/ Money

How do you keep track of your household budget?


Are you the type of person who can account for every penny or the sort who doesn’t have a clue where their money goes every month?

Due to my job I’m often asked: ’What’s your number one money-saving tip of all time?’

It as though they’re expecting some magical unknown method to half the price of their grocery shopping.

What I tell them is far simpler. Set yourself a personal budget and stick to it.

Falling short

I imagine many people have tried this at some point, and most have failed miserably. It’s normally for two reasons.

  1. 1. They’re not motivated enough to save. The secret to overcoming this hurdle is to have a medium to long-term reward planned such as a family holiday, a season ticket for your favourite sports team or a deposit on a house. Or anything that’s more tempting than the short-term thrill of a new item of clothing or your daily takeaway cappuccino.
  2. 2. They have no way of tracking their finances. Many people can’t create a household budget they can stick to, because they have no idea where their money is going. That’s where personal finance software comes in.

Personal finance software

Personal finance software aims to make it simple to see where your money is being spent, and therefore identify the best areas to cut back.

From there, it should be easy to create a realistic household budget that will leave you with enough money for that big-ticket purchase in a few months’ time.

We run the UK’s most commonly used personal finance software through our intensive lab tests every year, so you can see which packages make budgeting a breeze. You can also identify which ones make this number-crunching seem more stressful than finding cash to pay the bills so you can stay clear of them.

Both of this year’s Best Buys are brilliantly clever programs that should help you save cash without breaking a sweat. I’ve been using the smartphone version of one of them ever since helping out with the testing process last year.

How do you budget?

The main thing I’ve learned since helping organise our personal finance software tests is that everyone has their own unique way of budgeting.

We’ve heard from some members who utilise online banking statements, while others like to keep hold of old receipts.

How do you manage your household budget? How effective is it? Do you think personal finance software could help you save money?


I use Microsoft Money. God alone knows why Microsoft scrapped the product…

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That is the standard excuse for everything. MS had not updated the product for years (the last UK version was 2005) and only one server was used to supply the initial installation & registration procedure. It would not have been costing them much to “support”. There were no real alternatives at the time it was dropped and that is still largely the case now. The Which review of related packages doesn’t reveal a likely contender for the MSMoney crown.

It is worth noting that MS sort-of changed their minds and produced a final release AFTER they had scrapped the package. The QFE2 version had all the functions of the original package but no longer needed the registration server to install on a new PC.

I’ve been a regular on the MSMoney forums on Microsoft.com for something like 10 years and the product is still well used.

I too use Microsoft Money. Mine’s a 2001 version and does everything I want from such a product. Yes, God alone knows why Microsoft scrapped it.

Apart from estimating the likely costs of moving home and the ongoing costs, I have never really budgeted, but money has never burned a hole in my pocket.

I carry out my own repairs and tackle many DIY jobs, and do not grudge the cost of tools I have collected over the years. Though I prefer to buy from shops if I can see the goods, I find out what is available online and look at reviews. If possible I wait until bargains are available. My father encouraged me to save and was my personal financial adviser over many years.

When I was younger I was happy to do without common household goods until I could afford them and rode a motorcycle until I could justify buying a car. Before the days of online banking I kept an eye on my monthly statements to avoid having an overdraft and my credit card balances are now paid off by direct debit.

I think if I payed more attention to money or watched adverts, I might be encouraged to spend more.

Many years ago when times were harder I started recording weekly expenditure in an A6 cash book, and that habit has stuck. I transfer that to an Excel spreadsheet that lists regular items, cash and “miscellaneous” each month. This enable me to put an annual budget together and monitor it. I do the same for income (much simpler!) and compare the two. Budgeting is sensible, in my view, to ensure you don’t overspend if times are a little tricky.

I also use Microsoft Money to keep track of all my accounts – banks, savings, credit cards, investments, etc. It gives me a really good overview of my financial position, reminds me of regular payments and when they need to be made, and helps ensure a bank account does not go into the red. Unfortunately it is no longer supported in the UK and may well not run under Windows 10 – which I will be using when my current computer is replaced. Which? recommend Moneydance so I’ll probably give that a try and hope MS Money files transfer successfully.

MSMoney files will not transfer correctly to Moneydance because Moneydance insists on using the Loose QIF export format which does not support all (or even most) of the MSMoney data so large quantities of data are simply lost. A new package would need to be able to import directly from the native Money files in order to have any chance of a full transfer.

I’m using Microsoft Money 97 and it works fine on Windows 10.

We use Numbers; the excellent Mac spreadsheet that comes pre-installed on every Mac. It allows for easy and rapid calculations, is very adaptable and also has lots of delightful charts and graphs that don’t help very much but look wonderful.

What it does do is to alert you about upcoming expenditure and lets you know if there’s any chance of forgetting to pay the butler, for instance, or keep the footmen supplied with gun polish.

Maybe buying a Mac might upset this month’s budget. 🙂 Excel will serve the needs and don’t forget that it appeared on the Mac well before a version was released for the IBM-compatible computer.

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But it might be better for the budget to go for Linux and a free open source spreadsheet.

Interestingly, I’ve just bought another Mac Mini – to use primarily as a Music server – and I was struck by the low cost. I still get the University Tutor rate, which I imagine you will, too, W, and the cost for a brand new Mini was under £470. Not bad.

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I would expect that export into Excel would be exported (.xlsx or .xls files) or failing that, export as .csv, which is fairly universal.

Thanks Duncan, I’ll keep note of that. 🙂

I use moneymanagerEX as it’s free and does not use cloud. It seems to do all the things these other products do and it’s simple.
I’ll check money dance to see if it’s worth the cost and effort to swap.

I’ve never really bothered watching the pennies, but then again if I want something and I can’t afford it I wait til I can and if I’m lucky hopefully by then I won’t want it. Even having a credit card with £20k limit I still only buy what I can afford.

At the time when I had very little money , had non to waste I quickly learnt to know where my money went .I now keep track of are my money by looking at bank statements as least twice a week and keeping notes of other spending I know just if I can afford to buy anything if I cannot I will wait until I can My Credit Card is only used for convenience I always have the money somewhere to pay with when it is used I used my Debit Card so that I know just what I have spent by looking at my bank statement the next day or very soon .Credit cards are the reason many people are in debt and the ease of borrowing any amount of anywhere .Banks make money by lending so they want to lend and lend causing more debt

I used YNAB right up until it became a subscription service. Fantastic piece of software that allowed my wife and I to instantly record a transaction as it happened through our phones and see that pull from the budget we’d set. Not paying their monthly fee though and now I just do it all manually.

Dan says:
7 August 2017

I use YNAB and pay the subscription. It is excellent software and works the same way that my brain does when it comes to budgeting. I’m hoping that the fee will be returned to me by making me more aware of what I’m doing with the money. Couldn’t recommend it more!

These days I just use simple spreadsheets in LibreOffice Calc.

In the past, I’ve used other spreadsheet programs, including Excel.

I think understanding the principles involved is as important as the choice of software. It also helps to have enough income to be able to afford your unavoidable costs – without that no amount of fancy budgeting is going to keep you out of the red.

Absolutely right, Derek. Even the back of an envelope will do if you know what you’re doing.

I have an Excel spreadsheet and a paper diary. I record what I spend every day. Every penny counts. I’m not currently in debt to anyone and I’m lucky I don’t need more money than I earn (below average).

Beancounter says:
29 June 2017

I used Microsoft Money for years, but after they stopped supporting it I switched to Banktivity. It runs on Macs, iPads and iPhones and it’s excellent at keeping track of spending and savings effortlessly.

I am 37 and used old fashioned way pen and paper what i get and what i spend, and i looked and found i was spending £40 a week on lunches on buying them in shops crisp etc. Mrs said buy your own meat and that DIY so cook chicken in many different ways so i not bored. I find lidl salad and wraps and morrison 3 for ten, now cost £5.50 a week and i lost a few pounds in the 10 stone area feel hell of a lot better. Thats the way i account weekly , you find wants and needs with in weeks i was in the nicer things in life. I am self employed and used that skill to help i hope i helped. If not i sorry for wasting your life xx.

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I have used Quicken until they stopped and then converted to Mkicrosift Money and have all my records on it dating back nearly 20 years. It is now gving probelms and I thought I should try BankTree and Home Accountz. Home Accountz immediately gave probelms but have perserved with Bank Tree but the import from Money is very poor and have spent a good few hours putting data in, still not finished and realise that it provides nothing as good as Money. I had a quick look at MoneyDance but the import from Money is useless so whwere do I go from here?

I use MS Money, and have done for many years, so am familiar with its use and features. That still runs on my 11 year old Vista laptop – but how long will it last? o I’ve invested in a Windows 10 PC on which I believe MS Money will not run. Any way I’m resigned to making a change and am considering Moneydance. I’m also resigned to not being able to import Money files. Is it really so bad? I can start from scratch, putting in relevant older transactions including those not yet reconciled, and keep a separate record of any historic transactions of importance – such as when an appliance was purchased in case a claim needs to be made.

Has anyone used Moneydance?

Malcolm – Microsoft Money allows export in both .csv and .xls formats, either of which will allow transfer of data to Excel and probably to most financial software, either directly or via Excel.

Thanks wavechange. I’ll have a look to see if it might work with Moneydance.

Don’t understand why you stopped using Quicken. I started using it in the 1990s and still do to this day. Runs perfectly well on my new PC using Windows 10.

People say one can export from Microsoft Money in csv or xls format but thev only option have found is .qif. Can anybody put me right please

I suggested this option based on this page on the Microsoft website: https://support.microsoft.com/en-gb/help/841975

I don’t use the software, but csv export is a standard way of moving data.

I’ve always used MS Money. I got used to it and it does what I want. Having a new Windows 10 pc to replace my 11 year old laptop I understood it would not run the software. I was reluctant to change to an unfamiliar product so just tried to download the Sunset edition from the MS site. It was free. To my delight it works. Rather than import legacy data I started accounts from scratch and it is an even better package than my original.
I know Which? are keen on free stuff – check out this month’s mag – so they might include MSMoneySunset?

Chris B says:
28 July 2017

I use Quicken (2002 Deluxe) and it is still going strong on my Win7 setup, even though the main file is over 26MB. I know they have not supported it for years, but then they didn’t support it even when they were supposed to (gr). I know where the bugs are and how to avoid them, and the comments I see indicate it will still run under Win 10 when I upgrade my system. The great thing for me is the reporting capabilities, which are terrific for forensic analysis of your accounts. I never used the investment module, preferring my own methodology, so then loss of that when they pulled out of the UK was not a problem.

MS Money is OK with investments in a basic way – buying, selling, dividends, updating prices (manual), and has reasonable reporting functions.The one I use most is account balances. For anyone wanting to organise their finances I’d recommend the free download. Like all software it needs work to get to grips with it but the help that comes with it is quite good.

I’m currently trying to get to grips with TurboCAD for design. I used AllyCAD in the past but the Home edition limits maximum file size.

in preparation for a home renovation project I dug out my bank statements for the previous year and did an audit to see where I spent my money, I then used this to set budgets for all my variable costs under different categories,e.g. Food, Travel, Clothese etc. For repeating costs e.g. Insurance, utilities, council tax etc. I totalled these for the year and then budgeted a monthly amount. It was a bit of work to setup but then was easy to maintain by writing all my daily spends in a notebook and a monthly review against the different catgories. Unfortunately my home renovation project is on hold at the moment, due to a change in my working situation which saw me lose half my income. Luckily my spending review has stood me in good stead when this happened (I’m not sure I would have been able to cope otherwise). I did use Excel in the beginning to do the original audit, but find the notebook and pen is th simplest way to capture everything I spend in one place. This methodical practise definitely has made a difference to my spending habits.

I used MSMoney until it was unsupported and then transferred to Fortora on my iMac. They then had an upgrade which I did not take as it altered the whole feel. However, my version of Fortora will not run on the OS after 10.9.5 so when I replace my iMac any ideas on what bookkeeping software with the feel of MSMoney I might try?

It might not help, but I installed the (free) “Sunset” edition of MS Money – a good bit of software – when I changed to a Win 10 PC. Download off the MS site. It runs fine.

Dangerfield – My solution to software that does not run on a modern Mac operating system is to keep an old Mac for the purpose. I have a 24 inch iMac that I use for old versions of Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, FreeHand and other software that would not run on the latest OS. I don’t use it online because the old OS would not be secure, but my MBP is up to date.

When did shops stop bothering to give receipts – has there been a change in rules? I spent some cash in WH Smith today, was given two pieces of paper from the till, only to find when I got home that neither was a receipt, they were both useless (to me) vouchers. If they are saving paper they shouldn’t do this, and they should surely ask if I want a receipt. Until now, I have always used mine to update a spreadsheet to keep a track of my monthly spending…..

I don’t think there are any ‘rules’, JH. I believe it has for a long time been a legal requirement that shops should provide a receipt if requested but to issue one every time is a modern development and came in with electronic tills. Some manual cash registers could produce receipts and some shops had a mechanical device requiring the assistant to write a description of the purchase and price paid and by pulling a handle a customer receipt emerged, an audit copy and a stock control copy remaining inside the machine for management purposes.

Until some time in the 1960’s I believe, it was necessary to put a 2d [two old pence] stamp on a receipt in payment of stamp duty. Shopkeepers probably resented that except for high-price items where a warranty was involved so the routine production of receipts was discouraged.

Generally, every purchase of daily and weekly requirements was made in cash – you handed over the money and the assistant handed over the goods; people shopped locally, knew the traders and they knew their customers, so there was a bond of trust. Some stores [notably Woolworths] insisted on putting every purchase in one of their paper bags as evidence of lawful purchase. Although Woolworths’ bags were plain brown they were instantly recognisable. Other shops had printed bags to distinguish them.

We have become so used to the automatic issue of receipts that we have taken it for granted that it is a legal requirement, but many small traders – greengrocers, butchers, market stalls, newsagents, and so on – never gave receipts and sometimes did not even have a cash register to record the sales for reconciliation with the money in the till, and that is still the case today in that sector. Pubs do not issue receipts however much you spend unless you use a credit or debit card to pay.

Some shops [like the Co-op] had membership schemes and either issued a small paper receipt or a metal token and these had to be saved up and presented once a year for calculation and payment of the dividend.

A recent development is that large companies that operate lots of small shops largely making small sales per customer [e.g. WH Smith, Tesco Express/Local] have stopped providing a receipt for every purchase but ask the customer if they want one; if I’ve bought an LED lamp then the answer is “Yes” but otherwise “No”. I expect that this is to reduce waste and littering as much as for cost saving. The supermarkets, stores and larger shops that stock higher-priced goods [like books, devices, clothing, etc] continue to provide a till receipt with every purchase.

Shops also use receipts for promotional purposes for special offers, as evidence of points accumulation, as an invitation for customer feedback, to give guarantee information, and to facilitate refunds and exchanges. For many people a fully itemised receipt showing superfluous additional information is not required but a simple receipt showing the name of the shop, the amount paid and the date would be useful for those like you who wish to keep a tally of expenditure for household budgeting purposes. I notice that Sainsbury’s print their itemised receipts on both sides of the paper – thus economising on paper but not on ink or electricity; at least it means you only get two feet of paper with a big shop and means the ticket rolls need changing less frequently. The next thing they need to do is amalgamate the items that are identical but go through the checkout separately and put the whole list in alphabetical order before printing the receipt – but then I’m a fusspot and always want more.