How to use your credit card statement as a budgeting tool

4 min read
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There’s never a bad time to get serious about your home budget, but in the face of ongoing economic uncertainty and hardship, it can be an especially important task.

Whether you’re currently laid off, furloughed, working from home or providing essential services, your household can benefit from a close analysis of your spending habits and a discussion of whether you should maintain those habits going forward.

During this process, your credit card statement can provide a lot of insight into where your money is going, and help you decide whether you need to make any adjustments.  Here’s what you need to know about using your credit card statement as a budgeting tool.

How your credit card statements can help you budget

Your credit card statement contains more useful information than you may realize. Although many people receive monthly credit card statements in the mail, you can also access your statement at any time by visiting your online credit card account.

Once you have your statement in front of you, take a minute to review the transactions listed. By reminding yourself of the purchases you put on your credit card during the previous billing cycle, you’ll be better prepared to evaluate whether you want to continue making those kinds of purchases in the future.

Pay attention to how each individual transaction makes you feel — are you glad you made that purchase, or do you think you overspent or bought something unnecessary? Is there anything on the list you wish you hadn’t bought?

You should also review your list of payments and credits. Not only will you find how much money you put towards paying off your credit card debt, but you’ll also see whether you frequently return products you purchase — which might suggest that you are buying more than you need — and whether you were able to redeem any credit card rewards for statement credits. When every penny counts, using your credit card rewards wisely can make a big difference.

Lastly, review any fees and interest charges you may have accrued over the previous month. If you were charged fees or interest, is there a way to reduce those charges going forward? Should you consider a no annual fee credit card or transfer your outstanding balance to a balance transfer card with a zero percent intro APR period?

Once you understand what your credit card statement is telling you, you can use that information to make positive changes in the way you shop, spend, save and pay off debt.

And if you’re having trouble making credit card payments due to coronavirus-related hardship, reach out to your issuer to ask about assistance programs that might allow you temporary relief or forbearance.

To begin saving money today, here are three areas in which you might be able to quickly cut back:

Recurring charges

Does your credit card statement include a lot of recurring charges? These are the kinds of charges that hit your credit card every month, often automatically — streaming media subscriptions, beauty boxes, meal kits, gym memberships and so on.

Evaluate each of these charges, ask yourself whether the monthly enjoyment is worth the monthly charge and decide which subscriptions you’re ready to cancel.

You may also be able to adjust subscriptions costs by sharing with others. According to a recent Bankrate survey, 56 percent of adults have shared subscription service accounts, whether they’re passing around Netflix passwords or singing along to Spotify together. Both Netflix and Spotify make it easy to share accounts with family members or roommates, so take that into account as you do your accounting.

Frequent purchases

After you review your recurring charges, it’s time to tackle your frequent purchases. These are often food-related: grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants and takeout tend to make up much of our day-to-day spending. However, you might notice that you also frequently buy clothes, books, toys for your children or entertainment for yourself — and each of those purchases quickly add up.

The great thing about the frequent purchase category is that you can cut back on your spending without having to completely remove those kinds of purchases from your life. For example, you can save money by ordering pizza less often, but you don’t have to give up your favorite pizza place forever.

It’s your job to create a budget that lets you balance what you want to buy with what you can afford — which may be easier than you realize.

Wants vs. needs

The key to a successful budget is balancing your wants and your needs. The 50-30-20 budget, for example, is a popular template that suggests putting 50 percent of your money towards needs, 30 percent towards wants and 20 percent towards savings.

Not everyone is able to divide money according to the 50-30-20 method. Some people may put 80 percent of income towards rent, bills and other needs, and those with irregular income have to be a little more careful about what money gets budgeted where.

That said, finding a balance that helps you cover the necessities of life and still gives you a little money to spend as you choose will help you stick to your budget over time.

Make sure your rewards align with your spending

Once you have your budget in place, look for credit cards that reward your new spending habits.

If you aren’t planning to travel much this year, for example, you might want to switch your everyday spending from a travel rewards card to a cash back card. If you’re hoping to order less takeout and do more meal planning, you might want to stop using a credit card that rewards dining out and start using one that rewards grocery shopping.

Having the right cards in your wallet can save you more money in the long run — and once you earn those rewards, make sure you remember to redeem them.

Bottom line

Many people must think a little more carefully about budgets right now, and your credit card statement can provide key insights into where your money is going and whether it’s time to adjust your spending habits.

Once you know a little more about what you’re putting on your credit card every month and how much it’s costing you — both in actual price and additional costs such as interest charges — you’ll be ready to make some valuable changes. Use Bankrate’s home budget calculator to get started.