The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Getting By


January 27, 2021

Do you feel like you have been hit with a heavy brick at the beginning of the year when you realize how much you spent last year? Whether it was the holiday season, or you began collecting the required documentation for completing your taxes, it can be easy to lose track of what you spent. Even if you track your expenses very closely throughout the year, the end of the year totals can still be a shock. If you are someone who does not track your expenses, maybe you are thinking it is something you need to start. While you may have the best of intentions to get started, it can be overwhelming.

The first step is deciding to do it. After that, it can be a simple process just with paper and pencil. However, the route of using software or apps on your preferred electronic device may be your preference. No matter what way you decide to start tracking, the benefit of tracking your expenses is identifying which of those expenses are essential. After knowing these, you can then create a spending plan to help use your hard-earned dollars more effectively. Ultimately, this could help reduce the need for consumer credit and possibly even allow you to put some funds away in savings.

If you are dreading doing this because you feel it will take too much time, approach it in small increments. Start out by creating a chart with two columns, one for the description of the expense and the second for the dollar amount of the expense. As you pay each bill for the month, record the amount in your chart. At the end of the month, you have a good starting point of knowing what your monthly spending looks like. For expenses that vary from month to month (ie electricity), you may need to go back to the previous year to add up each of the months and divide by the number of months you used to get your monthly average.

The next step is to total your expenses for the month and compare to your monthly take-home (minus deductions) income. This will help you identify if your expenses are less or more than your income and identify what changes you may need to make. For families whose income fluctuates month to month, a suggestion would be to use the yearly take-home income amount from the year prior and divide by 12.

For each month you track, you have more information than you did before to help you get a clear picture of what your financial situation is. If you get off track for a while by not tracking some months—do not get discouraged or give up. Just start again for the next month.

Additional information and examples can be found in MSU Extension MontGuides #MT199703HR Developing a Spending Plan and #MT198703HR Using a Check Register to Track Your Expenses at If you have questions or would like a hard copy, stop by or call Janell Barber at the Chouteau County Extension Office at 406-622-3036.

Follow us on Facebook @ChouteauCountyExtension to keep up to date on what is happening in Chouteau County Extension and 4-H.

Montana State University, US Department of Agriculture and Montana Counties Cooperating. MSU Extension is an equal opportunity/affirmative action provider of educational outreach.


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