you make and to keep your sights set in the next ones coming.

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