4 Reasons to Keep a Physical Check Ledger

Back in the olden days, people used paper check ledgers to record expenses and deposits to their bank accounts in order to keep track of their balance. Armed with a pen (or pencil) and a check-sized notebook, account holders tallied up items to keep a running total of available cash.

Today, more than two-thirds of bank customers do their banking online or via mobile app, according to a survey from the American Bankers Association. It's no surprise that many people prefer the convenience of checking balances and keeping records online, allowing the banks to do the work for them. While this system certainly gets points for ease of use, many times keeping a check ledger makes sense. Here are four reasons why you might decide to keep a physical record of spending.

Control

A woman balances her checkbook.

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Using a traditional checkbook and ledger has the advantage of allowing you complete control over when money is disbursed from your checking account. You will always know, to the penny, just what your available balance is and thus will not accidentally write a check that can cause an overdraft.

Seeing your balance allows the option of delaying purchases or payments until you are able to add additional funds. When it comes to money, it is always good to know exactly how much you have. This is especially true when money is tight and every penny counts.

Balance your checkbook regularly to verify that your records match the bank's. In most cases, you will have only 60 days to notify the bank of an error.

Ease of Access

A man writes a check while leaning on a wooden table.

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Banking systems can crash, but check ledgers are always accessible. They're also easy to obtain. Typically, you'll receive check registers for free when you order checks from your bank. You can also buy check registers from online printers or office supply stores or design your own for free.

Keeping the ledger with a checkbook offers an added bonus: emergency cash. If you need cash at the last minute, you can simply write a check to yourself, take it to your local bank and receive cash. You don't have to go to an ATM and use a debit card and you won't be hit with any additional fees for cashing a check. Writing a check only takes a minute and is accepted as payment (with ID) at most business establishments.  

Writing yourself a check only works for banks with brick-and-mortar locations, but is often faster than waiting on an electronic ACH.

Record of Payment

stressed businesswoman

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Perhaps the most important reason for physically keeping a record of spending is that when you pay for a product or service, you immediately record the payment, noting when and where and how much you spent.

Online banks typically upload transactions from merchants, which can take from a few minutes to a few days. If there is ever a question about whether or not you paid a bill or received a refund for an item, referring to the check ledger keeps everything (no pun intended) in check.

Having a physical record of purchases is especially helpful for potential conflicts with merchants, making extra payments on the principal of a mortgage when it comes time to settle up an account, or when the cable company claims it didn't receive a month's payment.

Budgeting

Check ledgers can help you stay on a budget.
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Physically writing down expenses helps many people paint an accurate picture of their financial situation. If you are able to look in your check ledger month after month and observe the recurring charges and expenses, it may put things into perspective. That pair of shoes or flat-screen TV on sale may seem less urgent when you remember logging in an electronic payment to the power company the day before.

Keeping a record of spending has other benefits, as well. It can help you build better financial habits, get on track for long-term goals, and feel more confident and less stressed about money.

Not sure how to get started? You don't need expensive budgeting software to begin tracking expenses. Build your own budget in a simple spreadsheet to find out where your money is going. You might be surprised at how quickly small purchases add up—and how easy it is to change tracks and start making your money work for you.