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How to Keep Track of Money on Paper (Using Free Resources)

Not into digital apps, dashboards, and excel sheets? Here’s how to keep track of money on paper, using free resources.

Digital, schmigital. If you’re anything like me, then sometimes you just want to keep things old-school. And that includes tracking your money on good old paper.

woman with white glasses working on finances, smiling, text overlay "how to keep track of money on paper"

But, how to keep track of money on paper so that it’s convenient for you? You know, so that you’ll stick to it?

Let me show you several options you have to track your money on paper.

How to Keep Track of Money on Paper

The main parts of money management that need to be tracked are tracking how much you spend, when bills are due and whether or not you paid them, tracking how much you budgeted to spend, tracking any financial or money goals you have, tracking your net worth and if it’s going in the right direction, etc.

So, we’re going to go over solutions and free printables for the following areas:

  • Your budget (whether weekly/bi-weekly/by-paycheck/monthly)
  • Your spending
  • Your bill payment
  • Your savings goals
  • Your net worth

But first, I want to show you how to organize all of the great printables you want to collect from below. Doing this is going to really help with how to keep track of your money on paper.

Create a Budget Binder

Grab a binder – heck, make it a cute one that you’ll want to come back to again and again – and some dividers.

You’ll want to create a DIY money management system within this binder that will let you track everything about your finances on paper.

Trust me when I say that, after years of trial and error, putting everything into one binder is truly the best way to go.

I’ll let you know how I organize mine, but feel free to organize yours in a way that makes sense to you (and you’ll likely figure this out over a period of a few months when using it).

  1. Budget Section
  2. Bill Pay Section
  3. Financial Goal Section (includes savings goals worksheets/trackers, and debt payoff goals/trackers)

Bonus points if you print out enough of each printable that you want to use to last you one entire year, and then create your binder.

I find that prepping something is half the battle!

Let’s move onto the templates, printables, and worksheets that are going to make your life much easier when trying to track your money on paper.

Section 1: Budget Templates

Whether you budget by paycheck, each week, or monthly, you’ll want to keep track of how you plan on spending your money over a period of time.

Here are 11 cute budget templates to choose from.

Hint: here’s a tutorial (with visuals) on how to fill out a budget sheet.

Section 1: Spending Logs

How are you supposed to know how much you’ve spent, and if you’re sticking to your budget or not?

Daily, weekly, and monthly spending logs are a great resource to help you manually (aka, with a pen or pencil) keep track of what you’re spending.

Hint: if you chose my budgeting template from above, there’s a built-in spending tracker with it. However, you might find there aren’t enough slots to fill in your variable spending – things like going to the movies, trips to the drive-thru, and each gas fill-up., If so, then pair it with one of these spending trackers, and at the end of the budgeting period, add up your totals for each category of spending to put into the “actual” column on the budget worksheet.

And you know what? They can be quite helpful when you’re trying to either stay on a strict budget, or pick up patterns in your spending habits that you can tweak as you go.

Check out these free daily, weekly, and monthly spending logs.

Section 1: Cash Envelopes

I’m including a section on cash envelopes, not only because many people use them for spending, but also because they can help you track your money on paper since many of them have spending trackers on the outside.

Here are 8 free printable cash envelope templates you can print out.

You should also know that there are entire cash envelope binder systems you can put together, that will help you to “express” or use your budget that you filled out on your budgeting worksheet.

In fact, I was giving a financial workshop to a group of ladies in Houston a few months ago, and one woman enthusiastically detailed her own cash envelope binder system.

In other words, when these work, they work so well that the people who use them go nuts for their systems!

Section 2: Bill Payment Trackers and Organization

The next thing people need to do when tracking money on paper is to manage all those bills that come in the door or that get paid automatically.

Tracking your bill payments and due dates with a monthly bill pay checklist PDF will:

  • Show you when bills are due
  • Help you track which bills you’ve already paid
  • Let you track payment changes over time on automatically paid bills (such as the cable bill, when it all of the sudden gets jacked up after a 6-month promo has ended)
  • Show you patterns in variable bills (such as the electric bill)

Here’s my list of 7 free monthly bill pay checklist PDFs.

Psst: Want to feel like you’re mastering this money management thing, with cash to spare? Then you’ll definitely want to check out my article on how to get one month ahead on bills.

Section 3: Sinking Fund Trackers

There are some bills that come just a few times a year (or even once a year). For example, property insurance might be paid once a year, auto insurance might be paid every six months, and Christmas comes just once a year (with a lot of extra spending needs and wants).

Setting aside money for them in a “sinking fund” is a good idea, since they cost more than your usual monthly bills and it’s hard to absorb those costs into the cash you earn in the month they’re due.

It’s a good idea to have a tracking system for how much you have set aside in a sinking fund for each of your semi-consistent bills.

Here are 9 free sinking fund trackers to choose from.

Section 3: Savings Goal Trackers

Got a savings goal? One of the best ways to stay motivated to save money for it is by using a savings goal tracker.

Here are 8 free savings goal trackers.

Psst: here are 47 cool things to save up for, in case you don’t know what you want.

Section 3: Debt Payoff Trackers

When you’re in debt payoff mode, you really should track the debt going (hopefully) down, down, down.

It offers some instant gratification – coloring in one of these visual debt payoff trackers – at a time when you really need to stay the course.  

Section 3: Couple’s Financial Goal Trackers

Not only will you want to track individual financial goals – both savings and debt payoff ones – but you also want to set and track couple’s financial goals.

Maybe you and your partner want to pay cash for a week-long vacation next summer. Maybe you want to save up for a family game console. Maybe you want to pay off a family loan.

You’ll want one of these free financial goal worksheets for couples to set the goal, and then one of the trackers from above to track your progress together.

Section 3: Net Worth Tracker

Why might it be important to track your net worth?

Well, it gives you a really great snapshot view of which way your finances are going (hopefully, in the upward direction!).

You can do this on paper with free net worth tracker printable, or using a spreadsheet like Excel or Google Sheets.

I personally use the automatic (and free) Personal Capital to track my net worth for me – my accounts are associated, and it pulls everything into one dashboard.

But when I did this by hand? I used to update once a year. I would recommend you do the same.

Bullet Journaling Financial Tracking

One last method that I personally have not used before, but that is really intriguing to me, is tracking your finances in a bullet journal.

There are tons of free ideas out there for how to do this, and I’ve even written an article pulling together 8 bullet journal savings tracker ideas that caught my eye.

As for tracking expenses, budgets, financial goals and more, check out this article on tracking your finances in a bullet journal.

How to keep track of money on paper? I hope I’ve shown you that you can keep track of most parts of your money life with good ol’ printable worksheets and a pen. Again, I encourage you to print out the worksheets you choose from above, and create yourself a money binder. Having all of this in one place will make it more likely you’ll keep up with things, plus will help you to see a more total picture of your financial life.

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.