We've really been enjoying the SmartDollar Summer Series so far, and someone asked a great question during our last Q&A session. As we were talking about the importance of a detailed and effective budget, and how easy it is to add small things to your cart at checkout, someone asked "do I really need to track my expenses that closely?"
We prefer to use a zero-base budget where you tell every bit of your income where to go, and the more accurate you can be when it comes to accounting for every penny spent, the better. This is especially important as you work through the Baby Steps of building a basic emergency fund and getting out of debt. Being mindful of all the little cracks in your daily routine where money slips through on things like snacks and coffee can really help you take control of your spending habits, and it can help you identify areas where you can divert a few extra dollars each month toward your savings goals and debt reduction.
Combing over receipts can be tedious, but it's worth the effort. Moreover, doing all of your shopping with a well thought-out list is a simple way to prevent overspending. If you see something you want but it's not on your list, skip it! Remember that all the major retailers purposely place products in front of you in the ways that are most likely to entice you to add them to your cart, even if you had no intention of purchasing those things in the first place.
Managing your budget down to the penny builds the kinds of habits that help you stay in control. By paying attention to the little things, the big things will fall in line.