Credit Cards

“But How Do You Know How Much You’re Spending?”

The other day I walked into a Starbucks during a really busy period. I spotted an open table, put my stuff down, and decided to order my drink on the Starbucks App since the line was way too long. About five minutes later my drink was ready, so I picked it up and walked back to my table. Two older ladies were sitting next to me. When I sat down, one of them put her newspaper down and asked if she could ask me a question (redundant, I know). When I said yes she asked me, “I noticed you ordered your drink through your phone. I assume you don’t carry much cash around?” The safe answer to that is always “No” but in my case it’s actually true. “But how do you know how much you’re spending? How do you know whether you spent $10 this month, $100 or $1,000?”

Credit Card Wallet

I explained to her that I buy discounted Starbucks gift cards every month, load them to the app, and then spend what I have. She wondered how people can keep track of their spending on credit cards. I told her some people can’t – it’s why so many people are in debt. However, I keep careful track of my spending by going online and looking at my transactions several times per week. This answer satisfied her, but I knew there was something she hadn’t asked that some of you might be wondering: How do you keep track of your credit card spending across multiple credit cards?

Years ago, before I got into points and miles, I tried out to keep track of spending. At the time, I was using it as a budget tool but found it impractical for my circumstances, so I stopped using it. Now, however, I think it’s a good tool to keep track of spending across multiple credit cards. Mint pulls all of the transactions from your accounts, then produces a series of charts that display where your money is going every month. Most of you are probably aware of this, since Mint is a pretty ubiquitous financial tool buy now. For those who aren’t familiar with Mint, you might want to check it out.

At the moment, pretty much all of my credit card spending is going on the Discover it Miles card, which is offering 3% cash back during the first year. I use the card bit to buy tons of gift cards, so mixing in regular spending is a good idea. My monthly hosting fees automatically get charged to my Bank of America Alaska card. I set it up that way some time ago and haven’t had the time to change it. It’s certainly not a priority and does help keep account activity normal on the card in case of the occasional order.

Sometimes my Discover it Miles card gets maxed out and I can’t use it for regular spending until a payment goes through, in which case I’ll charge household bills to one of the other credit cards I’m using for manufactured spending. It’s not exactly a super smooth or organized system. But I’m not a big spender to begin with – outside of gift card churning. Most of my regular expenses stay the same month-to-month. The great thing about charging most of my personal spending to the Discover It Miles card? If I’ve gone over my budget, I can always redeem my miles for cash to balance things out.

Anyway, I thought what that woman said was worth thinking about. Especially for people in this hobby who are juggling multiple credit cards. Things can get messy and it’s important you find a system that works for you. I’d love to know how you’re keeping track your personal spending on the same cards you’re using for manufactured spending.

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  1. Try using the split payment function in mint to reassign your MS purchases. For the part that isn’t real spend assign a category like ‘transfer’ (so it won’t show up in budgeting) and ‘MS’ for the actual cost part. This way you can easily track how much MS is costing you. For payouts from portals etc. you assign them ‘MS’ also so you can see what your net is over time.

    • That’s good to know! I haven’t used Mint in years, but in thinking about that woman’s question, I realized it’s a good tool to separate ms from regular spending.

      • I prefer to book both the purchase and sale under the same expense category (whatever you want to name it) so I can see how much profit I am making / did I get back the money that was spent on them. Mint will allow you to book a positive to an expense too.

  2. Tell me more about these discounted Starbucks gift cards. 🙂

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