Checkbook Account

Why I Don’t Balance My Checkbook

We have been told that we need to balance our checkbooks for decades. This common advice is given with the best intentions. We are told that by tracking our transactions, we are protecting ourselves from overdrafts and ensuring nothing unauthorized happens in our accounts. That is true, but there are better ways to do all of that.

Automated Tracking Options

I know what my account balances are within about $10 at any given time. That is not because I log into my bank’s website. You can log into one site to get everything in front of you in one executive management style view.

Of course, regular readers know I am talking about Mint.com. With one login I see all of my account balances in one, easy to use view. If that site doesn’t float your boat, also check out my comparison reviews of Mint.com vs PageOnce or one of my new favorites, Personal Capital.

How to Use Them

While sites like PageOnce offer you a quick snapshot of account balances, Mint and Personal Capital give you a far more in depth and useful view.

Every day when I log into one of those sites (I use both Mint and Adaptu, but I am a finance nerd), I do two things. First, I look at my account balances. Second, I look at every transaction from the last few days to make sure I recognize everything.

It really is that simple. It takes about 15-30 seconds per day. That is less than five minutes a week. Balancing a checkbook the old fashioned way takes a lot of time and effort. However, if you track your transactions online and know your balances, you don’t need to waste the headache on balancing a checkbook.

What About Overdrafts?

Let’s say you are not good at remembering your account balances. Maybe you are not as money minded as your typical finance blogger. That’s okay. You shouldn’t be spending money out of your checking account anyway.

I put 100% of all money I spend on my credit card. My primary card is a Starwood Amex and my backup is a British Airways Visa. They each have a credit limit over $10,000. There is no way I would ever, ever, ever go over that limit. For those of you without high limit cards, just keep focusing on building your credit for a few years and you will get there. Most banks would still give you a limit far beyond what you need.

If you put everything on a credit card, you are doing yourself a few favors. First, you get rewards, which are awesome. Second, you are protecting yourself from fraud. Third, you are able to match your income to your expenses and avoid the risk of overdrafting your checking account.

Can I Still Track Transactions?

If you don’t trust yourself or your waiter to ensure your transactions are correct, I have a method for you to ensure you don’t mess up and miss something.

Every time you spend money, keep the receipt. When the transaction comes through on your Mint account, throw the receipt into a storage drawer or paperclip them together in a stack for the month. At the end of the month when your statement comes, do a quick reconciliation and mark them off as you go. This takes a little more work, but is a more thorough way to make sure nothing extra comes through.

How Do You Track Everything?

If you have not given it a try already, I really do suggest you give Mint.com or Personal Capital. I think they work great. If you don’t, however, how do you track your transactions? Please share your strategy in the comments.

Comments

  1. says

    I used to be a huge proponent of “balancing my checkbook” (read: reconciling my bank balance with my spending), primarily becuase if I didn’t keep track of my spending in that way, I would overdraw my account. I have a Quicken-like budgeting program that I would use religiously to make sure I was spending within my means.  (This was before the advent of online programs like Mint.com and Adaptu.)

    Now, I don’t use programs like Mint or Adaptu (although I’m looking into using Adaptu), but I also don’t balance my checkbook.  Instead I keep a running tally of expenditures vs. my daily balance in a Google Doc, which I can check from anywhere.  About once a day (usually on my lunch break), I go in and compare spending in my checking account to my running tally. 

    Using Adaptu may be easier, and I’ll definitely have to check it out, but the reason I don’t use Mint is becuase I’m too particular about how transactions are categorized; Mint’s method of automatic categorization is atrocious.  My system works well for me, and it keeps me from having to balance my checkbook, which saves me time.

    • says

      Mint lets you change the categories around and create new ones, but I could understand the frustration with it. Sometimes it does mess up and I have to fix things myself.

  2. Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog says

    I usually check my accounts a few times per week so I know right away if something was unauthorized, but like you I dont balance my checkbook (Nor do I have paper checks)

  3. says

    Great post. I dont use Mint, Manilla or any of the services you mentioned here so I cannot comment on their usability but I have found that paying in cash, to me anyway, is mush more satisfying. I dont have to worry about having to balance check and I only keep a fraction of the money that I have allocated for myself in spending, in my wallet. Obviously this is a precaution in the case I lose my wallet or it happens to get stolen,

    What do you think about paying with cash? 

    • says

      I hate using cash because I don’t get anything for it. When I use my card, I get miles or points. I just booked a $450 flight with miles that I would have had to pay for if I used cash instead of my card.

    • says

      My mortgage, HOA, and student loan are the only places I can’t use a card. For those, I use my bank’s bill pay so I have the balances in front of me when I hit the send payment button.

  4. says

    I do much of the same just through my banks site.  Though I haven’t actually balanced a checkbook in years.  That old antiquated checkbook that I use once a month for a rent payments.  With everything online now, it simplifies the whole process.

  5. says

    Great post. We don’t balance a physical checkbook either, but we do have a few things we utilize – Mint, Quicken, and logging in to the bank account on occasion.

    • says

      It sounds like you have a good setup Sherrian. It is great to hear that people take advantage of the free options that are out there.

  6. says

    With automatic tracking, just paying by credit card and linking bank accounts, it’s somewhat outdated conceptually to be sitting in front of a physical checkbook and recording each transaction pen to paper. 

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