Free Automatic Expense Tracking Software You Probably Already Have

 I nominate myself for the Understatement of the Day Award for this: there’s a lot of wacky stuff on how to lose weight out there.

But unless you’re into something like the Cotton Ball Diet (I wish I were making that up), there is one thing that nearly every weight loss strategy agrees on: tracking.

Creating an awareness of our habits is powerful.

I’m a numbers guy, so when I was shedding pounds, I used a web-based food journal to track my caloric intake. Using my smartphone, I logged my food and exercise.  The software would calculate the calories eaten vs. calories burned and show me roughly how much weight I lost or gained through the day.

It was terrible. And terribly effective.

It was basically a nutritional version of our beloved YNAB software. They should have called it “You Need A Diet.” Then again, maybe not, because when you pronounce “YNAD” aloud, it’s a little awkward.

You’re welcome (and I apologize).

Especially when you’re starting out in budgeting, creating awareness by tracking every little expense right as it happens is very powerful. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked away from a purchase and forgotten to enter it. Or maybe a charge hit my account that I didn’t see for days and the budget got thrown off–grrr.

That’s where the free automatic expense tracking software you probably already have comes in handy. If you bank online, your bank most likely offers free account alerts.

I delved into my online banking setting and set up alerts on my accounts. Here’s how it looks at my bank:

 alert setup

I get an email every time a transaction clears. Here’s how those look (don’t worry, this isn’t anyone’s real account):

 Alert email

I check the alert emails against my YNAB budget right from my phone. If I have time, I enter the ones I forgot right then. If not, I keep the email as a reminder to do it soon.

It’s not exactly the pinnacle of fun, but it beats the heck outta staring at my bank statement, trying to remember what I paid $32.68 for at “CHECK CRD PURCHASE 0127 TPF* FAC IL 439830XXXXXX2345 3?MCC=5241” three weeks ago. I hope it serves you well.

I love account alerts, but between you and me, once I reached my goal weight, I quit food journaling. However, I made a commitment to myself that if I ever gained half the weight back, I’d instantly start journaling until I dropped back down again. My desire to never food journal again has been motivation enough for me to stay leaner.