Do you balance your checkbook or just check totals online?

In an age where you can digitally check your bank balances online and on your phone, is there still a need to write everything down in your checkbook and cross check the bank’s statement with your own records to make sure it is balanced? Do you need a running total that a properly filled out checkbook provides?

For about 17 years, I have always been the one to pay the bills and almost every month (with a few exceptions like after a baby came or our move here) took pen in hand and cross checked the bank statement with the checkbook and made sure everything was accounted for and balanced. (It often wasn’t but I did make the effort to sort it out and get us back on track.)

Last fall when I started teaching at the college, I asked Michael to take over paying the bills and in theory balancing the checkbook, which he did.

We’ve paid most of our bills online for years but he told me was going to switch our accounting to an online format as well and that it would in fact balance our checkbook for us.

So now I am ready to take the duties back over, but he hasn’t written any of the transactions down in the checkbook or online. His decided along the way that if all the transactions are listed in the online bill pay why do we need to write it all again?

So I guess to balance the account, you could once a month print out your bill pay list and cross check the bank’s statement (digital or paper) against the checkbook and the printed out bill pay list.

But you still don’t have an accurate running total to know where you stand during the month. If you wanted to take out money and make sure you didn’t screw up on a bill that would be coming out later that week you would have to subtract the total of outgoing bills each time.

I would love to feel good about not having to balance a checkbook and that there would be no bad repercussions from it but I literally feel guilty for not doing it. It weighs on me.

So I can’t decide if I am just being my old-school accountant mother and this ‘method’ of just looking at your totals is 21st-century legit?

So what does your family do? Are you still sitting down each month with pen and paper to cross reference and check off debits, checks and deposits? Or are you just looking at totals online and estimating? Do you worry about the bank making mistakes or overdrawing?

34 comments Add your comment

[...] Do you balance your checkbook or just check totals online?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)In an age where you can digitally check your bank balances online and on your phone, is there still a need to write everything down in your checkbook and cross check the bank's statement with your own records to make sure it is balanced? [...]

Scotty

March 28th, 2012
3:07 am

What’s a checkbook?

homeschooler

March 28th, 2012
6:08 am

Ha! Scotty. I was going to say the same thing. I write about 4 checks a month. To the places that don’t accept debit cards. My hairdresser, my house keeper, and my kids’ music teachers. I never even look to see if those checks go through. I check my bank activity through my bank account every couple of weeks to make sure all the debit, check and auto payments look right.

homeschooler

March 28th, 2012
6:09 am

I should have said my bank account online service.

Greg

March 28th, 2012
6:22 am

I just check it online. If I see something I don’t know about I ask my wife. She writes most of the checks for things that aren’t a normal bill. I pay the bills online. I haven’t balanced my checkbook register in years. I don’t even use quicken because it wasn’t worth the effort for me. You could try something like that, though. It is easy to download your bank statement each month and reconcile it in quicken. Doing it by hand is certainly not necessary.

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Gtmom

March 28th, 2012
6:34 am

I use the checkbook about 4 times a year. I look at my balances once a week to see what we have and what we have spent. I always have way more than I need in my checking account so I don’t worry anyway. I only make two purchases a week… grocery and my own gas. I pay the mortgage once a month. My husband has his own account and he pays all the house bills – gas, water, electric, childcare and his own gas. We both eat out once a week. It is real easy to figure out where our money went and what we have in the acccount. On my account, I see two transactions a week…. He has about the same. We have no problems and we never balance our checking account. We know exactly what money is spent where!

motherjanegoose

March 28th, 2012
6:40 am

I write about 4-5 checks per month on my account. I pay my bills with a credit card and get points for the purchases and then I pay the credit card off each month. My husband also uses a credit card and pays online from his account. We just used up some checks that were dated 19____. Kind of funny that we had those hanging around for so long!

catlady

March 28th, 2012
6:55 am

I have found serious errors made by the bank before, involving checks that were double-debited or the amount they were written for increased by a factor of 10! I have never found a time that the bank made an error in MY favor, however! LOL

Has anyone had a problem with the drug store making a mistake in dispensing med?

motherjanegoose

March 28th, 2012
7:10 am

@catlady, YES I have heard that it does happen at the drugstore and you should always double check your scrips at the store.

http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2011/03/prescription-bottle-wrong-pills.html

I once cashed a check and also deposited at the counter in the bank. The teller gave me an extra $100. I showed her the error…she was amazed that I mentioned it. I told her to remember this if I ever came in and had a problem…yeah right!

jct

March 28th, 2012
8:01 am

Balance checkbook to the penny every month but I use electronic banking and quicken. It is easy. I have found major errors from banks and more importantly businesses that add an extra dollar or two to what the receipt states. I am a stickler about that. It drives me crazy. Balancing your checkbook will help you find those small errors that over the course of years could turn into a pretty significant amount of cash.

Balancing your checkbook should also show you where you are ‘wasting’ money. For me it is an exercise in finding areas of waste where I could save a few more dollars.

With online banking...

March 28th, 2012
8:15 am

…thru my credit union I check my account several times daily – overkill, yeah; paranoid, guilty. But it is easy and my credit card is also thru this CU so I can pay them off daily, too, and put online bills to be paid the next day, as well as have them mail checks if the account does not accept electronic transfers – and it is all FREE…

Georgia Girl

March 28th, 2012
8:42 am

I pay our bills and check transactions through online banking but also keep a checkbook balanced through an app on my iPhone. But we have pretty much lived paycheck to paycheck while my husband has been in school (yay for graduation in a month and a full-time job already lined up!) so it’s critical for me to know our finances down to the last dollar. Like a previous poster said, it also helps me sort by categories to see where we spend our money. I can see our average costs in gas, groceries, and miscellaneous, and know where we need to cut back. I’m also able to see where we are for the monthly budget projected out. It’s worked very well for us.

Techmom

March 28th, 2012
8:46 am

I use Quicken to download the transactions and balance as I go. I spend about 15-20 mins per week. It makes it easy to pull reports, especially for tax purposes. I honestly can’t tell you the last time I found a bank error.

DB

March 28th, 2012
8:50 am

My husband uses Quickbooks to keep track of the household expenses and the business expenses. I’m with everyone else — we maybe write 3 or 4 checks a month, if that. He even goes through the credit card statements each month and allocates charges to various categories throughout the year, so he isn’t faced with a pile of paper in March trying to figure out what was paid for what. It makes tax time soooo much easier.

M1chelle

March 28th, 2012
8:57 am

@catlady – I have a had a problem with a pharmacy and getting the wrong meds. I went to pick up my prescription and put it in my purse without checking it. I was taking a trip and got the refill a little early to ensure I had the meds when I was away on my trip. I never opened the bag. While away, I opened the prescription bag with my name on it and realized that they put someone else’s presecription in the bag. Good thing I read the name!! I called the pharmacy and they were not apologetic at ALL – never even asked if I took any of the meds, just asked me if I paid for them…WHAT!!! I put in a complaint letter and never heard anything back.

Augusta

March 28th, 2012
8:58 am

I haven’t written a check since 2010….we don’t even have any checks. On line banking, mobile banking, etc.

What I did find out tho, is that Charter tried to charge me $14.00 for “leasing” a modem. Problem is, I bought that modem from them back in 2008!! Good thing we keep good records. They tried to sneak it into our March bill, but since we go over EVERYTHING…..I found it!!! Sneaky little buggers.

K's Mom

March 28th, 2012
9:30 am

Since we had charges pop up on our debit card in Mexico last month, I monitor online daily. I also use Quicken to forecast since my husband’s job is commission based and his checks vary. It helps me keep up with when when bills are due and what check I should pay them out of. It does not take too much time and I like the reports I can run like others. I was a bank teller all through college and old habits die hard. I want my books to balance.

shaggy

March 28th, 2012
9:38 am

That is what the Jet Blue captain was raving about, when he literally scared that whole airplane into synchronized bowel movements.
“My CHECKbook, MY checkBOOK! What am I going to do? I forgot to BALance my CHECKbooK…egaaack! slurpz..sleazik! KEEP AWAY! I FORGOT! EYYYYYYAAAAAHHHHH!!! Take YOUR hands OFF of ME!”

[...] Do you balance your checkbook or just check totals online? In an age where you can digitally check your bank balances online and on your phone, is there still a need to write everything down in your checkbook and cross check the bank's statement with your own records to make sure it is balanced? Do you need a … Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

mystery poster

March 28th, 2012
10:20 am

I do all the bills in my house and no longer balance a checkbook. I do not even look at my statements. I use Billpay from my Credit Union and all my account balances and upcoming bills are right there when I log in. If I notice I have xxx left in my checking account and more than that in bills coming up before payday, I can transfer enough over to cover it. I go over bills meticulously but have found no errors in my credit union online access.

Me

March 28th, 2012
12:01 pm

We have literally written 3 checks in the past 3 years and that was to the Girl Scouts for cookies. Everything else is either paid online via the merchant’s website or is setup through online bill pay at our credit union. We also use AMEX to every single thing we possibly can to accumlate rewards points and then, of course, that’s paid in full – online – every month…
As far as banking I have my own checking and savings accounts; my wife has the same; we then have a joint checking and savings account. We each have online access to all of these and they are checked at somewhat regualr intervals. But, do we “balance” anything? Not even close.

mystery poster

March 28th, 2012
12:05 pm

Wrote a post earlier but it didn’t go through.
Add me to the list of credit union billpaying, non checkbook balancing folks.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

March 28th, 2012
12:15 pm

Mystery poster — I will look for it

Catlady — drugstore makes mistakes all the time — types of pills and count on pills. My mom stands in the drugstore and counts every single time she picks up. i don’t count but I absolutely pull out the bottle and check the label and look at the pills. The biggest thing that happens to us is that they try to give generic on one thing and the child is sensitive to that formula and we know it HAS to be the brand — dispensed as written. I pulled through last week and checked the bottle as I was driving off and literally stopped the car, walked back to the drivethrough window and knocked on the glass and said you did this wrong!! it has to be dispensed as written. they need to pay attention. Generic is fine for many things but this particular one is a problem..

My mom is an accountant and is obsessed with the cross check and the balancing of the book — she has made me crazy about it.

Misty

March 28th, 2012
12:28 pm

I check every morning. You can usually spot the problems with online banking. My account gives what I have before everything is subtracted and what I will have once it’s subtracted. An easy way to handle finances.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

March 28th, 2012
12:47 pm

Would you feed your baby bird style??? Alicia Silverstone does -New blog up — there are photos- http://blogs.ajc.com/momania/2012/03/28/alicia-silverstone-shares-about-feeding-her-baby-bird-style/

Kat

March 28th, 2012
1:17 pm

I guarantee that some/most of the people you mentioned paying by check would prefer you paid them in cash – housekeepers, etc., so THEY don’t have to “consider” it later. Not the best idea all around, but…

Having said that, I only check online to ensure there is no fraudulent activity going on.

FCM

March 28th, 2012
1:37 pm

Use a monitoring program (Equifax has a great one) for the credit. Use online banking for the rest. I just check to make sure the 5 checks I may write a month (Landscaper, Music teacher, Child Care, and School lunch)clear. Plus you have to keep a “safety net” in there….like bottom $500 (or $100) is not there….that way if something (hopefully small) does slip through your still good.

I think my mom still balances her book though.

Tina

March 28th, 2012
2:15 pm

Shaggy, not funny at all

Logical Dude

March 28th, 2012
5:44 pm

I use Excel (as a ledger) to keep track of my checkbook. It looks like a checkbook, but electronic.
I have another page for my investments, and another page for my debts (yeah yeah, I know).
I have another separate page that has the full budget, with Income area, Bills area, Debt area, and Other spending area.
I update the ledger areas a few times a week, and the debt areas about once a week.
Yes, keeping up the ledger keeps me from going over budget. I only get in trouble if my (former) spouse took some out of the ATM at the same time a bill was scheduled.
I don’t really have that issue anymore.

Logical Dude

March 28th, 2012
5:45 pm

Oh, and the last time I used a check was about 2 years ago when I was filing taxes. I did it online last year and they only needed the electronic information, not an actual check.

ng4bama

March 28th, 2012
8:43 pm

I use Microsoft Money. Download directly from bank, pay online as much as I can or autodraft. Still balance my check book/MS Money every week. I like to control when everything gets paid. My profession: Accountant

shaggy

March 29th, 2012
6:50 am

Tina,

Suffering from rigidititus sphincterosis? Laughing about the UN-laughable will cure that.

Penguinmom

March 29th, 2012
4:03 pm

I use the bank’s online list and a checkbook program. I enter our debits/checks into the program and then use the online list to balance. I balance about 3 times a month just to be sure we are on track. I pre-enter any upcoming automatic bill payments so my checkbook program shows my actual available balance not just what is in the bank at this moment.

I’ve only rarely had the bank or a retailer have an error. Recently Checkers ran all debits for a two-week period three times. This ran our account over but our credit union credited back all the overdraft charges without any problems. Checkers did credit it all back but I still hesitate to use a debit card at Checkers even though it’s been 6 months.