Zero Based Budgeting- Tracking Every Penny

So, the journey to our dream and FIRE really is in its infancy, but everyone’s got to start somewhere right? We’ve been keeping a careful eye over our bank accounts over the past twelve months, checking it daily and watching that the money was going in the right direction and successfully keeping out of the overdraft. Though I wouldn’t say we were tracking the spending quite as closely as we could, room for improvement.

Recently my wife sold her hairdressing salon that she’s owned for over twenty years due to the job making her ill (all the standing). She managed to find a new job after three months of searching, so we went down to one income for that duration, challenging to say the least. We’ve been out of the overdraft and saving since April 2018, so we’ve done exceptionally well but to make this work we needed to be even sharper with our money, we agreed on three things:


  • Track all our expenditure


  • Keep all our receipts


  • Have a monthly financial meeting


Tracking our expenditure

Looking around the FIRE and personal finance scene there were a plethora of ways to track your finances, some favoured mobile apps, computer software or even jotting it all down by hand in the back of a diary. I decided the best way for me would be a spreadsheet and after searching through twenty or so of the free ones, I found this one that worked well from


I now keep this filled in daily, you can designate the payments into many different categories so in the further pages you can see how much you’ve spent on food, car costs, utilities and many more. It’s American so it does come up in Dollars, but the values are right, so it doesn’t really matter to me it was the one that worked the best. I’ll work out how to change it to £s eventually, I’m not that sharp on Excel just yet.


It’s helped us enormously by doing this, really tracking down where every single penny is ending up and therefore making much smarter decisions. I’ve seen this generally called zero-based budgeting, so I suppose that’s the way we prefer to do it, giving every pound a job.

Keeping our receipts

We agreed that we would both keep all our receipts so that we could look at our purchases for the month and decide if we could do any better, could we get a better deal from buying certain items elsewhere? Often we could, gradually saving even more money.

It was also interesting to see if we could take advantage on any of the offers that were on the receipts like the recent Tesco offer of 5p off every litre of fuel, brimmed the tank on that one. It’s also useful for faulty products in their warranty period, we’re terrible for not keeping receipts and when something happens to a product, we can never return it because historically the receipt has always been binned.

We keep them nice and tidy in a box to review at the end of the month and then they get filed along with their relevant spreadsheet.

The monthly financial meeting

At the end of every month, we now get together for a short meeting of 10-15 minutes, with the spreadsheets and receipts to hand and discuss what we’ve spent, what we can do better and what the budgets are for next month in each individual area of our finances. We both agree that this is now essential and works well so we both know where we stand and what we’ve got to do.

I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of going down to one income. Generally, in the past, it has filled me dread that we’d never survive it and it wouldn’t be possible. Quite the opposite we’ve found that if need be, we can survive well enough. Don’t get me wrong there’s been no treats, days out or date nights but we’ve managed, surprisingly we’ve even been able to top up the emergency fund a little too. All in all, we’ve implemented a process over the last three months that has been really beneficial to our finances. We’ll continue to follow this process, another small step that’s helping us get to our end goal.

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1 thought on “Zero Based Budgeting- Tracking Every Penny

  1. It is so surprising how much money you can save just looking at the little things. I was in the office today and all the admin staff, who earn half of what I do, were going off to buy their lunch in the canteen. There was I with my packed lunch and flask of coffee. I wanted to shout out, ‘Why are you wasting your hard-earned money?’, but I don’t, I just sit quietly eating my salad and drinking my coffee.

    Your post is a good reminder of what is achievable if you just take a little time to examine where your money goes and how then money can be saved, even when you are living on one salary. Well done!

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