Last week we covered the basics of tracking your budget (see DIY Personal Finance - Tracking Your Budget). If you have credit cards, you can use the same Google Sheet that I referenced in that article (or create your own similar sheet) to track your credit card activity. We’ll discuss how to do that in this article.
Add Your Credit Cards
List each credit that you own (e.g., Chase, Capital One, etc.) on the Sheet. If you have more than one credit card from the same financial institution, it may be helpful to add the last four digits of the card number after the institution’s name (e.g., Chase - 1234) so that you can differentiate each card.
Enter the card’s current account balance next to the card’s name. Add the card’s annual percentage rate and credit limit as a note (just right-click and select Insert Note) for your reference. This way you’ll have that information handy to ensure that you remain aware of the limit. You can typically obtain the annual percentage rate and credit limit information from your credit card statement or by viewing your account information online. The example below depicts a Chase credit card with a balance of $250.
No Activity Left Behind
Update the Sheet for any activity that happens during the time period (i.e., from the date of your paycheck until the date of your next check).
Whether it’s a new purchase, an interest charge, a late fee, a payment or an adjustment, be sure to record it. Below is an example of how you can record your account activity.
The goal of recording everything is for the balance on the Sheet to accurately reflect the account’s activity. You can double-check if it does by comparing your online account balance to the balance on your Sheet. Ideally, both balances will be equal. If there is a difference, it should generally be due to pending charges that you entered on your Sheet that have not yet cleared and/or fees that were charged that you have not yet entered on your Sheet.
This is also a good way to check for fraudulent activity because you’ll be more aware of what charges should appear on your account. Thus, any purchase that you didn’t make will jump out at you since you are closely monitoring the account on a regular basis.
Using Your Budget as Your Credit Limit
I like to have a $0 credit card balance at the end of every month, but I also like to actively use my credit card. I do this by charging no more than what I budgeted to spend from my paycheck. In other words, I regard my budget to be my credit card limit as opposed to the card’s actual limit. Let’s use clothing as an example. If I want to use my credit card to buy clothing, I will first take a look at my Sheet and see what balance still remains in the clothing category.
That balance is the max that I will charge on the card. After I make the purchase with my credit card, I will reflect it on the Sheet in the respective credit card’s section I will also reflect the purchase in the clothing category as a placeholder to show that the credit card needs to be reimbursed from the amount that I allotted myself for clothing. In the example below, the Chase credit card balance increased from $0 to $45.18, and the clothing budget decreased from $100 to $54.82 as a result of a purchase from Zara in the amount of $45.18.
When I get back home, I will make an online payment to my credit card and update the Sheet to show that the credit card was paid.
The card's balance would decrease from $45.18 to $0, and the description in the clothing category would change from ‘Chase - to be paid’ to ‘Chase - paid’.
Here are some other tips to assist you in the tracking process:
When you make a credit card payment, copy the confirmation number and paste it in the Sheet via a Note. In the example above, you would right-click the payment of $45.18 (either in the Clothing section or Chase section), select Insert Note, and paste the confirmation number.
When you create your tracking sheet for the next pay period, make sure that the beginning balance for each credit card is the ending balance for the card from the previous pay period. So for the example above, the beginning Chase balance for the next pay period would be $0 since it’s the previous period's ending balance.
You can access the Sheet used in this article at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1t6vcO5_4XmA1WSYUzim-VwntWT7yW_BrB2C4vBMCxrs/edit?usp=sharing. It will be available at this link until January 31, 2020, so download it before that date if you would like to use it. I encourage you to make the Sheet your own so that it reflects your financial truth. Add, delete or modify whatever you want to.
Stay tuned for the next post in the DIY Personal Finance series, which will discuss how to use the Sheet to track and manage long-term debt (i.e., student loans, car notes, etc).
Zikora is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) by day. When not assisting and advising clients, she can be found writing, singing, songwriting, exercising, cooking, and or plotting her next move. She is a sounding board for friends and family and enjoys showing people that they can indeed do things that they believe to be difficult or impossible. Send questions and/or topics that you would like Zikora to cover in future articles to email@example.com.