Monday, April 18, 2011

Spend Analyzer

As I've mentioned before, right around the time we rang in 2011, we became debt free (not counting the house) and had moved onto Dave Ramsey step 4 which was to bump our retirement investing to 15% of our income.  I bumped mine to 15% and the wifey makes less and wanted to bump hers up to 30% so we did that also.  In addition we funded Roth IRAs for each of us for last year and we're making regular recurring bi-weekly payments into Roth IRA accounts for each of us going forward for this year and beyond.  So in reality, it's well more than 15% than we're contributing, but we have to play a bit of catchup.  We should have been doing that from day 1 when we started working, keeping it steady over the years, but we didn't have the focus and Gazelle like intensity (Dave-ism) that we have now.

So needless to say, we have a lot more going out now than we did a few months ago.  In addition, we switched a bill or two over from paying montly to yearly, resulting in approx 5% discount/return on our $, however that also resulted in few large bills in the last few months.  Add in tuition for the wifey's upcoming summer session classes and the INSANE amount for books and you got yourself some large outflows all at once.  Luckily she was able to rent one book for the upcoming semester for $50 instead of paying $180, but her Accounting book is $240 with no used/rentable books anywhere online!  Sorry, but $240 WTF?  I had an Accounting major for my first degree in college and I think the max I paid for one book was $80.  That is just ridiculous, but nothing we can do about that. 

Bottom line is I noticed our bank account went down a decent amount last Friday, which is odd because Friday is payday for me.  Upon closer inspection, our credit card payments and mortgage had all hit in the same week, and the larger credit card bill hit on Friday.  Typically over the course of a normal month things even out and we should end up with more in the account month over month.  Prior to realizing why the account went down last week, I wanted to get a better idea of where our $ is going.  We never did the Dave Ramsey budget step, where you layout what $ you have coming in each month and then tell the $ exactly what it will go towards down to the last penny.  Since we didn't have that info, I first went to my credit card online sites and found some good info.

Discover has a great tool on their site called the Spend Analyzer, under a link called Financial Tools.  It breaks down by category everything you've charged and you can go back as far as 24 months.  It was really eye opening to see everything categorized.  They lump things into categories like Travel/Entertainment, Merchandise, Services, Gasoline, etc. and it's sorted by highest amount first.  If you click on the categories, it will sort the individual charges by highest amount first and will lump things together with the same name.  For example, if you get gas at the same place, it will show one large amount with a total of all the times you've been, same for restaurants, stores, etc.  That really is a great tool.  I was most surprised at the amount we spend on gas per year.  We both do drive about 30 miles each way to work, so it makes sense, I was just surprised at how much that adds up to. Great info to have, unfortunately my other card doesn't have any such information. 

My sister Jen mentioned that Bank of America has a 'My Portfolio' option which allows you to enter your information for all your accounts and it looks like it will do the same type of analysis.  I'm a little apprehensive to add in all my account information so that it's all in one place, so I haven't tried it, but she said it works real well.  It sounds similar to the Discover tool and a version of Quicken I used several years back.  It would poll all the accounts you add in online and then it will attempt to categorize them.  It was over 5 years ago that I used it and at the time I had to do so much manual work to categorize things that it was not at all useful.  But I'm sure it's gotten much better over time.   In addition I've heard that the App/website is quite popular and looks like it is similar to the tools I described above and it's free.  You just have to weight the pros/cons of whether you trust putting your financial account information on their site. 

Do you use any similar budgeting/spending analysis tools that you find useful and productive?  Would love to hear what works well if you do.


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