Balancing Your Checkbook is More Relevant Than Ever

You know, that thing your mom’s been bugging you about for years.


By Anna Durkin

You have an idea of what it is. You’re confident you’d be able to locate it if needed (“Maybe it’s in my bedside table. Did I write any checks last Christmas?”). The concept is to log all withdrawals and deposits so that you can accurately track funds flowing in and out of your checking account. Maybe you avoid it because you were never taught how to do it properly, or maybe you think it’s a redundant process considering all of your purchases and paychecks are logged in your online banking account. Or, on a general note, you’d prefer to remain in denial about your compulsive swiping habits (“Did I go over budget on avocado toast this month?”).

Regardless of today’s online banking innovations, balancing your checkbook is still a useful money management tool. Scarily enough, it could expose fraudulent charges made by a third party or even errors made by your own bank. After all, since when did digital become synonymous with accurate?

The next time you tap that online banking app, grab your checkbook and…

  1. Never round up. As you scroll through your online statement, you notice a $95 charge from your favorite clothing store. You remember making a stop there after work a few weeks before, but you don’t have the receipt handy and while that charge seems a little high, you don’t remember how much those two pairs of jeans were. You shrug and agree it sounds right, but does it? Logging this entry in your checkbook without verifying it against the receipt defeats the purpose of balancing in the first place. Keep it accurate and verify for the perfect balance.
  2. Tellers are people too. If you’re like me, there’s a unique sense of satisfaction in depositing a check in person (call me ancient, but I’m just not there yet with the app-check-deposit process). And while I find solace in receiving a receipt confirming the transaction, I still make a point to log the entry in my checkbook and verify myself that it was deposited into my account, not someone else’s. Everyone makes mistakes, and bank employees are no exception. There could be another soul out there enjoying your great aunt’s crisp fifteen dollar birthday check.
  3. It’s raining charges and fees. Between debit card transactions, ATM withdrawals and service charges, online purchases, and serial Venmo-ers, checking accounts have never seen this much money traffic. Keeping score on your end will help you to spot things like identity theft or account hacking beneath the chaos.
  4. Don’t be fooled by fraud. It isn’t customary to feel anxious about a server walking away with your card, but what if a server thought he was real slick and jotted down your card details as he was running it? What if he made a transaction at that same restaurant for himself the following week? What if you were an avid patron and wouldn’t blink twice if you scrolled through multiple charges on your statement over the course of a month from the same restaurant? Keeping a balanced checkbook keeps your charges organized, and may trigger warning signs when your checking account is down and you don’t have a receipt to match.
Pro tip: if you’re not too keen on the pencil-and-paper idea of balancing your checkbook, there are tons of Excel Checkbook Register spreadsheets available online, like this one. Or better yet, design your own and share it with friends.