How to track two debit cards on one account effectively?
April 15, 2009 4:10 AM   Subscribe

Two debit cards + One checkbook register = Recipe for disaster. Suggestions?

My wife and I have a checking account on which we can use a checkbook or either of two debit cards. I carry one, she carries the other. I usually keep the checkbook since the only thing we use it for are bills we can not pay online/with card. (I usually handle bills.)

Ideally, when paying with a debit card, we enter the transaction in our register as though it were a check purchase, usually immediately at the scene of the purchase. But, since we have two debit cards, we often are left hanging on to receipts with the intention of entering them later. In rare instances we have overdrafted due to lost receipts. But, mostly, it is that little bit of psychic drain that I get from knowing there is a hole in my system. Keeping two separate registers and reconciling them daily/weekly might prevent the receipt chase, but it would still be an extra step that would probably derail our system at some point.

I need to be able to establish a "best practice" routine for both of us that works. Between kids, grad school, etc. we really need something simple and effective. Suggestions?
posted by skypieces to Work & Money (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Write down what you spend when you spend it, and reconcile nightly or weekly. I like Moneydance.
posted by devnull at 4:19 AM on April 15, 2009

Stop using a paper register. Get an electronic system. Lots of recommendations available in other AskMe questions - from Excel spreadsheets to to MS Money.

Then, get disciplined - both of you. Like most everything else, keeping track of your finances is easiest when it's done more frequently and in smaller time increments - ten minutes a day rather than a big block of time once a week or less often. Trying to keep track of receipts and transactions in your head, retracing your steps to figure out where that $20 went - no fun and not necessary.

Also, get overdraft protection. The $10 fee that your bank will charge to transfer money into your account is a hell of a lot less in the long run than a series of $39 overdraft fees. And see if your bank has some kind of text or email notification system that you can set if your balance goes below a certain point, so you can zap money into the account if someone forgot to enter a transaction.

What works for me: Every morning, I download the previous day's transactions from my checking account through online banking into my MS Money file. I make sure the receipts match, then they get tossed unless I think I'm going to need them for returns. It's easy now and very seldom painful! Just part of my daily routine.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:24 AM on April 15, 2009

Deposit what your wife needs for one month (or two weeks) into an attached savings account (same account number) and have all her cash withdrawls take from savings only. You will already have the transfer from checking to savings recorded in your register. If she needs, more transfer what she needs again, recording it. It works for budgeting, also.
posted by Acacia at 4:25 AM on April 15, 2009

I'm sure I will be pilloried for this, but use credit cards. I funnel all my purchasing through a credit card, pay it off every month and at the end of the year I have nice rewards to spend. (I use my costco card for gas purchases, and I just got a check for $143 to spend there. I think I paid $4 in interest for the same time period.) As long as you are responsible, the credit will be far cheaper than one accidental overdraft.
posted by gjc at 4:53 AM on April 15, 2009

Send a text message containing the amount to your wife every time you use the card. Whoever carries the cheque book register fills it in when they get the text or are next at the register and filling in their own amounts. Details can be added later, but the amount is in and there is corroboration in both your mobile phones.
posted by tavegyl at 5:00 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

My system involves two checking accounts. One called Bills and one caused Expenses. Bills gets filled up with the amount to cover our monthly utilities at the beginning of the month and those regular payments ONLY come out of Bills. Both of our debit cards draw from Expenses. If we run out of money in Expenses, we are out of money -- no dipping into Bills. We have Overdraft Protection on Expenses (covered by Savings) for the rare occasion when both my wife and I spend the last few dollars in the account, and I get an email when the balance dips below a certain amount.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:19 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Silvertree and I do something very similar to what Tavegyl suggested and it works quite well for us.
posted by Silvertree at 5:19 AM on April 15, 2009

I finally convinced my wife to ignore the silly check register about 4-5 years ago. Since then we've just used the electronic one from our credit union. It usually is updated within minutes of a purchase. We hardly use our checkbook any more, with the convenience of a Visa check card we either use that or cash for nearly everything. Checks are essentially reserved for rent and to enclose with birthday cards.

It took her a bit to get used to the newfound freedom (and to let go of her perceived need for the register) but in the end it's worked for us. It also makes things a lot easier - we spend much less time reconciling our check register with the bank. Think about it - when was the last time a disagreement between your register and the bank turned out to be the fault of the bank, and not an addition error or omission on your end? We do double-check here and there; my wife saves receipts and occasionally matches charges on the account to known purchases on our end. We check this because we worry more about unauthorized use than bank errors, really, but our credit union is also quite good at contacting us when suspicious charges or purchase patterns show up. More than once we've been immediately contacted after making large purchases or purchases while traveling to verify that we did in fact use the card ourselves.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:50 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

All the responses have had great suggestions. I had already begun to consider two accounts, likely two checking accounts: Payroll direct deposits into one and a twice-monthly disbursement into the other. Mine for bills and my purchases. Her's for the household shopping she does, plus her purchases.

The suggestions for electronic elements are certainly something I want to pursue, but I need a solution for when we are away from home, to make sure things don't slip through the cracks before we get to enter them in the software/website we choose. We've considered going to an envelope/cash system, but haven't found something that works for us. Having check registers would make it simple to see our purchases and balance at a glance, ensuring that we stay within our budgets.

Something else I would consider is a better "ledger", as opposed to the standard checkbook register. But, again, it needs to be something we can take with us. Perhaps something that allows us to not only track our account balance, but to enter purchases into the appropriate account headings (grocery, clothing, gifts, etc) and even track cash payouts (a spending log), and bonus points for a pocket for receipts. Anything simple out there that doesn't turn into a major undertaking standing in the checkout lane?
posted by skypieces at 6:22 AM on April 15, 2009

My boyfriend and I have a shared Google Docs spreadsheet for spending. We update this daily, or multiple times a day--it's very simple to do while checking email. If we needed to also keep a register, we could easily do this a few times a week without running into overdraft problems.

We carefully track all of our other spending as well, however, so remembering to update a log of some kind is now second nature. The biggest hurdle is to start the habit of updating an electronic document rather than a physical register, but it's worked out far better.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:23 AM on April 15, 2009

I am assuming you are living paycheck to paycheck. If not, the obvious solution is to have an extra $500, $1000, or whatever would be necessary to make it through a few missed receipts until the statement arrived.
posted by hworth at 6:51 AM on April 15, 2009

I also use a credit card paid off monthly for household expenses. And I use a prepaid debit card for all food purchases. It costs 1$ a month but I think it is worth it to keep things organized. It's really helped me track grocery spending. I load it with 400$ at the beginning of the month for two people. Wine, beer, grooming and cleaning supplies go on the credit card. And sometimes I but bulk food items on the credit card. Like a year's supply of rice.
posted by cda at 6:52 AM on April 15, 2009

We use duplicate checks so that we don't have to mess with a register in the checkout line. We pay for most things with plastic (credit or debit), so individual purchases show up on statements (which are available online). When we clean out our wallets / pockets, receipts get dumped on my desk. My wife emails me receipts for any online purchases. I enter all transactions into Quicken every morning, over my first cup of coffee.

We also keep enough of a cash cushion that overdrafts are a non-issue. I made a spreadsheet that projects long-term cash flow so that we always have enough on hand to cover larger annual or semi-annual expenses like car and homeowner's insurance. I know how much I need to budget for predictable monthly expenses like groceries and gas money; these are also projected through my spreadsheet. A couple of times a month I send my wife a state-of-our-finances email which, while it doesn't tell her exactly how much disposable cash is available, does show whether the cash cushion is getting bigger or smaller, and this feedback makes it clear when we need to back off on the spending.

With so many potential ways to track each purchase (receipts, duplicate checks, bank statements), the only transactions that fall through the cracks are small cash purchases like candy bars and turnpike tolls. I don't have the discipline to track every penny over the long term, and neither does my wife. The cash cushion makes that forgivable.
posted by jon1270 at 6:58 AM on April 15, 2009

We use credit cards for everything, so the only things that get debited from the checking account are auto-pays and credit card bills, which are easy to enter in the register when we pay them. We only keep the debit cards in case we need emergency cash.

Since we pay off the credit cards in full every month, we don't pay interest, and we get 2-5% cash back rewards, too, so it's actually cheaper than using cash/debit.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:48 AM on April 15, 2009

But, since we have two debit cards, we often are left hanging on to receipts with the intention of entering them later.

Don't each hold onto receipts separately if you're not going to enter them; have a common bin, expandable minifile, etc. in which you dump unentered receipts. Then, when one of you is ready to update the register, that person empties out said bin/minifile.
posted by WCityMike at 10:16 AM on April 15, 2009

Duplicate checks are useful. I keep a reserve to cover emergencies, and I keep it in my checking account, to cover deficiencies in bookkeeping. I'm disciplined about saving, so I'm not tempted to spend more because it's there. It saves bounced check charges and credit score dings. I hate credit cards, but have started to use mine. I also have set up an automatic credit card payment, to avoid late payment charges.
posted by theora55 at 10:25 AM on April 15, 2009

We use It's a great online register, PLUS you can enter your transactions from your cell phone.

It's also handy for its reports. That way you can easily track where your money goes each month.

And it's free.
posted by 3fluffies at 10:58 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you've already been considering the envelope method, check out Mvelopes. It's an online budgeting system. You hook it up to your accounts, and you can allocate your income to different categories (food, electricity, etc). You can manually enter transactions (purchases/deposits) so that they'll be factored into your budgets and balances even if it normally takes a few days for the bank to update your account. They have a really simple mobile site, so you and your wife can both log in and enter your purchases from your cell phones throughout the day just to keep the balance up to date. When you get home or at the end of the week, you can go online and edit more thoroughly.

It's not free, but compared with Mint which is I think trying to be similar, you really get what you're paying for. Mint is slicker and prettier, but it's making money off of advertisements from credit cards and stuff, while Mvelopes is there for you. They've been really great about taking customer suggestions and constantly improving the service.
posted by thebazilist at 6:16 PM on April 15, 2009

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