A Smart System to Track Your Money Flow

Set up two free checking accounts and plan for big-ticket items.
Advisor VoicesOct 28, 2015

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Part of the reason we accumulate debt is that there are so many distractions in our lives — things we want to buy but don’t need. But we also ring up debt because we simply don’t understand the flow of our income and expenses, so we can’t accurately estimate how much money we have available to spend.

I’ve struggled with this myself. A few years ago, I put in place a “Money Flow” system to help my family track our spending. You may have heard of a system like this before, but follow along on this tour, because it really works.

We call this our “curveball” account. It’s an emergency fund for use when life throws us curveballs — large medical bills, a job loss or reduction in income, major home repairs, that kind of thing.

My husband and I agreed that we would use one family credit card for large purchases, such as airline tickets and hotel stays. We still have our separate credit cards — it’s wise to keep your own credit cards to maintain your credit score and credit history. Using them once or twice a year should be sufficient. And don't close those cards because it will eliminate credit history you've accumulated and affect your overall credit score.

Add up how much you need in each category. This will be your guideline for how much should be in each of your checking accounts.

Fixed expenses might include:

Variable expenses might include:

When your paycheck comes in, allocate the designated amounts into each checking account based on the budget you created. The sum earmarked for the curveball account can go there directly.

All bills are paid automatically from our fixed-expenses account. We do not have to write any checks, and no debit card is necessary. This account has a cushion of a few hundred extra dollars in case a bill shows up unexpectedly or before we have a chance to replenish the account.

This account should have a debit card, which you can use for purchases.

If an emergency arises, you can transfer funds within 24 to 48 hours. You can then access the money with a check or debit card.

Once I implemented this system, the process of tracking expenses wasn’t so cumbersome anymore. Separating expenses into fixed and variable categories meant I didn’t have to worry constantly about checking account balances. Having fewer transactions in each account also made it easier to see the bigger picture of our spending.

Every family’s finances are different, of course. Feel free to customize my system as necessary. The point is to get — and keep — a grasp on the flow of your money. If you know exactly what’s coming in and going out, you can’t be surprised by debt.

Image via iStock.

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