U.S. Markets close in 2 hrs 20 mins

Does Tracking Spending Really Enable Better Financial Decisions?

Katie Gatto

NEW YORK (MainStreet) —When it comes to making decisions we generally feel like more information is better. But what if the opposite is true? Some studies have suggested that budgeting only has limited applications when it comes to success, mostly because budgets do not allow for you to plan in real time. The idea of mobile tracking on the go may sound like an appealing alternative, but what if it leads to more spending? There is some evidence suggesting that being aware of the amount of money you have left can encourage spending it. When it comes to tracking smaller purchases there may be limited value. So which one is right? Will tracking help you to spend less, or at least more wisely?

Also see: How To Track Your Spending Beyond Mint.com

As it turns out, the success of your tracking may have to do more with what you expect from it and how you use it. Or as Roger R. Bell II, the President of Roger R Bell & Company, Inc. said, “Briefly speaking, I have found that a successful outcome is greatly dependent upon the individual's capacity to accept a disciplined accountability from first, themselves, and secondly from an outside party… who ensures that they maintain a thorough and honest accountability standard." So it depends on frame of mind. "Ultimately," he continued, "it has been my experience that those who are coldly realistic with where they are, and where they desire to be, with respect to their financial objectives and/or goals, are the ones who successfully overcome self-induced barriers. In addition, I found there is a strong emotional component that drives individuals to pursue the tracking of expenses. A compelling desire to utilize their hard-earned monies for specified goals and/or purchases such as a residence or vehicle.” The ability to look at your money with an objective eye, instead of shopping on the impulse is the main benefit of tracking, if you can manage to pull it off.

Also see: SEC Member Predicts 'Armageddon' for Municipal Bonds

So what should you be looking for when it comes to making savings tracking work for you? Well, like all things worth doing, it is going to take a little bit of effort to get it done. You are going to have to use active tracking. Chris Miles the founder and cash flow expert at Money Ripples explains how active tracking can actually help you to save money by, “…showing people where their money leaks are." Out of more than 500 clients in the last few years, Miles says he found an average of $34,080 in savings per year. Tracking expenses is critical and can lead to intelligent penny-pinching."However," he warns, "that only works when someone is 'actively' tracking, not passively tracking. Actively tracking means you're not just watching the balance in your checking account. Instead, you are paying attention to what's coming in, what's going out, and what areas need to be focused on more. If someone passively tracks their money, they'll naturally spend every dollar they have available.”

Active tracking is about putting aside a little bit of time each week to look over your money and make better decisions. Yes, knowing the balances in your accounts is important, but by putting in a small amount of time each week, about 15 minutes to half of an hour, you can look at how you spend your discretionary income and figure out which expenses are important for forwarding your goals and which ones can be let go. Then you can make intelligent decisions about your spending. So an app that lets you see all of the cash you spend up to the second will probably not help you too much, since it might give you implicit permission to spend more, but reliable long term tracking, away from the retail environment could help you to manage your money better.

Also see: Reducing Your Student Debt (Or Why You Shouldn't Go to Law School)

It's Official: Action Alerts PLUS beats the S&P 500 with Dividends Reinvested! Cramer and Link were up 16.72% in 2012. Were you? See what they are trading for 14-days FREE.