Home > Personal Finance > 4 Old-School Ways to Stay On Budget

Comments 0 Comments

The golden rule for staying out of debt is to spend less than you make, but that’s kind of hard to do without keeping track of your money. If the thought of budgeting makes you cringe, keep in mind there’s no one “right” way to do it. And if you’re one of those people who has no interest in newfangled budgeting tools like mobile banking apps, online dashboards or even a spreadsheet, there are a few no-tech strategies for staying on top of your finances (and, consequently, avoiding the fees and credit score damage that sometimes come with overspending).

1. Pencil & Paper

Whether you choose to use the ultimate throwback to a physical notepad and pencil or you prefer to jot things down in a digital notebook, the simple act of writing down your purchases can have a significant impact on your spending habits. You can’t ignore the fact that you’re spending $15 on lunch every day when you see it over and over again in your notes.

The “write-it-down” method can be as simple or as intricate as you prefer, with a mere list on the simpler side and a matrix of spending totals and categories on the other end of the spectrum. You can take the process a step further and do some math: Make a note of how much money you’re earning, and subtract from that total every time you make a purchase. Seeing the numbers go down may make you think twice the next time you buy something. (Bonus old-school points: Skip the calculator and do the math by hand or in your head.)

2. Cash

For all the advantages credit cards offer — rewards, fraud protection, purchasing ease, etc. — they have a pretty big disadvantage: temptation. It’s so easy to overspend when you can buy now and pay later, rather than have to reckon with the hard numbers in your bank account before you approach a cash register.

But there’s no arguing with cash: You either have enough, or you walk out of the store empty-handed. If you need to stick to a spending limit of $100 a week, but you struggle with self control, you may just want to put $100 in your wallet on Sunday and force yourself to avoid the ATM for seven days.

3. A Check Register

Though checks aren’t exactly a popular form of payment anymore, debit cards are, so the check register still has utility for someone who wants to keep close tabs on their checking account balance. (And these little paper books are relatively portable.) Each month, you can double check your math with your account statement.

Still, it’s important to check your bank account activity online, because if you let debit card fraud go on undetected for several days or weeks, you may be liable for some or all of the unauthorized purchases. Additionally, if you don’t notice your account is missing money, bill payments may not go through, which could lead to late fees or debt collection activity on an unpaid balance.

4. Receipts

If the “write-it-down” method appeals to you, but you don’t want to have to take notes immediately after every purchase, holding onto your receipts is a good way to track your spending. Pick a regular interval, like the end of every day or each week, to sit down with your receipts and figure out where all your money is going. You may not think you spend that much buying coffee every day, but that stack of Starbucks receipts may suggest otherwise. Just don’t forget about e-receipts, which are becoming much more common at payment terminals.

It’s understandable if you want to limit your use of high-tech personal finance tools out of privacy concerns, but it’s also important to point out that the threat of identity theft is everywhere. Regardless of if you opt for a low- or high-tech approach to personal finance management, make sure you take time to regularly review your credit reports and account information for accuracy. You can get your free annual credit reports from the major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can also see two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Image: Wavebreakmedia

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team