It is one of our least favorite things to do. No one wants to think about tracking their finances, but it is the only way to make sure that we are keeping up with and not exceeding our available funds. Here are five tips for balancing that dreaded checkbook that, once started, will become second nature every month.
Your main tool in the war on checkbooks is the ledger. You get one with each box of checks that you order. It is where we write our beginning balance for that book of checks and the number and amount of each check written on the account. The ledger is also used for recording cash machine withdrawals, interest earned, and any banking fees deducted each month.
1. Keep all of your receipts. The main reason we balance our checkbook is to reconcile all the money we have spent that week or month. Receipts, especially for ATM withdrawals, remind us to record it in our ledger so we don’t forget anything.
2. Record all transactions on that account in your ledger book each day. This can be tedious but it works. I’ve seen people write in their ledger as soon as they write a check at the counter. Believe me, you’ll forget about ever doing it if you don’t do it straight away. People who don’t use duplicate checks are in the most trouble, unless they have a photographic memory.
3. Don’t believe the bank balance. We are easily fooled into thinking that the bank knows something that we don’t. The bank can sometimes be a day or more behind your ledger. If the bank says that you have $200 and your ledger says $95, believe the ledger. This is a major way that people overspend when they don’t record written checks.
4. Check your bank statement against your ledger at the end of each month. This is where you will find the amount of interest earned, banking fees, and ATM fees. It is usually these items that keep our checkbook balance from matching the bank’s balance at the end of each month. When a check clears, place a check mark next to it in the ledger so you know it is paid.
5. Record all automatic debits and direct deposits in your ledger. It is easy to forget things when you don’t see them. Your job should give you a check stub when you direct deposit so you can keep track of how much money you are making. Bills that come out automatically during the month need to be recorded on the day they are supposed to be debited so they aren’t overlooked.
It is easy to forget how much money we have and rely on the bank to tell us. The bank is not always up to the minute in its processing and this can present a problem for those of us who don’t keep track of your finances. Do yourself a favor – be proactive and use these tips to balance your checkbook and avoid overdraft charges.