How to Track Your Expenses

If you’re serious about changing your financial habits, you need to keep track of ALL your spending! The FREE printable expense tracker found in this post is an essential tool for accountability and change.

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy here.

This is the third post in the Creative Savings’ Beginners Guide to Budgeting Series. To read all posts in order, start with Why You Need a Budget, then continue reading the rest of the series on this page.

If you are serious about changing your financial habits, you need to keep track of ALL your spending! This post will show you how.

One of the keys to gaining control of your finances and learning how to manage money better, is knowing exactly where you spend your money.

Believe it or not, it’s absolutely impossible to keep track of everything in your head. A quick grocery store run here, a new pair of jeans there, and no sooner than you’ve made the choice to crack down on your spending, you’ve already overspent because you didn’t…you guessed it…keep track.

If you are serious about changing your financial habits, you need to commit to tracking absolutely everything from now on. And I mean every receipt, online purchase, and old school check you write – yes, everything!

The next few steps will show you exactly how to do this. 

Choose Your Spending Categories

First, let’s begin with a super easy task – spending categories. Grab a scrap piece of paper, and write down every type of expense you can think of. Try to group each purchase based on similarities, and be as specific or as general as you’d like.

I think there is a time and place for super specific categories, but if you are just starting out, I would try not to make it too awfully complicated. This list should give you a great starting point, and is exactly what I use on a regular basis.

  • Home {mortgage/rent, furniture, appliances, maintenance & improvement}
  • Car {insurance, gas, repairs, and any payments}
  • Food {groceries and eating out}
  • Giving {tithing, or general donations}
  • Medical {insurance, copays, and prescriptions}
  • Utilities {gas, electric, water, cable, internet, and phone}
  • Personal Care {toiletries, hair, makeup, clothes, etc}
  • Gifts {Christmas, birthday, and cards}
  • Other {pets, kids, entertainment, hobbies, and miscellaneous household items}

Now, let’s start tracking our expenses.

Choose Your Method of Tracking

There are a ton of ways to do this. I have used good ol’ pen and paper, Google Forms, Mint, and Excel, and now there are even apps to help you get financially organized. No matter which system you decide on, the essentials will stay exactly the same. 

I think the easiest way to start is to just print out a paper Expense Tracker to hang on your fridge, and enter in every single receipt soon after you arrive back home after shopping or running a few errands.

Place a little checkmark on the receipt to signify that you’ve already entered it, and file it away in a small accordion file. I like to keep receipts filed for 6 months. Most items can’t be returned anyway after that length of time, but you’ll be glad you saved them in case you ever need to return a purchase you didn’t want, need, or now regret. Trust me, we’ve all been there!

The Expense Tracker shown below is available in a few different formats, and you can use it to track every cent {which I highly recommend}, or just monitor specific problem areas. Make it work for you!

This printable makes tracking your expenses SO easy! Also includes link to an Excel file.

Download the printable file with categories

Download the printable file – blank

Download the Excel file

How to Use an Expense Tracker

1. Start with the receipts you currently have – anything that is wadded up in your purse, stashed in a catch-all basket, anywhere – and write them in the tracker according to the category they fall under, along with their payment type {cash, check, credit, or debit}. This month’s expenses won’t necessarily be a complete picture, but that’s OK. Clean slate, remember?

2. If a receipt falls under 2 or more categories, i.e. you stopped by the drug store for prescriptions and toiletries, keep them listed in the same row, but divide them appropriately.

For purchases that don’t have a receipt {like hand-written checks or billing statements}, write these in every time you make a payment so you don’t forget to track them.

As you develop the routine of tracking all your expenses, you may discover some pretty surprising spending habits. For example, you might not have realized you were blindly spending hundreds at the grocery store, or how much those Starbucks stops are really costing you each week.

This Expense Tracker will now hold you accountable and give you more knowledge about your financial situation than you’ve ever had before – even if you never take the next step and create an actual budget. {Which, of course, I don’t recommend….ahem.}

However, while you can use this tool to slow your spending in certain areas, it will still be hard to develop an accurate picture of your finances if you only track your money after you spend it. In the next post, I’ll show you exactly how to take a pro-active approach that will keep you from spending too much in any area of your life.

Yep, we’re going to talk budgets!

Do you track your expenses? Why or why not?

{Go to the next step: Building Your First Budget}

This printable makes tracking your expenses SO easy! Also includes link to an Excel file.

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Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

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  1. Thank youuuuu! I found a post with a load of expense tracker app suggestions ( if you prefer keeping things digital) but I really prefer the physical act of writing out expenses. It somehow makes me more mindful of my purchases. Thanks so much for this step-by-step guide! ❤️

  2. Good morning! Is there a mock sheet available that is already completed? I have look in hopes that there would be one on the site for the expense tracker. Just trying to figure out how to align the top categories with the payee and other rows. Thaanks in advance

    1. Hi Ronnie,

      They payee is where the receipt is from (example: Target) then you split the amounts up into the columns.

      So if you bought $50 worth of things at Target, and $32 of it was groceries and the other $18 was a cute top – you’d put $32 under the groceries column and $18 under the Clothing column.

      Hope that answers your question!

  3. I stopped tracking my expenses because I’m afraid to face reality, i.e. unnecessary expenditure. I need to start this habit again because fraudsters can steal your money without you knowing. I therefore need to keep track of what I’m spending and where.

    1. Tracking 100% of your expenses is an easy habit to get out of for sure! And you so right! There are so many “good” things to give to, but if you’re not keeping track you can end up in financial trouble yourself.

  4. One thing I’ve tried to start remembering is to sort my purchases at the store on the belt. I still sort between hot/cold/chemicals/etc, but but my priority is grouping each category of my budget. I ask the cashier to subtotal the amounts after each group. That way the math is done for me when I go to record it when I come home.

  5. Have been spending a lot lately, found your blog important,this will change my habits forever

    Thank you

    1. That’s exciting, Clydee! You can get your spending under control. Just remember, you are in charge of your money – it’s not the other way around.

  6. Oh thank you so so much! I’ve tried so many ways of holding together my expenses but never done it all the way. This form and post helped me and my family so much. Thank you again 🙂

  7. Totally love this!!! Have went back to Jan. And slowly added everything in. Is amazing where I have found our money is going!!!
    I do have a question about the cash for income and expense. Working as a waitress I get tips everyday.. I put all my tips in an envelope at home and allow myself and my husband $20 in our wallets. My husband smokes and spends the cash quickly, can you explain how to keep track? I feel like I’m adding money to the income to much and scared it’s not going to add up.


    1. Cash is always a hard thing to keep track of — I struggle with this for sure! I might just keep it simple and keep track on a piece of paper that you slip inside the envelope if you really want to know where that cash is going. Otherwise, I would set aside an agreed upon amount from your tips to keep in the envelope, and not count as income for tracking purposes, and put the rest in your bank account to keep from spending the extra.

  8. Thank you so much (first of all). This week I will be starting to budget together with my boyfriend so we can practice doing these things together. I must admit I was having major anxiety because, I have always been a good saver; but I had no idea where to start with making an actual budget. These posts and printables make me feel like I can actually do this!
    I did have 1 question however:

    1. When you talked about having a receipt with a prescription on it and a food item; you said to make sure to divide it accordingly. What does this mean?

    God Bless

    1. That’s so good to hear, Carissa! I personally like to keep prescriptions and food as different categories in my budget, so when I make a purchase that has both on the receipts, I will just split the transaction into the two columns listed on the expense tracker. I hope that helps answer your question! Let me know if you have any more. 🙂

    1. You are most welcome! The cursive font is called A Gentle Touch. I love that it makes something boring like budgeting all feminine and pretty!

  9. Such a simple but super clever idea. We have made buying a house our goal this year so I will share this with my husband to help us get there. Thanks for sharing your tips! Xx

    1. Love your blog! I’m slowly working my way through the various spreadsheets you’ve been so kind to share!

      I have more categories than you do for my expenses, including those several columns with the blank headers. I tried adding a few more, but apparently there’s no code in the columns *I* added. How do I fix that.

      Also a bit confused about the Monthly Spending box at the bottom of the spreadsheet. There isn’t enough room in them to add the same number of categories that you have in the body of the spreadsheet. Also, do those totals update automatically, or must they be input manually?

      Sorry for being so long winded and picky 🙁 But I LOVE your system and really want to use it, so I’m trying to iron out the few bugs that I’ve run into so that I can!

      1. Thanks, Ronnie! If you highlight a column, right-click and choose COPY, then right click and click INSERT COPIED CELLS, it should add a new column and keep the formulas for you. For right now, I only have it set to update the Monthly Spending Totals manually because it’s hard to make sure the spreadsheet keeps the formulas when new expenses are added to the list {similar to the problem you had earlier}. I’m still working out some kinks for another re-launch of the budgeting system, and I really appreciate your insight! I’m still learning a lot about excel and hope to be able to fix some of these things in Round 2. Thanks for your patience!

  10. I finally have “a real job” and I’m finally printing your blank tracker printable! I am not sure what doors will be opened for me in 2015 (conferences, workshops, traveling to see friends, etc.) but they ALL require money! 😉 This is my first step in trying to stay on top of things and make the best possible decisions. Thanks!

    1. Yay! Please feel free to send me feedback too. I’m working on a 2015 update to the series with a few tweaks. 🙂 Congrats on the new job!

  11. I am still a little confused on how too track if you are tracking a receipt and it could go to two different categories. If you could help I would be very grateful. You have the best budget worksheet that I have ever seen and very looking forward too getting started just trying to remember to get a receipt every time my husband and I are both horrible about not getting one and never knowing where our money is going.
    Thanks Samantha Wiecken

    1. Samantha, thank you so much for your kind words!

      When you have a receipt that contains two different categories, you just divide up the receipt {I usually write on the receipt or circle certain items that go together}, and put each separate amount into their respective categories on the Expense Tracker. It should all be on one line and add up to the receipt total if you go straight across the row.

      Just a note: I add in the tax to one of the categories and don’t worry about splitting that up properly. Gotta keep it as simple as possible! 🙂

      Hope that helps! Let me know if it that is still unclear or if you have another question.

  12. This is really easy to follow. I was wondering if you had an expense tracker for business, (though I suppose it would be easy to make the changes to an excel spreadsheet)

    1. I do have one that I use personally for business, but I haven’t formatted it to share on the blog yet. Although you could certainly print out this sheet or use the excel spreadsheet in a similar way.

      Going to file this away as a future blog post idea!

  13. Hi Kalyn!

    Thank you for all of your wonderful tips! I have never budgeted IN MY LIFE, and so your steps are truly helpful as my husband and I are starting to save for a new home.

    Just a question – how do you show your credit card bill on your expense tracker if you put all different categories on the card? Or do you just track each individual item and put the pay type as credit? I don’t want to double count where our money is going.



    1. So glad you are getting your feet wet with budgeting! I think you will see a MAJOR difference in your finances, especially in saving toward a new home!

      With the credit card bill, I only account for the individual transactions as they come through, and then mark them as credit. When I pay the bill, I do not put that final amount in my expense tracker because I have already accounted for it. If you wanted to go through and double check that you got everything from the bill and didn’t lose any receipts, you could make a small mark next to each credit line item just to make sure.

      Hope that helps!

  14. I love your tips that are here and later tonight im going to fire up my itunes, and commune with my inner organizer. I love to organize and I am very type A but I admit to being horrible with my money. I am currently in a very bad money situation that I want to get out of. I think if I can see where all my money is going and get in the habit of checking it I can get on the right path finally. I dont want my money to rule me anymore! I am going to create a version of what you have here in a notebook im making. Thanks for the great tips and I shall eagerly await more emails to come !

    1. I’m so excited that you’re getting your budget back on track — it’s such a freeing feeling to be in control of your finances!

    1. Lisa, I am SO sorry it took me this long to respond! It’s been a crazy few weeks.

      The answer to your questions is to track each the items you spend the cash ON, so you don’t double count the cash.

  15. I have multiple cards that I use( debit, credit ( a few of them in this category) and have different payees for different categories( ex. walmart, in n out, etc) and I am okay at excel. How would I go about in doing this/ putting all the different payees and payment types together in the spread sheet? Let me know asap, I am already starting on this!


    1. If I understand this correctly, are you tracking payees instead of categories rather than tracking payees AND categories? If so, I would just take out the categories on the top, and type in each of your payees. Then use the payee column to specify a general overview of what you bought, or you can just delete that column all together. I hope that makes sense! If not, feel free to email me kalynbrooke{at}creativesavingsblog{dot}com, and we can work through it. 🙂

  16. Hi, I love this expense tracker but I have so many receipts to enter how do i open up more space on this to add more than you had on here? Thanks

    1. That’s one of the reasons why I really love the spreadsheet version – you can add as many columns and rows as you like! Otherwise, I would try to condense your categories a little bit to fit all the receipts on one page, but if that doesn’t work, you can always print out another page and try using it that way. Hope that helps!

  17. How in the world do I plan a budget when expenses such as utilities, phone, elec., water , gas change every month? Love your spreadsheet. I am going to download it as soon as I get to my laptop.

    1. There are a couple things you can do…. 1. Look at the last 3 months worth of bills, and take an average of the 3, then use that as your budget number, or 2. Take one of the highest amounts you’ve ever paid that company, and use that as your budget. Because it is a higher number, you will automatically accumulate a savings any time your monthly bill is lower than that amount. Let this savings grow so you always have enough to pay bills that are higher than expected, or for emergencies {such as leaks!}

  18. Thanks for this. I love it! Two questions please. Where would I put life insurance and retirement debit orders under. Also, bank charges, where do you put that under? I have for now made 2 categories for these. Thanks in advance

    1. I think I would actually combine life insurance and the retirement orders into an Additional Payments column to make it more simple to track. If your bank charges aren’t huge, I would just add them into your Other column – it’s a catch-all for all those miscellaneous items! 🙂

  19. Hi Kalyn-

    I love your organization, and I’m really looking forward to doing this. I haven’t done it at all in the past, but I’m starting with our next paycheck. We’ve really been financially strapped and I’m hoping this will help us to budget better. Where do you go from here? After you’ve filled in your income and expenses, what’s the next step? Do you set a weekly or monthly budget for each category?

  20. Thank you for the tracker. I have been wanting to get on a budget for a while now, and am finally getting my husband on board. I think it is very important that we both do this together. I like pencil and paper so I like the pretty designs of yours. Not at all boring like the ones man like to do. LOL

  21. YES! Thank you for this tracker. You do amazing work. I feel much better organized with my finances since coming across your blog. Keep up the good work. Again, THANK YOU!

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