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Do You Still Keep a Checkbook?

in Joan's Posts, Money Basics, Rants

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan here.

I’m that lady. The one with the checkbook and the neat lines of transactions marching down each page of its register.

And let’s be honest, nobody still keeps actual checkbooks with matching check registers – do they?

Though my husband and I do try to spend cash as often as possible, every bank transaction – online bill payments, ATM withdrawals, checks and Visa debit purchases – does go right into the register as soon as possible.

That’s right – I still do keep the checkbook in my purse. We don’t write a lot of checks, but we still find keeping the register for ALL transactions well worth it.

Chris, my husband, will usually hold any receipts he has in his wallet, then give them to me about once a week to enter in the checkbook to ensure we are on the same page.

Then, a couple of times each month, usually before I pay a set of bills, I go online and reconcile the checkbook with the bank’s online transaction record, making sure I haven’t missed anything and, most importantly, making sure my number (with any outstanding transactions factored in) matches the bank’s number. To the penny.

Part of this is just my personality – I’m often frightfully organized, and it’d make me itchy not to know how much money we have available.

But also, there was a time in my life in which it mattered – to the cent – how much I had in the checkbook, because if I was off by a couple of dollars, checks would start bouncing.

I don’t like to be real serious most of time; I’m kind of a clown, which you’ll come to know about me, but the thought of bouncing checks was serious stuff.

I remember holding my infant daughter, shopping in Walmart, and putting back jars of baby food at 59 cents apiece because I could get 10 but not 12 of them.

And with a budget that tight, you can bet I kept pretty close tabs on the checkbook. There was even an ATM in the next town where you could withdraw cash in any amount, coins included, and I have a strangely funny but terrible memory of going there and taking out $4.58 (leaving exactly $1 in the account) for gas money.

I guess those habits stick with you, because I’m still just as neurotic disciplined about it.

The funny thing is, I’m really “digital” about most things – except this. I swear I’ve tried every web- or software-based system for accounting for transactions, but I can’t get into them.

A pen, a paper, and little Xs next to the amount when it’s cleared the bank; that’s the simplest way and the way I’ve gone back to time and again.

And even if you’re not as neurotic as I am – almost all of use can benefit from the increased awareness. It doesn’t take nearly as long as you think – and will change your relationship to your spending.

Here are 5 reasons why I think this works for us:

  1. We only have ONE account that has any money going out of it, so it’s not super-complicated to keep track of. (Our savings account, with its infrequent transactions, does have its own matching register, but I don’t try to marry the two!)
  2. It’s how I first learned to manage money. My mom ran a small business when I was growing up, and when I was homeschooled, one of my jobs was to keep her business ledger. That built up such a habit for me that I find it hard to pick up any other methods.
  3. It requires me to be intentional. I love the idea of some of the online money-management systems that keep track of your finances and make sure everything balances out for you. But I don’t love the practice of that – I like to be forced to really LOOK at where the money is going.
  4. Along with that, this forces you to see the truth about your finances. I truly credit my banking system with our debt turnaround; even at our worst, I was faithfully keeping track of the money going out … a LOT faster than it was coming in. Hard to ignore the kinds of bank balances that have only a single number before the decimal point, you know? That really motivated me to take action.
  5. Finally, it puts Chris and me on the same page financially. I generally keep the checkbook and pay the bills, but the fact that he keeps track of his own receipts and sees the balance means he’s fully aware of what we do – or don’t – have available.

I know, though, that I’m almost certainly the minority in this (even though I think the benefits are universal).

Want to change your mindset about your money? Get our Unautomate Your Finances guide, as well as several other awesome resources to “kickstart your money,”join the Man Vs. Debt community list by clicking here!

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So what works for you?

Do you keep track of your expenditures from your main account at all?

Do you still carry around a “checkbook”?

Leave me a comment below and let me know! I’m super-curious about this. If you can make me feel any less neurotic, bonus points. :)

{ 136 comments… read them below or add one }

Sunday April 26, 2012 at 8:13 AM

Do I have a checkbook? Yes. Do I keep a checkbook? No. I’ve gotten SO bad. My money was always much tighter when I kept the checkbook properly. I got much better about this when I took the YvD course, of course, but I still don’t reconcile to the penny and prefer to login to my bank account each day to see what’s cleared and what’s outstanding and what my available balance is. That’s all going to change here soon, but I’m a little too overwhelmed to be my normal neurotically anal self right now :)

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 4:19 PM

Ha, Sunday, I love you. You know that, right? :) Seriously, I’m glad you know what you want to do and that you have an idea to make some changes moving forward. I honestly know it’s not for everyone – but I also have seen SUCH a difference in my life because of it, so I’m kind of a big advocate! :)

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Alaina April 26, 2012 at 8:26 AM

I am exactly the same way, but now I use a google docs spreadsheet for my checkbook register (complete with a column for the x when the transaction clears) I can update it easily on the go on my iPhone and the electronic version eliminates any math errors on my part. I also go in a couple time a month (after pay day and before paying bills) to make sure that my register and the bank agree, to the penny. I don’t quite understand how anyone can operate any differently, but maybe I’m in the minority in liking I know (and needing to know) exactly how much money is in the bank.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 4:20 PM

Alaina, that’s awesome – and that’s an idea; maybe that’s what I have to do to make digital “work” for me, is carry the exact-same system over. Most of the digital systems I’ve tried have been too much extra – and that just messes me up like crazy!

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Dena April 26, 2012 at 8:39 AM

I know it sounds outdated.But yes,we still use checks.I don’t want to pay anything automated.I don’t like other people having access to my money.I’ve heard too many people complain about XYZ taking a double payment or taking it out on the wrong date.Then they’re checkbook doesn’t balance.And the inevitable bounced check surfaces.That goes on your credit report and can ruin your chances at getting a better job or loan.And it wasn’t even something you did.I do all the things you do.It helps to have a secondary account at a different bank.Our emergency fund is in the credit union.And our expense account is in a local bank in town. So if you’re neurotic then I guess I am too.Welcome to the club,neighbor

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 4:25 PM

Dena, I love it! :) I do automate a couple of my payments – smaller ones, not “big stuff” – and I don’t even like e-billing (where you get your statement electronically). In all cases, the only places I do that are where I get a discount for doing so, such as with my car insurance.

Later, I hope to post about how I organize my bills, and I think you’ll like that, too… very much manual, and for good reason – too easy for things to get messed up!

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Élan April 26, 2012 at 8:41 AM

I love this post! As a bank employee, this is the number one piece of advice I wish I could give to my customers. Keeping a register is a must if you’re writing checks (so you can see what’s still out and calculate a true balance), but it’s also important for debit card users. When you see your statement, you might see a debit card transaction with a name that isn’t familiar to you. Before you report fraud, check your register and see if you made a purchase for that amount on that date. There are a ton of other good reasons to keep a register–so march down to your bank and ask for one! We are always happy to give them out.

To answer your questions, I do keep a checkbook and list of my checks that are still out. I don’t keep a true register because of my job–I check my account every hour at work! If I didn’t work at a bank, I would definitely keep a register.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 4:23 PM

Élan – I am SO glad to hear this. I am sure you have seen the “negative side” of this, too – the people who come in and don’t understand where all the money went, right?

Thank you so much for underscoring the importance of this from a professional perspective. That means a lot – and hopefully some of your customers will read this! :)

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Freedom | Rethinking the Dream April 26, 2012 at 8:56 AM

We don’t keep a checkbook and haven’t for years. The original purpose of the checkbook was to keep track of unprocessed checks and funds in your account until your bank statement came in at the end of the month. With online banking it’s very easy to login to our account to get a snapshot of our money situation any time we want to. The only check we write is for the rent, evertying else is done online, with a debit card, or with cash.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 4:29 PM

We use online banking all the time – but in our bank’s case, especially with local merchants, there is sometimes up to a week’s gap between when we make the Visa debit card purchase at point of sale (gas, for example) and when it shows up online. That’s one of the reasons I still keep track for my own purposes… still lots of “outstanding transactions” even though I only write 2 to 3 checks a month at most!

I think you’re in the majority, though – although today’s comments are surprising me. I would have guessed that most people would feel the need to do this has passed.

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Lisa March 4, 2014 at 1:49 PM

I agree Joan. I have had so many overdraft fees and so much frustration over online banking totals. They hold so many items (“Pending”) for so long and just do NOT give you up to date information. The worst was Bank of America. Your account is literally changing everyday! If you buy something with a debit card they deduct it from your account that same day and give you your total. But then the next day they credit that amount back cause the merchant hasn’t processed the transaction yet. And you have a higher balance. If you go off their banking online you will get screwed. No I am not with them anymore. Paper is best!!! (Sorry I know this is a few years late in responding, just found this website.)

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Nance April 26, 2012 at 9:05 AM

Oh my gosh, I will probably ALWAYS have one. My mother taught me how to use checks and how to balance a checking register when I was in high school, and I keep it to this day. I can’t not know exactly how much money I have at a given time. I’m the only person I know in my thirties who does this…
Thank you for this post!

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 4:26 PM

Well, Nance, when I turn 30 in November… there will be 2 of us! :) You’re very welcome.

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Jennifer April 26, 2012 at 9:08 AM

I use YNAB program recommended by Dave Ramsey and it works fabulously for us!

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Sherrie April 26, 2012 at 10:20 AM

I use YNAB too and love it – it is so simple because you can download your bank transactions directly into the program – no manually recording each transaction. But, I do feel like keeping an account register is the only way to stay on budget and make sure you are intentional with your money.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 4:31 PM

See, that’s one I’ve tried – and I love that it works for so many people, but the trouble I have is that I don’t WANT my transactions to go directly in. I want to record my expenses manually, because I need that in order to really feel like I’m conscious of where my money’s going. (Some people don’t – and I totally get that.)

I agree, Sherrie, that keeping a register of some sort ought to be just about non-negotiable – even if it’s just “I check online banking regularly.” I can’t tell you how many people I know who NEVER know how much money they have – and that scares me!

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Sara April 27, 2012 at 2:01 AM

I use YNAB, but I never download transactions- all get entered manually, and manually reconciled with the bank. That is one of the things I love is entering each transaction. :)

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Wendy April 26, 2012 at 9:10 AM

Although I don’t write that many checks anymore, I do keep up with the check register. It makes me very conscious of what I’m spending and where it’s going. Maybe I do it just because I’ve always done it but I actually enjoy balancing my checkbook. I like making sure it balances down to the penny.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 5:06 PM

Wendy, I agree wholeheartedly – I enjoy it too! We should start a club :)

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Dave Fazzone April 26, 2012 at 9:29 AM

I’m with you, can’t give it up for the electronic one.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 4:32 PM

Dave, I’m glad I’m not alone! I feel so funny – I’m THE “app girl” for everything else, but this is one area I just haven’t adapted to. I don’t think I’ll change, either; it’s working for me, and I don’t think pens and paper will disappear any time too soon!

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Paul Carlson April 26, 2012 at 9:42 AM

We use Neobudget and have for the past few years (paid member, I love it).

Works like a check register and also helps me keep the budget sorted into handy virtual envelopes.

We still use the checkbook’s register to list checks so I can remember to enter them into Neobudget along with any debit purchases every few days.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 5:15 PM

I don’t tend to veer toward most of the “budgety” stuff tied to my checking transactions because all of my transactions are in a few specific categories; most of our day-to-day stuff is in cash. (Groceries, etc.)

That said – we definitely do budget for them, but “expense categories” to us from the check register are basically “debt repayment,” “occasional other bills” and “gas.” A few things here and there, to be sure.

When I actually tracked all my SPENDING for 30 days during each of the past You Vs. Debt sessions, I included cash stuff too – and that was incredibly enlightening!

I’m glad you’ve got a good system in place – for budgeting AND transactions. That’s what I’d love to see everyone do!

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James Parker April 26, 2012 at 9:49 AM

I don’t keep a chequebook in my satchel anymore. instead, I use a less-than-legally-free program that balances my finances. XD however, I itemise EVERYTHING — probably even to a fault. but this way I know exactly how much I spend on meals versus snack foods, etc.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 5:15 PM

Hey, there is NOTHING wrong with that – I’d much rather err on the side of too much detail than not enough!

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David Hunter April 26, 2012 at 9:50 AM

Yep, I still keep a check book! I use my rewards card and pay with a check when the bill comes in. I don’t write many checks so it’s easy to keep track of them.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 5:12 PM

That works! I’m glad you keep track – that’s my biggest “thing”!

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Jim April 26, 2012 at 9:55 AM

I’m a tactile person, so you think I would love using pen and paper to track transactions. Online banking makes it too easy to get away from intentionally tracking what you’re spending. Great post!

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 5:07 PM

Jim – I think the tactile thing is a big part of it for me. I tend to be that way about a lot of things, come to think of it!

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Karen April 26, 2012 at 10:05 AM

I like to know what I have in the bank at all times. I used to work doing accounts receivables for a smallish business and always balanced to the penny each month. Our egisters were all done by hand. It annoyed me to no end when accounting clerks would call about their bills and tell me that, yes, they had balanced to their statement… if they had, they wouldn’t have been calling. lol I’m in a different field now, but am still anal about money and yes, I keep a check register though I rarely write checks other than rent. Being so anal allowed me to pay off my vehicle way early this week and I’m now completely debt-free and plan to never have a loan again! I’ve been using a single credit card that earns points which I cash in for amazon gift cards for ebooks mostly. I pay it off in full every two weeks when I get paid. I’ve been thinking of going to cash though, as I know using the card gives me the freedom to spend more than I should. I’ll still keep a register tracking the cash though. I like to see where my money is going and know where I am financially to avoid any bad surprises!

BTW – I had a roommate in college who would just stop writing down checks when her balance got close to zero. Funny, the bank still bounced her checks. lol I can only hope she’s turned around her finances by now.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 4:36 PM

Karen, that story about your roommate would be funny if it weren’t terrifying! I do think my business background is the biggest factor that led me to this system for personal use. I wonder if that’s a tie for a lot of people – dealing with finances from a business sense, which is SOMETIMES more stringent? (Though scarily not as much as I’d like to think!)

I also have to admit that on top of everything ELSE that led me to this point, my degree is in mathematics – and that helps too!

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Clay April 26, 2012 at 10:18 AM

Not sure if this will help you feel less neurotic or not, but we use a checkbook register AND Quicken. I use Quicken’s One Step Update to pull in all my transactions from my bank and make sure that the balance I show in the checkbook matches what is on Quicken. It’s quite redundant, but it’s hard for me to think about stopping doing it that way since there’s always that thought in the back of my head that maybe Quicken (or my checkbook) isn’t correct.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 5:12 PM

Clay – I think that’s a good point – I feel like I need to check “something” against “something else” to be sure everything correct. Checks and balances! I use the online banking component from our bank a lot, but I have found it to be wrong at times – sometimes the bank’s fault, sometimes the merchant’s – and having my own checkbook to balance against helps. And, of course, I find MYSELF missing things or the inevitable “I wrote it down twice” stuff – and that helps to have something to double-check back on!

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James April 26, 2012 at 10:27 AM

I only use my checkbook to track checks written. I keep track of everything we buy on an Excel spreadsheet, regularly updated with receipts. I find that the checkbook doesn’t have enough room in it to differentiate purchases into categories (food, household items, etc), and also doesn’t allow you to add those categories up in any automatic way. My Excel spreadsheet adds everything for me, so I can see category totals and other totals that I have set up. I find it’s a good balance between knowing where every penny goes vs spending a lot of time with a pen and paper, time I could be using to get something else done.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:15 PM

James, I figure as long as you have everything SOMEWHERE, I think that’s fine! I like hearing when people have put thought into their system and not just, you know, happened into it!

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This Aggie Saves April 26, 2012 at 10:41 AM

I still have a check book but use Mint to track all my purchases for me.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:16 PM

Sounds like a good system! I struggle with Mint personally – but I have a lot of friends who really enjoy it!

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Uwe April 26, 2012 at 10:50 AM

I used to use OpenOffice (“Excel”) for that, but now I have my own program for it. I find it very helpful to see how much I spent for each category.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:23 PM

Uwe, I’m glad you’re keeping track – and your own program, that’s cool! I’ve heard from a few people in that situation and it’s pretty amazing!

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Roz April 26, 2012 at 11:03 AM

I am with you…I use a check register to record checks, ATM, in-bank withdrawls, debits and transfers. I also use YNAB as a budgeting tool. …sigh.. maybe overkill, but I have to prevent a nickle insurrection and keeping tabs on every little penny is the best defense.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:24 PM

Roz – I want to steal that phrase, “nickel insurrection!!” That is a GREAT way of looking at it. If I had to pick any one thing in my life to be “too careful” about, that is where it would be. Better too careful than not careful enough!

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Pam April 26, 2012 at 11:05 AM

I have a check book, but the only thing I keep track of in it is the checks I use (maybe 1 or 2 a month) and any deposits I make (which sadly is not many) I pay most of my bills online thru bill pay at my credit union and use my debit card for most everything else. I keep track of my monthly spending on a spreadsheet on my desktop which has helped tremendously in tracking my spending. I charge everything else that is not in my budget plan but trying to cut down on that. This is a great website!!!! Tons of helpful information. Thanks!

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:27 PM

Pam, thank you so much for the kind words about our site! I’m very glad to hear you’ve got a tracking system that works – and that you’re actually making your budget a “living thing” and working on it. So many people make it and then never go back and check to see how it’s working in real life!

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Maren April 26, 2012 at 11:20 AM

I still put everything in my check register even though I don’t write may checks anymore. Every online payment, debit card transaction etc all goes into my checkbook so I can keep track down to the penny. I do also put every transaction into my quick books software so I enter each transaction twice. I tend to only enter my transaction into the computer about once a week while I enter the transactions into my check register daily.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:30 PM

Maren, that sounds like a system I can get behind! I don’t do Quickbooks too, but like I said in one of the other comments, I think everyone should have some kind of “checks and balances” – in my case, it’s my online transaction record from the bank – but some way to see if you’re matching up!

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Shelly April 26, 2012 at 11:27 AM

I use QuickBooks to track my expenditures. Since we are already using it for our business, I track our personal expenses as well. It’s really easy to download everyday, so I keep my electronic checkbook updated! It works for us!

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:33 PM

Shelly, that’s the key – what works for you, and my personal preference is “what works for you AND offers accountability” – sounds like you’ve got that. I think it makes a lot of sense to keep your business and personal finances using the same type of system – so much less confusing.

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DiAnna April 26, 2012 at 11:37 AM

Not only do I have and keep a checkbook, but I use my online banking nearly every day to see what’s gone through and what hasn’t. I’ve been in the place of shopping with a calculator so that I stayed under a certain amount for the week. I am conscious at all times of how much cash I have, when the next paycheck is coming and what’ll be left once I’ve paid all the bills. That said, I also believe in proclaiming abundance so that I bring my awareness to all that I do have. I’ve had a good bit more “fun money” this year and my kids and I have been able to see a movie or two and get pizza a bit more often. Experiences and time together never get old!

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:38 PM

DiAnna, we are the same way – we keep an eye on what “fun money” we have and it’s amazing to see how much more freedom we have. We still are pretty careful – and putting a lot of extra toward debt repayment – but we can have the little treats here and there and that’s really important to me! Congrats on your progress – you’ll have to keep us posted as you move forward!

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Deane April 26, 2012 at 11:43 AM

I do all my banking electronically. It’s rare I write a check anymore. In the last year I doubt I’ve written more than 25 checks so I don’t see the point in having a checkbook. I use and LOVE Quicken for my personal accounting. It is so much more than a checkbook. It reminds you when bills are due, it provides a snapshot of all your finances at a glance.
I use Quickbooks for my business and that’s a little more complicated but anyone can easily learn to use Quicken. I wouldn’t be without it!

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:40 PM

Deane, I’m glad that’s working for you! I have used some of those things, but I just don’t get the “feeling” of satisfaction that I do with paper, if that makes any sense. They’re handy tools – just not the tool for me!

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Melissa April 26, 2012 at 11:46 AM

I not only keep a checkbook and immediately note any checks, debits or ATM purchases, but I check my online bank transactions every DAY, first thing in the morning, and put a checkmark next to those that have cleared. After too many years of bounced checks (in the past, I am happy to say), I am obsessive about 1) guarding against mistakes that either I or the bank may have made (and yes, the bank makes mistakes), and 2) it’s just one more way I feel more control over my money. I guess I am a bit neurotic, but it works for me and I like that feeling of knowing exactly what is in my account and what has yet to hit.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 5:17 PM

Melissa, we sound like we’re coming from very much the same place. I’m so glad my “bouncing” days are in the past, but I think they taught me some pretty good lessons, too!

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Wendy April 26, 2012 at 12:00 PM

I think this is a waste of time, but how other people use their time is up to them! (I do lots of things that others would think are a waste of time.)

I’m 33. I stopped keeping a check register in the early/mid 2000s when banks started having good websites for looking at transactions; now I seldom look at my bank/credit card websites, and use Mint instead. Of course I was raised to keep a very exact check register. When I explained to my mother about online banking, she thought it was a good idea. My ex-MIL (a banker) was horrified and also seemed to feel like I would be leading her child into a life of financial ruin by encouraging this practice. But when I asked her, she couldn’t come up with any sensible reasons for why I should keep a check register. She just still retained a belief that that’s what “responsible” people do.

I check Mint several times a week and look up any transactions with an unfamiliar name. Unlike when I was in my early twenties, I always have enough money in checking that I’m not concerned about overdrafts. I’m very conscious of where my money’s going because I regularly use Mint’s features that let you look up your spending by category, compare to previous months, etc.

I get to do all this on my own time… I never have to spend the time to write in a check register when I’m in a hurry, carrying heavy bags, etc. It may seem like it’s just a habit so no big deal, and that it doesn’t take very much time, but I had a great sense of freedom when I stopped doing it.

The only checks I write are monthly rent and the occasional gift… when I lived in the midwest, the utility company still only took checks (in 2011!), and other large businesses charged credit card fees. Now that the banks publish electronic images of their checks, the last hurdle of not remembering what I wrote check #217 for is obsolete.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:42 PM

Wendy, it’s great that you’ve decided what makes sense in your situation – and I’m glad you really gave it THOUGHT and considered the freedom vs. accountability issue. So many people just default to something without that consideration.

I think the thing is, you’re still being accountable – you’re checking your online banking, for instance. For me, I’d be uncomfortable JUST doing that and not having something physical to check it against, rather than just my memory, but it’s the same idea, I think – just a difference in what you’re checking “against!”

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Janette April 26, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Nope. I do not use a check book anymore. 30 checks a year (water department/ gifts/charity) are no big deal. We also do not use debit cards or ATM. We use cash- distributed twice a month- and a spreadsheet.
All major expenses are on credit cards. USAA will permit you to categorize your expenses so we can check our balance almost daily. I check our CC daily making sure purchases are posted correctly.
Before we retired we were running much faster and I daily balance our check book- including writing in subtractions for things on our credit card.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:45 PM

Janette, it sounds like your spreadsheet serves the purpose you need now, and I can understand the way the credit card system might work. It’s not what I personally would do – even knowing a lot of benefits, I’m not likely to be someone who would use a credit card again – but it’s the same idea for you guys: you’ve found that accountability.

And I think you’re right about the needs being different in different seasons of life… I’ve already seen that myself as I’ve had varying amounts of transactions.

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Nicole April 26, 2012 at 12:17 PM

I still keep a checkbook and update it every morning with any debit card purchases I make the day before. My bank also does that transferring spare change into savings thing, so every morning I have record that as well. When I sit down to pay bills, I record all the transactions into Quicken as well and use that to balance with my statements.

I have even resisted getting paperless statements because I would just have to print them out in order to have them in hand to balance with Quicken. My husband has a separate account and while he doesn’t ever look at his statements, I do believe he records transactions in his register and then double checks on-line.

So, I don’t think you are as old-fashioned and in the minority as you think. But then again it is just showing my age (40ish). LOL

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:45 PM

Nicole, I love it. We can be old-fashioned together, maybe? :) I’m very much not a “paperless” person either. Not for bills, statements, whatever. Maybe it’s the tactile thing – but I physically am a highlighter, crosser-offer, etc., and that helps so much.

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Leah E-H April 26, 2012 at 1:00 PM

I still keep a checkbook too. I balance it once a week and I’m the same way, it just helps me feel on top of it and organized. I use little X marks for cleared transactions too :)

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 4:37 PM

Leah, I knew I liked you. :) Didn’t we talk about this in You Vs. Debt – our tendency to detail-orientedness?

That’s awesome.

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Leah E-H April 27, 2012 at 12:19 PM

I think we may have! :)

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Joshua Carmody April 26, 2012 at 1:20 PM

I think maintaining an up-to-date register of transactions that matches the bank to the penny is essential. But I can’t imagine actually doing it on paper. Whenever I purchase anything, regardless of whether it’s with debit, credit, check, or cash, I insist upon getting a receipt. Every time I get home, I empty the receipts from my pocket and immediately enter them into Quicken. Yes, even the bills in my wallet are entered into the register.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:46 PM

Joshua, it sounds like you’re getting the key part – the accountability. For me, I don’t find myself as accountable when I do this in Quicken (or Money, which I’ve used a little more), etc. But it sounds like you do – and you are using it to its fullest, too, it sounds like; so many people just do a “sliver” of their finances that way, and that seems the least useful to me!

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Kristine S April 26, 2012 at 3:04 PM

Hi Joan and MvD! Great article, Joan! Keep up the good work. I feel like I’m the only one who uses a check book still and the crazy thing is that I check it every night and put a dot next to what went through (similar to your “x” system). It’s so helpful! Im also in the process of tracking our purchases everyday and where we spend the most in groceries. Every month, I review it and see what I can cut costs or buy somewhere cheaper. It’s really opened my eyes on how much I spend on grocery items.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:48 PM

Kristine, I can accept dots ;-)

We are BIG into tracking our grocery spending, too. We use a really careful budget for that, adjust when inflation becomes a factor, clip coupons… the whole works. Groceries are another topic I’d like to post about sometime, they’re kind of a passion of mine. (Does that sound weird? I realize the more I talk on here, the odder I might sound.)

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Kate April 26, 2012 at 3:27 PM

I definitely keep a checkbook, carry it in my purse, but typically use it once a week or in case I must pay something on the spot and the debit card is not accepted (I rarely have cash on me). I only keep track of what checks are written to whom and for how much in the register, for any other banking functions I log in to my online banking and see everything in real time. I pay my bills online by scheduling the payments myself each month (NOT auto-pay), and in the years I’ve been doing it have had no problems with incorrect/double payments, etc.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:56 PM

Kate, I use my checkbook for CHECKS about as often as you do – most of my payments are digital. I just feel the need to see them written out, especially because they’re not as real-time with our bank as I might like!

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Sandra April 26, 2012 at 3:49 PM

Can you say ‘girl after my own heart’?
I am in love with my checkbook! I too come from the uber organized, overly detailed segment of the population. I so loved this post. Can’t wait to read more.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 5:18 PM

Sandra, wait til I post about how I organize which bills I pay when. I think you’ll love it! ;-)

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Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager April 26, 2012 at 4:07 PM

No check books for me. I just keep track of everything on Adaptu.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 4:38 PM

Jenna, I was wondering if you were going to pop in! Now I feel guilty. :)

I like lots of online systems for other things – like budgeting, tracking my debt payoff, etc. – but the checkbook, that’s just not one of them, sorry! :)

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John Rockefeller April 26, 2012 at 5:44 PM

Ew, manual entry? Just get a bank card and use mint.com. I do and my finances have never been in better shape.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 9:21 PM

John, I bet a lot of people feel that way. I have a bank card – and my own bank actually offers a Mint-like service, but I don’t want something automated. I get SO much benefit from seeing the transactions individually and writing them out by hand.

The thing is, there are people for whom that doesn’t resonate – or who have never given that a shot. I am a big fan of going manual for accountability, though! :)

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JR Simons April 26, 2012 at 5:46 PM

I learned how to keep a checkbook ledger as a math class project in the 6th grade and when I was in college, I started keeping a ledger for all of my transactions. When I got a checkbook, I kept my checkbook ledger up to date by doing it by hand every so often. In 1996, I purchased a small murder mystery company and started keeping business and personal transactions using Quicken. I swear by Quicken and Turbo Tax all the time. It’s the best way to keep track of income and outgo. We still have a checkbook, although every bill is now received and paid online. We use checks for purchasing personal services (like haircuts, etc.), gift giving, and paying for things when people don’t take debit cards and we’re not carrying cash (like garage sales, etc.). Quicken allows us to see our financial flow very clearly and allows us to budget very easily. I keep the business and family books, so every day I ask my wife for the daily receipts and I enter them on a regular basis, usually nightly, and in less than a couple minutes, I know exactly where we stand. Quicken records regular automatic deposits and transactions and reminds me whenever I open it what needs to get paid and when it’s due. I used to pay all our bills by check in the mail, and that would take about 2 hours once a week to write the checks, stuff the envelopes, fill out the return address information, stamp them, and mail them out. Now, I can pay all the same bills in about 30 minutes with a few clicks of the mouse. However, I’d be lost without my Quicken register telling me where I stand from moment to moment.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 10:01 PM

JR, sounds like our system, just with Quicken serving the purpose for you that my register does for me! I do my payments digitally too, but write the amounts down rather than tracking via Quicken. I think you’ve got exactly the right idea, though – be accountable, KEEP track, and figure out a way that meets your needs to do that!

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Darrell @ Debt and Buried April 26, 2012 at 5:59 PM

I’ve also switched to keeping track of my checks and debit account activity on my smartphone. EasyMoney for Android is what I settled on. It’s not free, but it works great and makes sure that I never overdraw my account.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 10:04 PM

Hey, as long as it keeps track – that’s my #1 concern. For me, I need to have more manual intervention – and writing is how I learn and remember things the best. Sounds like you’re staying on top of things, though, and that’s great!

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Jeremy Branham April 26, 2012 at 6:04 PM

I have a different take on the check register. I don’t update it every day but mine is as accurate as it could possibly be. Why? I created a budget spreadsheet to track actual expenses against my budget. However, a second sheet links to the actual vs budget spreadsheet and serves as a virtual check register in Excel. Not only do I always know how much money I have but I always know how much I’ve spent in every category at any given moment. Also, if I use my credit cards (which I always pay off in full every month), I have a column for that. This combines my amount in my checking column so that combined I know how much I’ve spent in every spending category checking and credit card combined.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 11:10 PM

Jeremy, sounds like you’ve got the accuracy – and the attention to detail I love! (In fact, maybe more than I have!) As long as it doesn’t become complicated in a way that makes it hard to keep up, then I say go for it!

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Lucille April 26, 2012 at 6:12 PM

I have tried ledger books and excel but noting things down does not help me spend less.
My home eats money, my children eat money and even when I sleep I exhale money so that’s where it all goes!!
Yes, I’d like to cutback but I feel too deprived and it prevents me living in the moment. If I feel good about my money situation- today – then that’s all I need to know. I want to live now not later.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 11:29 PM

Lucille, I totally get where you’re coming from – and I think that’s where each person is different; for me, I felt like I was MORE free to treat myself when I had a clearer picture of my finances, where before, I was always the person afraid I didn’t have enough money, so I spent exactly nothing, and then I’d “binge” later. And that was worse than the small splurges ever were!

But I totally get what you’re saying… I just think we have different reactions to the same issue! I wish you the best of luck doing both any cutbacks you’d like to do AND enjoying the present – you’ll have to let us know how it’s going!

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Karin Mazzeo April 26, 2012 at 6:48 PM

Yes, I still keep my checkbook in my purse, write down each transaction in the register, and reconcile that with our bank’s record. I even pay my bills with a check sent through the mail. I am digital but not when it comes ot banking and paying bills (though I am so glad my bank has online account info… I need them to be digital so I can be old fashioned.) Doing this, plus being diligent in our debt reduction, I am proud to say that as of April 19th, my husband and I are debt free.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 11:26 PM

Karin, you summed me up totally – I need the bank to be digital so I can be old-fashioned!

OH MY GOODNESS – so proud you guys are debt free! That is AWESOME! Can’t wait for our own day – and you’re right, I contribute this and my diligence to debt reduction to us having an end in sight, early 2014 if not sooner!!

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Jon Griffith April 26, 2012 at 7:26 PM

I don’t even write check anymore. I haven’t since about 1998. As long as I plan my expenses relative to my income, there’s no need to do so because I know at the beginning of the month how much I’m going to spend on something. If I have unexpected expenses then they are considered emergencies. If they’re unexpected because I didn’t think about them then they become part of my budget consideration.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 11:30 PM

Jon, that’s excellent! I’m glad you’re planning, which I think is key. My problem was not the big unexpected expenses, it was the $5 here or there, especially in phases of our life when we used very little cash! It sounds like you must have a system for those too – which is great; glad to hear it’s working out!

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Michael April 26, 2012 at 8:03 PM

I write everything down as notes in my cell phone, as I spend it, then into a notebook at home, then I input the data into an Excel sheet weekly. I even manage to do it when out partying, buying drinks for example. If my friends ask me I tell them, explaining that it’s helped me to repay around $50,000 in consumer debt. Then they don’t think it’s so weird! :)

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 11:31 PM

Michael, GOOD FOR YOU!!! That’s the key – see what it’s gaining you, and in my case – and yours! – it sounds like it’s gaining us way more than it’s costing us in effort!

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Leslie Srajek April 26, 2012 at 8:04 PM

Thanks for this post, Joan! So here’s what DOESN’T work for me (and what I did this week, which is still making my stomach hurt): writing three big checks from the wrong checkbook, thereby drawing money out of the wrong account (the one with no money in it), and getting hit with three non-sufficient funds charges. The thing that totally sucks is that I had been checking my account (the one with actual dollars in it) online every day, waiting for those checks to clear, and was completely shocked when I saw what happened. It was totally my fault–just lame bookkeeping. One step forward, two steps back… ;)

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 11:32 PM

Ohhh, Leslie, I hurt for you when I read this! I’m so sorry that happened – and it sounds like the kind of thing that could happen to almost anyone. At least you’re keeping a good attitude – but I absolutely know how much that SUCKS! :) Keep plugging – and at least you know you won’t do that again!

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Susan April 26, 2012 at 8:15 PM

Hi, Joan! *My tips: After you add/subtract in your checkbook, do it a second time! (Yes, even if you used a calculator.) I’ve caught more than one mistake that would have ended up in a bounced check and a hefty fee from the bank. And make sure to write every ATM/bank withdrawal into your check register immediately!* Now that I’ve given my tips :) I want to say that I understand exactly what your post said. I’ve been in ‘every penny matters’ situations, too. We now have more than one checking account for various reasons, and I reconcile them online once or twice a week. (One account is used only for online bill-paying and purchases. If anything happens to that account, our direct-deposit accounts are safe.) My husband and I discuss our finances/expenses once a week. He keeps our budget on an Excel spreadsheet, and I write his figures on paper (I prefer that to a print-out). We both pay certain bills online, and I pay the rest by mail or around town. We always know our account balances down to the penny. We’ve fine-tuned our budgeting and banking habits over the past 25 years of our marriage, and this is what works for us. Thanks for your post!

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 11:33 PM

Oh, I do that adding and subtracting a second time too – or at least I do that first thing when I DON’T balance. I also mark where I’m balanced “to,” so that’s where I start each time I need to reconcile.

I’m so glad you and your husband have a great system in place. Sounds like where I want to be in another 18 years in our marriage!! :)

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Kelly April 26, 2012 at 8:25 PM

Here’s the thing…no. It seems like every advisor online or elsewhere recommends this type of super-manual, pen to paper old-school reconciliation, and I simply. cannot. do it. Not just because I never, ever, EVER write checks, won;t do business with companies who require them, and have therefore no checkbook to balance. Not only because all of my bills are paid automatically via my online banking on payday, so there’s no “before paying bills” and “after paying bills”. Not only because every single iPhone app, online financial management site, etc., is designed to be managed by automatic updates, and not by manual allocation of each penny, so you really can’t do it that way even if inclined to. But because I will never be the type who can do things as regularly and systematically as a twice a month sit down with pen, paper, and a slew of crumpled receipts. The sheer thought makes me crazy. I want to be this sort of person. I am not this sort of person. The day they make a financial advice site for the likes of me…hell, I’ll marry ‘em.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 11:36 PM

Kelly, I feel your frustration!! So here’s my question to you – what would “a site for the likes of you” contain? Advice on how to make a system like this work – or a way to be on top of things WITHOUT such a system? I’m trying to figure out if there’s a “part 2″ to this post, and judging from the comments there might just be … so I’d like to know what you’d find helpful!

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tel April 27, 2012 at 4:35 AM

Does your bank have a secure online system that automatically categorises your spending? And has goals you can set up etc? New Zealand banks do and it’s very handy

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Stacey April 26, 2012 at 8:30 PM

Um….who doesn’t keep a checkbook? I know it’s a progressed digital world…but how can people live without it??? :-)

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 10:09 PM

Stacey, I’d say from the comments it’s a 50-50 deal! I sure couldn’t live without either the checkbook itself or the check (and other transaction) register, though!

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Holly April 26, 2012 at 9:15 PM

I keep one too. I have been wondering for years how you would do something like that with our current technology. If anyone knows, please reply, because I haven’t been able to replicate it.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 10:11 PM

Holly, most people who want to DO it manually use either a program like Quicken or a spreadsheeting system like Excel. For people who want it more automated, online services like Adaptu and Mint will actually pull the transactions directly from your bank, plus you can add or change them. I support those in theory – but I just can’t personally get the benefit doing it that way that I like!

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Liz C. April 26, 2012 at 10:41 PM

I still keep a checkbook register, though I only write 1 or 2 checks each month. I use it for checks, debit purchase (and even make note of “cash back” and ATM withdrawal amounts along with what that cash is used for), automatic deposits, and electronic transfers. I log on to our online banking system daily to balance the register with dots for pending transactions, which I then turn into X’s for those that have cleared. Luckily my husband and I are too busy during the week to spend much, so most of the time I only have to write in maybe 2 transactions Monday through Thursday, and then on weekends I just pile our receipts (I’d say no more than 10) on our desk and balance the register on Sunday morning. I balance this to the penny. Like you, I have tried some of the online tools, but they just don’t work for me as I need to be the one to write/type the transactions in, not just have the system pull it from my bank account. There is something wonderful about pen and paper (and sometime white-out!) ;)

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 11:37 PM

Liz, I make notes of my cash withdrawals too – the register will usually say “Cash – groceries, allowance, mailing” with mailing meaning the cash for my husband to ship the books he sells from our Amazon store. I am ALSO a big fan of white-out, especially the tape style you can write on right away. My dork is showing.

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Lena | Happy Round Life April 27, 2012 at 9:53 AM

Tape style white-out was among the best things ever invented… :)

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Susan April 27, 2012 at 5:18 PM

I agree! I love that stuff!

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Squeezer @Personal Finance Success April 26, 2012 at 11:21 PM

I have a checkbook, because there are times when I do not have exact change in cash and a place does not take credit cards. That being said, I do not keep a register in my checkbook, that is what online banking is for. I will write a check, and get home and xfer cash from the savings account to the checking account to cover the check. Otherwise, I only keep $.01 in the checking account.

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Joan April 26, 2012 at 11:42 PM

Wow, that’s a totally different system than most I’ve heard about! It sounds like a good way to make sure you’re only “spending” for your expenses and not just frittering it here and there! The part I like most is this reminds me of folks who spend on their credit cards and then pay their expenses all at the end of the month, but without the reliance on an industry I personally would rather not support!

Very interesting – thanks for sharing!

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tel April 27, 2012 at 4:31 AM

Hi
I haven’t used a cheque book for many years now – at least 12. I doubt many places would accept them now we have EFTPOS which reduces risk for businesses. I use internet banking and can’t recall bank errors. I have recently started recording all my expenses by category and feel a lot less vague about where my money goes and what I’ve got. I will continue. next step is to reconcile my spreadsheet with my bank account.

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Joan April 27, 2012 at 1:15 PM

Tel, that reconciling is the main point I’m getting at – knowing that you’re checking your own records against something from the bank and vice versa! We don’t use actual paper checks that much – but we keep the register to do just that with the reconciliation of all our transactions!

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J Marie April 27, 2012 at 8:09 AM

I wish I could be that organized! I keep track of everything through my online bank account. I then record the expenses in an excel spreadsheet.

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Joan April 27, 2012 at 1:23 PM

That sounds like the same idea – the Excel spreadsheet taking the place of the handwritten register. As long as you’re keeping track, I’m all for it! My concern would be if you’re just trusting that the bank has them all right; I personally like to double-check them, after finding a few double charges, and even some MISSED charges on their part (usually due to merchant error, but sometimes bank error, too!)

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Lena | Happy Round Life April 27, 2012 at 9:51 AM

I’m absolutely that neurotic! My situation is a touch different, my husband and I own two companies, so I have checkbooks for both of those and our personal checkbook. I log into our online banking weekly and mark everything that’s cleared, then update the quickbooks files for the businesses.

Now for making you feel less neurotic… I track sub-accounts all throughout the checkbooks. Fuel, groceries, and entertainment get tracked in our personal. Each paycheck I make notes in parenthesis as to how much is available in the budget for those categories, then as it gets spent I note on that line how much is left. It sounds like a lot of trouble, but it’s actually easier for me to keep everything straight!

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Joan April 27, 2012 at 1:24 PM

Lena, that makes perfect sense to me. And with the businesses, I feel like it’s even more important to be on the ball! Sounds like you have a great system – keep it up!

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Karin A. April 27, 2012 at 11:14 AM

Joan, my checkbook ledger is an Excel spreadsheet. I started it in 2005 so I have all this history to look back to if I have any questions. I’m a bit more neurotic in that I probably look at it once a day/every two days. I JUST learned that if I put in several paydays and monthly expenses in for several months going forward, it will calculate how much I will have each month. This is the only way I have figured out how to budget and I literally figured it out about a month ago. It is working beautifully and helping me with my goal of getting out of debt in 2012.
I have a different worksheet for each account but they are all in the same workbook.
It really helps me keep tabs on everything, “down to the penny”!
I have tried online software before but to be honest, it does TOO much for me to the point that I don’t understand it. The simpler the better!

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Joan April 27, 2012 at 1:26 PM

Karin, you sound a lot like me – doing TOO much was a real problem for me with most systems! An Excel spreadsheet is probably what I’d do if I were to take my system digital. And I’m so glad you are working to be debt-free this year – keep me posted; I can’t WAIT to be there in another year and a half myself! :)

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Ashley April 27, 2012 at 1:19 PM

I used to put everything in Microsoft Money, but it had started to become just another “To Do” that was always weighing on my mind and stressing me out. I wouldn’t get to it regularly and then I’d have a 2″ stack of receipts to record, so it really wasn’t helping me keep track of anything. I finally asked myself “Do I really still need to be doing this?” That was hard, I’d ALWAYS kept a checkbook and couldn’t imagine it was ok not to, but I stopped about 4 mos ago and it’s working great. We do the Dave Ramsey cash envelopes and do most of our spending that way, so there’s not that much for me to keep track of. I created a budget spreadsheet that plans payments and expenses to coincide with our pay dates and I pay 99% of bills online. I check the account online every other day or so and I know based on my spreadsheet what is still outstanding. This takes much less time than what I was doing, so I’m happier. It definitely is so important that everyone find a system that works for them and PAY ATTENTION. Being intentional with your finances is so critical to a secure future. Great discussion.

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Joan April 27, 2012 at 5:36 PM

Ashley, thanks – you hit on EXACTLY the key point. I’m a big fan of paying attention, in whatever that translates to in anyone’s own life! :) Thanks for sharing your experience!

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John April 28, 2012 at 7:04 AM

Sounds a bit like me/us. I’m nt that disciplined in most other areas, but the checkbook is kept up to date (to the penny) on a weekly basis and I haven’t found anything that quite replaces the old tried and true checkbook register. Ashley I like your comment on paying attention – very important and not just in the money department. Thanks Joan for the insight and encouragement.

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Joan April 28, 2012 at 11:03 PM

Thank YOU, John! I appreciate hearing that – and hearing that you are so much into the “paying attention” concept too. That rocks. Keep it up!

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Andi-Roo April 28, 2012 at 7:52 PM

Back when we used to write checks for everything, I balanced my register to TO THE PENNY as well… but on a daily basis because we were THAT tight on cash. We don’t write checks for anything now — if a utility (like our water bill) doesn’t have an online system in place, we use the bill-pay function so that the check comes directly from our account — no fear of it “bouncing” because the funds are deducted immediately. However, we still get together every evening & take a look at our checking account online, so that I can yell at the hubz if he ate out for lunch & he can yell at me if I bought myself a new book. We keep very close watch on our funds in this manner, & it is awesome for keeping us on the same page. His paycheck comes every two weeks, so we look at our outgoing expenses most Saturday nights — a fun “date” night in which we take our laptops to McD’s, use their free wi-fi, & share an ice cream cone. This sounds silly, but it’s even how we did our taxes — online at McD’s in a date night format. Hey, if you gotta pay bills or taxes, you might as well get a 99-cent ice cream cone out of the deal, right?

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Joan April 28, 2012 at 11:12 PM

Hahahaha, I think you’re right – as long as you’re LOOKING at it together, that’s the key thing, and I love that you make it fun!

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Salena of The Daily Rant May 1, 2012 at 1:31 PM

I haven’t used checks for years. And these days, if I even see someone writing a check on line in front of me, I have to seriously squash the urge to poke them in the eye. :)

The check register concept I get, and it’s a good idea for keeping track, but I don’t do that either. Too much writing. If it’s not digital these days, I can’t function. In fact, I recently signed up to have a government agency auto-deduct a payment directly from my checking account but they needed a cancelled check in order to set up the process. Really?? Since I don’t have checks, I now have to go into an actual bank (something else I never do) and have them give me a letter documenting my account status. On letterhead. What a hassle.

We are self-employed and in order to keep track of expenses, etc. we use NeatReceipts (www.neat.com) We just scan our receipts and the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) picks up all of the information and enters it. There are thousands of vendors in the database and only occassionaly do we have to hand enter the information the OCR doesn’t pick up.

We can run reports to see where our money is going, which category we spend most in, what vendor we give more of our cash to, etc. You can even export to other formats like Excel. And the reports are accepted by the IRS so it’s an amazingly easy way to itemize and file taxes. Like I said, we’re self-employed – just my boyfriend and me – and this is the best way we’ve found to keep track of things – for years I did the Excel spreadsheet thing too, but this is much better.

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Joan June 23, 2012 at 12:38 AM

Salena, I have some friends who do that for their receipts (especially for business) and really find it helpful! I think if we had more, we’d probably invest in it!

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Patti M May 1, 2012 at 6:07 PM

Hi Joan,

Since the check printers don’t always send new registers with the checks any longer I had to find a different way to reconcile the expenditures and deposits. I’m in the second half of my cenetenial and have been a fanatic about reconciling to the penney every month for all of my life. Found Bank mistakes too many times. I’ve used Excel now for the last 18 months and found an extra benefit this year when doing my taxes. I had a really simple way to determine all of my expenses so when i needed to itemize it took less than 60 minutes to sort the payments for the entire year and get the taxes ready for the accountant. Never knew taxes could be so quick.

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Joan June 23, 2012 at 12:40 AM

Would you laugh to hear I have a special way of marking certain things in my registers (actually, on my register covers) to speed things up at tax time? (It’s OK if you’re laughing. I kind of am too.)

I’m lucky that my bank gives out free check registers to all 5 of us who ask for them ;-)

I am just glad you have a system that works – and most importantly, that you do checks-and-balances, because I too know all too well how errors on OTHERS’ part can creep in!

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Jules E. May 5, 2012 at 1:11 PM

Hi Joan,

Comforting to hear I am not alone. I keep track of this in a spiral notebook. I practice the same method. About once a week, I gather all the receipts (my husband puts his receipts on the kitchen windowsill for me) and get on the laptop and reconcile. Now that our debt is paid off (I need a whole long email to fill you in on that…….) I pay bills about twice a month. I even try to pay off early if possible. Although I am not as exact as you (down to the penny), I really need to know what is in that account so I am able to pay for things as I go. No more credit cards for us, so that checking account has to have money available for everything.. Loving the posts!!!! You rock , girl!!!

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Joan May 5, 2012 at 1:38 PM

Jules, THANKS!! :) And congrats on paying off the debt – that’s awesome!! I’m glad you have a system that works, and like you said, it’s really about KNOWING what’s in the account! :)

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eemusings May 9, 2012 at 7:44 PM

I remember my parents had checkbooks. I never have and don’t see why I ever would. NZ is pretty future forward in terms of eftpost, auto payments, direct deposit etc (I don’t know when wages and salaries started getting paid straight into bank accounts but I’d wager it was a very long time ago!) I confess I’m not really sure what it means to balance a checkbook.

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Joan June 23, 2012 at 12:42 AM

The funny thing is, my payments are all automatically deposited into my account – basically, for me, “balancing the checkbook” really has very little to do with checks and mostly to do with keeping a list of the automated payments that go in and subtracting from those the uses of my debit card or other computerized payments – so that I can see what I SHOULD have available at any given time, even if there are pending transactions.

I don’t know how fast transactions post there, but using my debit card at community businesses here in the States usually means the money actually doesn’t leave my account for about 4 business days – so keeping track is a must for me, or else I’ll spend that money 4 extra times! ;-)

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Shannon Weaver August 11, 2012 at 2:13 PM

I do keep a checkbook, but pay mostly with our debit card. Instead of writing in transactions from reciepts, I write them in according to our bank account online, then add in any checks I’ve written. I thought this was working, but I keep coming up with serious mistakes and I’m so irritated. At first I thought I could write in receipts every night, but with three kids, a fiance who works 90+ hours a week, and myself being a full-time student, it never happens that way. Today I discovered that I never wrote in a 1000 hotel cost because they waited until we actually stayed- two months after booking- to charge my card. And I never had receipt of it when I booked it, I just figured I’d write it in when they charged my card. And we are literally scraping pennies after taking a much needed trip to see family. I am ready to scream, and we are now a thousand dollars behind. So what is the best technique for getting EVERYTHING in the book for someone with a million other things going on and who can’t remember what they had for breakfast, let alone all the day’s or weeks transactions? Please help!

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Joan August 15, 2012 at 9:49 PM

Shannon, I have got to say – you’ve hit on EXACTLY why I don’t do the “go with the bank” deal, even with adding in checks, etc.!

Here’s the suggestion I would have. If the debit card isn’t working because you cannot keep track of the receipts – use cash.

That has been a HUGE help to us. We pay our bills with our bankcard, but our “daily purchases” – groceries, any meals out, clothes, anything like that – it’s all cash. So I might have one $40 ATM withdrawal receipt that takes the place of 8 small convenience-store receipts, if that makes sense!

There again, you have to hang on to that one receipt and log it, but if you can find ONE consistent place to put those receipts (mine go in my wallet until I get home) you might have more success that way!

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Mark February 2, 2013 at 12:00 PM

I do keep a register. I have an app on my iphone called checkbook that allows me to log the purchase/expenditure/transfer immediately without having to have a pen handy (I’m a guy, I don’t carry a purse that can hold pens or receipts for later logging). It has done wonders for my records. The app will automatically enter recurring fixed expenses as well. It’s like a mobile quicken lite. I also use online banking to reconcile my accounts every two weeks.

I do wish I could have only one spending account. However, I’m self employed and my DBA account is for business expense and my personal account is for personal expenses–but I have to keep track of both–including when I “pay” myself.

I encounter folks who make far more than what they need but they are bouncing checks or asking for clemency on their rent (I am also the VP of a non-profit that owns a quadplex). The biggest problem is they won’t keep track of their finances and rely on online banking or the fact that they make 3-4 times what they need to pay all their fixed expenses.

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Dwayne Thompson February 23, 2013 at 9:47 AM

IF and it’s a big IF….IF you shop at amazon et. al, you are almost REQUIRED to have a computerized checkbook. If you buy 6 things totaling $202 and you put one entry of $202 in your paper and ink checkbook, you will be doing a lot of scratching out and adding in because those 6 things may be fulfilled at 6 different times or by 6 different vendors generating 6 different debits. With a computerized checkbook you can go back and edit or add to your initial amazon entry.

I use PCA, personal checkbook assistant. Old and simple. I wish there was an checkbook app that was simple but then compared to your online banking and lined up transactions by amount and/or merchant name and so forth….ah well

My two cents….now let me go add that to my register….te he.

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Jule G July 3, 2013 at 6:42 PM

I’m a check writer. Yes, the one everyone in the checkout line impatiently waits for because I won’t swipe a card. And while scribbling out the check, pretty quickly I might ad, I imagine them mentally throwing darts at me for slowing down their trip to the store. I do kind of get a kick out of that, but hey, (sigh) people need to learn patience. My grown kids don’t understand why after 40 years, I still write checks.
Here’s some of the why:
I give more consideration to my purchases. I used duplicate checks, so I know where my money goes. Most of it. Catagory notes on the check carbon is simple, quick. I fill out a register later on. If I loose or misplace a receipt, it won’t matter, the amount total is on the carbon.
I like the flow of cursive writing, skills I learned in grade school. (Do you know they don’t teach this anymore?) … plus, I won’t forget who I am. lol!
It’s satisfying to balance the account(s) every month. I’m anal about that. I’ve spent days searching for a lost penny. It’s a cheap thrill to finally locate the error, but it’s my thrill.
At any given time I know how much I have without connecting to or contacting a bank.
It makes it easy for me to save for short term expenses and emergencies.

Lastly, I don’t wish to further the advance of a totally electronic cashless society. I read an article today about big box stores implementing card swiping devices on ipods & ipads. The goal: to eliminate expensive cash registers and speed up consumer transactions. One issue: Where to put the cash/checks if the register is gone?

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Chris C. March 16, 2014 at 1:34 PM

I too use my checkbook ledger and I even have a book ledger I use for budgeted items and savings! Old school!

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rustybucket June 11, 2014 at 9:30 PM

I use a ledger and then parallel with an Excel spreadsheet as I spend or earn. I know how I should stand for the next 5 years. Although for many the ledger is antiquated, the visual aspect of the cash flow in hard copy will always be everpresent, solid and available. The transition to the spreadsheet helps me plan, save, know when and when not to in the ups and downs of finance. Yes, I’ve been called ‘anal’ in my approach, but it keeps me sane in the handling of one aspect of life that may be a short drive to insanity. I prefer to try to control the one simple thing that can be controlled to a certain extent. You never know what lies ahead in the murky waters of the future, but you can at least ‘try’ to have a plan. If you choose not to meticulously put numbers together your financial life may be in constant panic. I would prefer a gentler and more mellow approach.

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Lori June 12, 2014 at 4:31 PM

I do keep a checkbook register of the old paper variety. I’m also a digital person in nearly every other aspect of my life, and I’ve tried 4 or 5 digital methods for maintaining a check register, but have found (like Joan) that the paper one is easiest for me, the most convenient, and keeps me focused on where my money is going.

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Rich October 23, 2014 at 11:35 PM

A paper checkbook register…really??? Who is using these things??? I would encourage you to use a personal computer, and use Quicken software to keep track of your transactions – simple as that. I’ve tried Mint, iBank, etc etc etc., but I always have come back to Quicken. Using this financial software for example, eliminates the math errors, reconciles the account, allows you to look into the future by entering future payroll checks, bills, transactions, and bank fees – keeps you on top of your finances in every way that you can imagine. Fixing entries that may have been entered wrong are fixed by the click of the mouse – doing that via a paper ledger and or checkbook is tedious, frustrating, and antiquated. All of my transactions are entered manually in the software, and never downloaded from the bank, or any online account. Most banks today use some sort of electronic bill pay system that you control – on the very, very rare occasion that I have to use a paper check, I let my computer, the software, and my printer do the job for me. I cannot imagine going back to stuffing envelopes and postage stamps to pay bills – I’m assuming you do this if you use a paper register! The other habit I have is to always log on every morning and evening to check the bank and the credit card accounts. Its not paranoia on my part, it’s war. Banks do make mistakes in your favor and make mistakes to your detrement. Again a simple click of the mouse easily fixes these on a Quicken electronic checkbook register. Attempting to correct those problems with a pen and paper is ludicrous, and would be a total waste of time. I have no problem placing a receipt in my wallet and entering that when I get home. But whatever works for you is what matters, but for me using a paper ledger and or a checkbook to keep track of my finances would be a huge step backwards and a throw back into the dark ages……and don’t get me started when that lady in the checkout line pulls out that old school checkbook register…

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