Thanks to the internet, it’s a snap to open up your account information with your financial institution and look at how much money you have available. That might convince you that some tasks, like balancing a checkbook and maintaining a physical check register, are unimportant. Before you drop it in the trash and rely on your smartphone, consider these reasons to keep the records around.
How it works
When you order checks from your financial institution, you should receive a check register in the box. If you lost it or didn’t get one, you can ask your institution if they have one you can use. Each check register lets you list the starting balance in your checking account, and then each horizontal line records a check that you wrote. If you use your debit card a lot, Michael R. Lewis of WikiHow recommends writing down your card transactions when you get home from a shopping trip. Besides recording how much money goes out or in, after every transaction you write the new balance in your checking account; that way you always know how much money is available in your account. At least once a month you should compare your check register to your online statement balance to make sure you did your math correctly and to see if there are any unexplained checks or withdrawals from your account.
When you write a real check or pay with a debit card, it can take a while for that information to show up in your account information. It’s possible that the transaction can show up as pending when you swipe or pay with a form online, but it’s not always guaranteed depending on a merchant’s point-of-sale system. Erin O’Neil of The Balance points out that if you write a check to a business or individual, it’s possible that it won’t be sent to the bank for a long time. Instead of being surprised when that money disappears from your online account, you can use the physical register to make sure you know how much cash you actually have available.
If you’re looking for a way to control your spending, a physical check register forces you to confront your financial decisions head-on. O’Neil writes that you might be less inclined to buy a new television on a whim if you remember writing down your electric payment the day before and seeing your remaining funds. Writing down all of your transactions might also help you notice patterns and plan better, like preparing meals in advance if you notice that you eat out a lot later in the week when you get tired of cooking.
Machines are great, but they’re not infallible. If you track all of your spending with a check register and then compare it to what the electronic record online says, it’s possible that you’ll find you were overcharged for something and can get the issue fixed. Ruth Lyons of InvestorJunkie points out that you usually only have about 30 days to catch these errors, so the sooner you notice them with good record keeping the better.
If you’re unsure about using a check register, talk to someone at your financial institution or a trusted advisor. It’s not a requirement, but it is a great way to keep better track of your cash.