One of the wisest financial moves you can make is to ensure your money is being spent consciously. No, that doesn’t mean you’re spending while you sleep. It means many of us go on autopilot when it comes to bills and expenses without considering why we’re spending. Taking the time to set up a budget is all well and good, but without taking time to examine your expenses you may be spending more than you want.
The word audit may strike fear into our hearts, but performing an expense audit can help you identify expenses that aren’t important to you or don’t fit your long-term financial goals. I’m going to walk you through an expense audit step by step, and by the end you should have some ‘found’ money.
How to Perform an Expense Audit
You’ll need to block off about 3-4 hours typically if you already have a budget in place and organized bills. If you need to organize those things first, plan to spend an additional 3-4 hours for organizing bills and crafting a budget as well.
Start with a pile of recent bills (preferably the last 3 months), bank statements, credit card statements, and your budget. Basically anything that relates to your spending and saving habits needs to be available.
Check your Goals:
If you don’t have a concrete list of short-term and long-term financial goals, now is the time to make one. Create family goals that are achievable and realistic. If you do have goals on paper, it’s time to check on your progress before you get started. You should be able to walk away from your goals with a concrete number in mind that you need to be saving or investing.
Make a List:
Make a list of all your regular expenses (listed monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, etc.). Look over spending data for the last 3-6 months. Calculate the average you’re spending in 5-10 main categories. Some examples are listed below.
- Cell Phone
- Sewer bill
- Life Insurance
Expenses (on average):
- Dining Out
- Clothing & Shoes
Go Through Each Category/Bill:
Next you’ll go through each category and bill to confirm that the expense is ‘worth it’ to you. This part is extremely subjective, and what matters to you may be vastly different from what matters to me. For couples you may have to compromise, but with your goals in mind you will find it easier. One example would be decreasing your phone plan. You may also make goals like slashing a percentage of spending in one category. The end goal is the same though, see what you can do without or do with less of.
For more ideas check out 15 Simple Ways to Live on Less
Are there creative ways you can dump some expenses? You might consider cutting the cable and using Netflix, Hulu, and other free services to stream TV shows and movies. Or you might consider getting rid of your gym membership in favor of an outdoor activity instead.
Look for Discounts and Deals:
Beyond using coupons for groceries and other goods, you may find deals or discounts available for a number of expenses. For instance, purchasing insurance through a professional association may offer you a discount, or bundling insurance products may be a great deal.
If you have larger expenses you’re considering get rid of like getting rid of a car or refinancing, give yourself a deadline to collect all the information need to make an informed decision.
Put Savings to Work:
Now that you’ve completed your expense audit, you will have ‘found’ money you can use to further your goals. Put your money to work for you by increasing saving or investing, but don’t forget to spend some on things you really do enjoy.
Performing quarterly expense audits can help you stay in line with your budget, and goals both in for now and for your financial future.
What advice do you have for slashing expenses?