Web site helps cut back on expenses

February 20, 2009 7:18:05 PM PST
If someone asked you how much you spent last month on groceries, take-out coffee, or shopping, chances are -- you're not sure. But it could be the most important question for people trying to save money.

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Watching what you spend is a simple rule as old as the hills and now new technology makes it easier. One bay area family says a new website helped them save big bucks.

Life really changed for the McGee family after Nathan got laid off last fall. Suddenly money was tight.

"OK, we need to cut back we need to get very adamant about where we're spending our money," said Nathan McGee.

The McGees did the usual bargain hunting and cost cutting. But the real key to saving money, they said, was tracking exactly how they were spending it.

The McGees started using a web site called mint.com. It's free, anybody can do it. If you plug in your bank account numbers, it tracks exactly how much you spent and where, right down to the name of the store.

It sorts all your purchases into categories like groceries, restaurants and gasoline. It even creates pie charts and graphs, so you can see all your spending habits at a glance.

"I really didn't need that item, I didn't need to spend that much money on something I've used twice," said McGee.

"The amount of snack foods we were buying we bought ice cream I don't know every weekend," said Bethany McGee.

"OK, we've been to Safeway five times each time we spent $15," said Nathan McGee.

Consumer counselor Dan Parrish says tracking your spending is the first step to financial stability, and the last thing most people do.

"It's a real shock or real wakeup call to consumers to really see where their money is going. But by doing that they can actually take control of that and cut back or reduce expenses where possible," said Parrish.

The McGees certainly were shocked by some of their totals. Like how much they spent on food each month.

"Where did all this money go, I don't remember spending $600 on groceries," said Nathan McGee.

But the chart shows they spent $651 on groceries in January 2008. Since then, they've made some changes, like planning meals, hunting for sales, baking their own bread and buying in bulk. They turned grocery shopping into a family affair.

The result? The grocery bill is half what it was -- just $332 last month. They began to see other places they could cut too, like dining out and going to the movies.

"How much we ate out surprised me the most," said Bethany McGee.

"Having a gym membership and going to the gym I'm starting to think well you know I can cut that cost out," said Nathan McGee.

Their spending has dropped by $500 a month.

Nathan even started a blog with money saving tips. And out of the gloom of unemployment, he says they've discovered a simpler, richer way of life.

"Taught us a lesson it's, it's caused us to look into ourselves as well and think about what really is important to us of family, of healthy living and lifestyle. All that frivolous spending isn't as much," said Nathan McGee.

Mint.com is privately owned but free. You have a special password to gain access to your banking information.

Related links:

  • www.mint.com/blog
  • Nathan McGee's blog

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