Getting out of debt can feel like an impossible task. Whether it’s paying bills, a mortgage, credit cards, or student loans every month, it’s common for people to feel overwhelmed.
By organizing our spending habits as well as our monthly income, we can lessen stress, and start the journey of getting out from under those unwelcome bills. Here, we’ll take a look at the 3 best ways to track spending and pay off debt: The Envelope System, bullet journals, and using budgeting apps.
#1 Envelope System
If you’re sick of drowning in debt and ready to get your finances under control, the Envelope System is a great method to follow. Popularized by Dave Ramsey, this budgeting system is a simple way to organize your monthly spending and keep you disciplined. Here’s how to make a cash envelope system wallet:
- Make a List of all the spending categories you pay each month (ie Gas, insurance, groceries, credit cards, student loans, etc.)
- Grab Some Envelopes and label them with your spending categories (one envelope for gas, another for groceries, insurance, and so on)
- Know Your Budget for each and every category. For example, in our household, I know we spend a maximum of $650 on groceries every month, $200 on gas, $140 for auto insurance. (Check out a full list of our Monthly Expenses here). If you know you overspend every month on specific categories, now is the time to set limits for yourself; Write down your new max amount you’ll limit yourself to every month. Taking control of your finances means knowing where your money goes… No more guessing or leaving our finances up to whims and chance!
- Fill Your Envelopes with the amount of cash you need to pay each expense.
- Spend Only What You’ve Put Aside During the month, whatever is in your envelope for each respective expense is all there is. No cheating and taking from other envelopes!
If you have set up automatic payments for some of your monthly expenses, you have a couple of choices while doing the Envelope System. Your first option is to pull out the amount of cash you intend to use when you get your paycheck, then put the money back into your account a few days before that payment is scheduled to be deducted.
Depending on your level of temptation, this might be the best option for those who need a little extra help staying under budget.
The second option is to leave the cash in your bank account, but keep meticulous records of this money. Remember, this money is already “spent”- just because it’s left (temporarily) in your account, doesn’t mean it’s okay to spend it on anything other than it’s already-established purpose.
Benefits of the Envelope System
The Envelope System is a helpful took to use on your journey to debt free living. These benefits include:
- Discipline With every paycheck you are taking a specified amount of money and putting it aside for it’s essential use. Maintaining this habit will keep you from getting off track
- Personal Accountability There’s no hiding from your spending habits when using the Envelope System. You put the money aside, you spend it according to your plan, and every month you get yourself closer to becoming financially free
- Simple System The most difficult part of this budget system is making the initial decision to follow through. Once you set up your envelopes and start making it a long-term habit, any guesswork is removed from your debt free journey. The longer you follow the Envelope System, the easier it will become
- It Works By setting aside the cash to pay your monthly expenses, you’re streamlining the road to debt free living. It’s easy to get lost in the dollars, cents and stress when trying to manage our bills; But by using the Envelope System, we get a clear picture of our monthly budget, and can predict what our future monthly budgets will look like
#2 Bullet Journals
Bullet journals have become a popular method of tracking everything, from: Debt, savings, daily habits, mood, and goals. Using a bullet journal to track debt payoff is a great, visual way to keep your monthly expenses and income organized.
But what are bullet journals?
In short, bullet journals are like traditional journals, except they contain dots instead of lines. These dots help serve as a guide for drawing graphs, columns, and other visuals- maintaining a crisp, clean book to keep track of debt.
While on my own debt pay off journey, I originally kept a lined journal… Yes, tracking my income and debt this way was helpful- in that I no longer had to keep all the stress in my head- but it was messy and cumbersome. Switching to a bullet journal has helped me keep a much cleaner (and less stressful) account of my finances (as you can see in the above picture!)
Benefits of Bullet Journaling
- Keeps finances organized and accessible at a glance
- Helps track short- and long-term financial goals
- Boosts morale- When you SEE your debt reducing monthly, it motivates you to keep going!
- Easy (and fun!) to set up and maintain
There are so many ways to set up a bullet journal, making each book personal, fun and helpful. You can check out bullet journal kits for beginners on Amazon here.
#3 Budgeting Apps
Budgeting apps to track your monthly spending and income is an easy way to manage finances. There are plenty of free apps on the Google Play Store as well as the Apple store available for download.
Budget trackers are great due to their ease of use, as well as their immediacy: After every purchase (and paycheck received), you simply input an expense/income category and the amount spent, tracking your debt to income.
Personally, I’ve been using the “Spending Tracker” app from the Google Play Store: It allows me to easily input my financial information, set up my personal spending/income categories, displays my budget in list form, as well as provides a colorized pie chart to better visualize where my money is spend and saved.
Benefits of Budgeting Apps
- Quick and easy way to track your finances
- Organizes income/expenses for you
- Helps elucidate financial mistakes (where to “trim the [financial] fat”)
Tracking your financial habits is one the best approaches to paying down debt. Trying to manage money without a personal system or routine in place, makes it difficult to know how to start chipping away at our bills. So, it’s important to find a method that best suits you, and helps organize your monthly finances.
Of the many budgeting tools available, three of the best ways to track spending and pay off debt are: The Envelope System, bullet journals, and budget tracking apps.
The Envelope System is a great tool for those who need a bit more psychological encouragement: Money from paychecks received are immediately placed in prescribed envelopes every month, taking the stress and guesswork out of paying bills and saving funds.
Bullet journals are a fun way to manage income and expenses- serving as a highly visual budget tracker, while also providing a creative outlet while managing your money.
And budgeting apps are perhaps the most convenient way to track finances- it’s as easy as picking up your smartphone and inputting your daily expenses and any income received.
Find the financial tracking method that best suits your needs- whichever approach you decide on, you’ve taken the first step to paying off your debt!