This is Day 2 of the 14-day blogging challenge.

Choosing the indie developer route in most cases means that for a prolonged period of time, you will have to do more work for less money. This tradeoff is worth it for me, but it does pose a challenge on how to handle finances. It means I need to be more careful than if I had a cushy full-time job.

Similar to blogging, I've been fantasizing about the idea of tracking all my expenses for several years now. I tried out many expense tracking apps, but I wasn't able to stick with any of them for some longer period of time.

Recently, while living in Thailand, it seemed that I'm spending way more money than I thought I will. It was really time to start tracking all expenses and actually stick with it.

For any kind of informed planning, I need to know what my monthly expenses actually are, not what I think they are.

My requirements for an expense tracker

My problem with all the expense tracking apps was that the input was cumbersome, and those useful visualizations were either lacking or hard to get to.

I knew I need these three things to make it work:

  • Have clearly defined categories for everything that I spend money on.
  • Have an easy way of inputting the expenses.
  • Easily reachable statistics. I need to be able to see the data in a meaningful way.

That's when it hit me: these requirements sound a lot like what I'm trying to accomplish with Timelines. The only difference is that the tracked resource is money instead of time.

The solution

Long story short, I eventually decided to go with this idea: make a few small adjustments to Timelines app so I can use it as an expense tracker.

It took 10 hours of development time, but I believe it's so worth it.

As for the categories, here's what I ended up with:

  • Eating out
  • Groceries
  • App business
  • Housing
  • Coworking
  • Transportation
  • Taxes & insurance
  • Fun & entertainment
  • Clothing
  • Gifts
  • Extra (one-time larger purchases)
  • Health
  • Mobile phone fees

Today, after I finished the adjustments to Timelines to make it support tracking expenses (including support for various currencies), I took the time to input every expense since the start of March (for cash, I had a backlog in Notes).

What I found

Even this one month of data is very telling - it confirmed my suspicion that in that month, I spent much more (+30%) than what I originally thought.

As for the biggest offenders - those were taxes, coworking, accommodation and eating out.

I'm confident that this will help me to make better plans on what things and experiences (conferences etc.) I can afford, and for which kind of app revenue to aim for.

I'm really glad I finally have a solid system in place (it was way overdue), and I plan to keep recording all expenses for months to come. Hopefully this time around, I'll be able to stick with it.

What is your experience with tracking expenses? Do you use an app that fits your needs? I'd love to hear about your thoughts on this in the comments below.