Search by: is an initiative of the Ontario Teachers' Federation to provide teachers with effective tools and strategies to help their students navigate the complex world of personal finances.

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Where did all my money go?

How many times have you opened up your wallet and asked yourself that question? Sometimes, money just seems to disappear without any clear memory of where or how you spent it. Tracking your spending answers that question and makes you more aware of your spending habits going forward.

Tracking your spending is a great reality check. You may be surprised to discover that your actual spending bears very little resemblance to how you think you spend your money. And writing everything down is a powerful motivator to make better spending choices.

Regularly ask your kids how their budgets are doing; being accountable to mom or dad is a great way to make good habits stick!

Getting a handle on your cash outflows is an important first step in creating a realistic budget. Putting your outflows together with your cash inflows using the annual budget worksheet or student budget worksheet will give you the complete picture.Tracking spending is also a good habit for your children to get into at a young age.

For young kids (under age 9)

Set up a whiteboard near their piggy bank. Make a note of money going in, money going out and what it was used for. Keep a running total so your child knows their balance. This is a great introduction to having a bank account.

For pre-teens (ages 9 to 12)

Use the jar system. Keep it really simple by labelling three jars with “clothing”, “entertainment”, and “food”. Have your pre-teen allocate their budget to each of the three categories. As he or she spends money from the jar, they should replace the money spent with a receipt so they know where it went. They can also see how much money remains in their budget in each category at any time. When all the money in one jar is spent, that’s it for that week or that month – unless they choose to take it from another jar.

For teenagers (ages 13 to 18)

Teens can use more sophisticated tools to track their spending, such as spreadsheets or smart phone apps. There are many apps available that are fun and easy to use. Not only will they track and categorize your spending, but they will also help you set up budgets and alerts to notify you when you have high spending in a chosen category. They also allow you to manually input cash transactions. These tools and apps also allow you to search by category or by vendor and thus they provide tremendous insight into your spending and your overall financial picture.

Most teens will have a youth bank account, a debit card and access to online and mobile banking. If they use their debit card often to pay for things, they will have a digital trail of their spending (though it won’t be categorized). However, if they mostly use cash, they will have to take that extra step of recording how the cash was spent. This can be done quite simply in a notebook or by collecting receipts. Teenagers with credit cards will also be able to track this spending online, and some credit card statements show spending by category.

A tip for all parents

When you and your kids know how you are actually spending your money, you can then compare it to your budget to see if you’re on track. Use what you learn to tweak your budget and make it more realistic.

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