It can be hard to keep track of a budget in the beginning. You need to be good at organizing your receipts, and also be dedicated enough to keep strict records of every transaction. Little things add up very easily, and you’ll forget each time just how easily. You’ll be pretty surprised how much is left at the end of the week or month. The best way to begin, is with simple and practical things.

Before you do anything else, leave your plastic at home. Put them in envelopes and don’t worry about them for a week. Once a week, take your simplest bank card to your bank, and withdraw hard cash money. Then use this hard cash money on as much as you can. Watching that green go down on the counter hurts a lot worse than just sliding your card.

Service charges are not your friend, no matter how small they are. A service charge at the gas station for paying with your credit card is around forty-five cents. “Oooo!” you’re thinking. Well, if you buy gas every week, that’s already almost two dollars a month and over twenty-one dollars a year. Still not very much?

Throw in a handful of other charges, such as using a debit card pretty much anywhere, or using an ATM that doesn’t belong to your bank. These have their own little charges, and your bank may not be very happy with you giving even a few cents to their competition and help themselves to as much as two whole dollars. This is all outlined in the very center of a six-page boiler plate document with microscopic text.

And then, of course, service charges are a big one. No matter how tiny, they are never your friends. It can be about forty-five cents to use a card at the gas station. That may not be very much, but it can come out to almost two dollars a month, which is over twenty-one dollars a year.

Not very much? How about some other charges? It’s a bad idea to use a debit card just about anywhere. They’re full of service charges a lot of the time. A different bank’s ATM can charge up to two dollars every time. The other bank will help itself to some of that money, and your bank doesn’t like it when you give even one rusty old penny to the competition. Why didn’t you read the microscopic, boiler-plate contract that came with your card?

Check Cards are also a way they sneak up on you. Their little logos make it seem like it’s a “credit card” transaction, but the money is just vanishing from your account. But you already knew that. Therefore, you also already know that once in a while these cards are transacted as debit cards. If you can swipe it, great. Bypass the service charge by choosing credit. Sometimes the clerk won’t ask, and sometimes the transaction can only be done as debit. Make sure you know what’s going on with your Check Card.

If you’re in control of your personal budget each week, your personal finances will make a lot more sense. Something as simple as leaving your cards at home can save a lot, and keeping track of your little transactions and making good use of them can work wonders as well.

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