As we near the end of the year, it makes it easier and easier to compare this year with last — and leaves time to make any end of the year attempts at besting last year’s numbers.

I use Microsoft Money to track my finances. Back in 1997, for unknown reasons (it probably had a nicer box than Quicken), I bought the program and started maintaining my checking account transactions.

After a few years of seeing how cool it was, once I had enough data, I expanded to keeping track of my credit cards. At first it was just the monthly balances, but eventually I started tracking every transaction and categorizing things accurately.

It took a few years to get things categorized to my liking, and by 2005, I had a pretty good system down. I’d added my 401k to the mix, my auto loans, basically everything financial.

The numbers this year look, well, okay I guess. I made more, which is always a good thing, but I also spent more.

While the original goal of 2007 was to increase my net worth to¬†6 figures, I think the main target in reaching that goal (which I won’t reach this year) was to curb my credit card use. And I think I’ve done that.

In 2006, I ran up $24,572 in credit card charges — $8k more than ever before. That’s a huge number. That’s an embarrassing number.

So far, in 2007, I’ve spent $22,305 on the credit cards. When you average it out over the past 11 months, that works out to around $2k per month, so adding in December, it will appear as though I’ve spent just shy of $25k this year too.

So why am I happy about that?

Well, though there’s a essentially no difference in the amount charged each year, there is a HUGE difference on where the money went.

In 2006, I spent all $24.5k on, well, stuff. The big expenses that year were a camera, a computer, a ring, a big car repair, and who could forget the hockey jerseys… Just stuff really. But that’s a lot of stuff.

Between July and August of this year, I charged $16k towards our home improvement projects. That’s something that isn’t going to happen again with any frequency. Take that out of the equation and I’ve really only spent $6305 so far in 2007.

I’ve cut my “stuff” expenses by 75%. And you know what? I still have plenty of stuff.

My habits have changed for the better and, at the same time, I can’t say my “quality of life” has declined any. At this rate, I’ll be credit card debt free this summer.

But it’s not all good news. While I spent less “technically” on the credit cards this year, I also paid less back.

In 2006, I sent $29,966 in payments towards three credit cards. This year, I only paid back $25,719. This is due in part to the aggressive repayment of the $12k bank loan we took out at the end of 2006 — and wasn’t a part of my “credit card” plan, but even still, that’s the only place I regressed.

Here’s the chart:

Credit Card Totals
That’s the great thing about tracking your finances in MS Money, or even Quicken if you choose that route. You can visualize your progress, and that’s a huge motivator.Look at the drop in Finance Charges!? That’s not something I would have noticed if not for this program keeping track of everything and all of its built in reports.

It just goes to show that, even when you charge like a madman, choosing the right card to use makes a big difference. And choosing when (and what) to refinance with a lower rate promo offer can save you tons. Look at that — that’s over a $2000 difference between 2005 and 2007. And the total balance hasn’t really moved more than $5k.

And to end on an even higher note, it’s truly reassuring to see that, even just taking into account the the credit cards on their own, I spend less than I pay back.

Even with these obscene totals, I can’t imagine how deep I’d be if that hadn’t been the case all along.