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Tracking Your Money

Recording Every Transaction, Even When You're Rushed
You've unloaded your cart at the grocery store, and now you're impatiently waiting for the customer ahead of you to get out of the way. You want to move forward and check the prices on the screen as the cashier scans in your items, and the bagger needs your cart, but this slowpoke is fumbling with bags, receipts, gloves, and kids, and you're trapped. Minutes later, you're the one finishing your transaction and gathering your things to go. You sure don't want to be The Slowpoke, so you swoop everything into one hand and hurry out of the way. I call this "doing the Next-in-Line Hustle."

Days later, you're pulling your hair out, trying to balance your checkbook and filling in missing transactions from memory. You vow that, from now on, you will write down every purchase as it happens. And you mean it this time. Really.

Every organizing system, no matter how good, can break down when we're rushed. What's the key to making any system work? Actually following it. And what gets in the way of following it? Not taking the time to do it correctly and completely. Your goal is to capture every transaction, so you need a technique that is lightning-fast and fits every situation.

Keeping Track when Paying with a Card
I prefer paying by card instead of by check because I usually get just one receipt that tells me everything I need to know: what I bought, how much I spent, the date, and the account I paid with. Here's how I do the Next-in-Line Hustle, Card Version:

  1. Hand over the card or run it through the machine myself.
  2. Sign the screen or paper copy.
  3. Grab the card, receipt, and ribbon of coupons and stuff them all into the back section of my wallet.
  4. Zip up my wallet, grab my bags, and dash.
  5. Repeat all week.
  6. Take the bulging wallet to my desk, pull out the wad of receipts and check carbons, open QuickBooks, and key in the week's purchases.
Keeping Track when Paying by Check
Even though I prefer using a card, sometimes I have to write a check. I use duplicate checks (the kind with a piece of carbon paper attached), so I know the check number and who it was written to without having to record the transaction in a check register. Here's my Next-in-Line Hustle, Check Version:
  1. Pull out the book of checks and tear one off.
  2. Fill out the check, separate it from the carbon, and hand it over.
  3. Put away the unused checks, my pen, and the check carbon while I wait for the receipt.
  4. Pop the receipt into the back section of the wallet with the check carbon.
  5. Zip, grab bags, dash.
  6. Repeat.
  7. QuickBooks.
Did you notice that I don't use a check register?

("Gasp! She doesn't write it all down line by line???") Nope, I don't need to. I get a receipt for every transaction and keep the check carbon for every check I write, so each weekend when I update my QuickBooks records, I enter everything, balance my checking account, and start every Monday knowing just how much of an allowance I have for the week.

Did you also notice that this doesn't sound like an especially neat-looking method? You're right, it's not. By the end of the week, it's a jumble of wrinkly little slips of paper. But nonetheless, it never fails me. (Except when my friend Cindy dumps my wallet on the floor and the receipts slide under her stove. But that was my fault for leaving it unzipped.)

Why does this always work? Because I do the same thing every time. If I deviate from this routine, I get little surprises on my account statement. When my statement shows me that I have less money than I think I have, I'm once again reminded that deviating from my system is more trouble than it's worth.

To do list

  • Determine the line items that will be included in your spreadsheet, including all sources of income and all expenses.
  • Choose whether to create your spreadsheet on paper or using your computer.
  • Set up the rows and columns of your spreadsheet.
  • Enter lines for sources of income.
  • Carefully choose your expense categories and enter them into your spreadsheet.
  • Fill in income and expense data.


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Reproduced from Organize Your Personal Finances in No Time, by Debbie Stanley, by permission of Pearson Education. Copyright © 2005 by Que Publishing. Please visit Amazon to order your own copy.


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