It’s tough enough to create a budget and to monitor your spending. But it’s much harder if you have – and regularly use – multiple credit cards. There has to be some method in place enabling you to keep track of your credit card spending, otherwise you effectively have no budget at all.
Here are some tracking strategies you can use to keep on top of your credit card spending.
Take Full Advantage of Online Access
If you have online access to your credit card accounts – and you should – you can plan to check on your activity on a regular basis so you will always have an idea as to what you’ve spent at any point in a given month.
While it may be ideal to check your account activity each day, that may not be entirely necessary or even desirable. Since charges don’t always hit your account immediately, it may be a few days for all activity to show up. But by checking the activity regularly, you’ll know how much you’ve spent on a month-to-date basis, and you’ll probably be able to remember more recent purchases more easily.
Create a Spreadsheet to Record Credit Card Purchases
People create and use spreadsheets for all kinds of activities, including tedious tracking like household budgeting. You can do the same with your credit card purchases. This may even be the single best tracking method possible if you can get into the habit of recording all of your activity on the day it’s made.
You can set a spreadsheet up any way you want, listing purchases by expense category, or by the credit card used to make the purchase.
This will have the added benefit of allowing you to track your overall spending too. You’ll get a chance to see exactly where you’re spending your money within your credit card purchases – something that’s not usually available until well after the fact – as well as an opportunity to impose limits on further expenditures during the month.
Dedicate Certain Credit Cards for Select Spending Categories
It can be easier to keep track of your credit card spending if you use certain credit cards for very specific purposes. For example, you might have one credit card that you use for business purchases, another you use for big ticket items, and a third that you use for entertainment and shopping.
It will be much easier to remember specific purchases if they are associated with a certain credit card. This will make it easier for you to record the purchase after the fact, and may even make you aware that you are spending too much in that category.
You can further refine this method using something like the envelope system, in which receipts for credit card purchases are placed into an envelope dedicated to that particular credit card. At any time, you’ll be able to check the envelope to know how much you’ve spent on that credit card.
Set Spending Limits for Credit Card Use
It’s not so much using credit cards that causes you to lose track of your spending, but rather using your credit cards for everything. Everything could include anything from a $2 cup of coffee, to $20 for gas, to $200 to pay a utility bill, to $2,000 for your next vacation.
It’s not likely that you’ll lose track of your credit card spending on the big ticket payments. But those little ones can be easily forgotten only hours after the fact.
You can better track your credit card spending by restricting it to larger purchases, and using other payment methods for the small stuff. For example, using the above purchases, you might pay the utility bill and the vacation booking on your credit cards. But the coffee and gas purchases may be better handled by using your bank debit card or even by paying with cash.
The idea is to cut down on the number of purchases you make with your credit cards, so that you will easily remember the ones you did make.
It may require taking some extra steps in order to keep track of spending on multiple credit cards, but the effort will be well worth it. Proper tracking can prevent excess spending, and that can result in less surprise debt at the end of each month.
*Editorial Note: Any opinions, analysis, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.