Saturday, January 31, 2015

Budgeting Wisely

I spent a lot of time this past week working on a little project---a budgeting spreadsheet. Since I became the treasurer for our American Heritage Girls troop this year, I've been doing a lot more financial stuff. Thanks be to God, our treasurer for the first 5 years had a really good system. When I inherited the job in year 7, the finances were still looking really good, and I started using Quickbooks online for the troop accounting. It's fun, but kind of cumbersome.

As for our family finances, we have used Quicken a little bit, but we have really preferred paper over the years, and we have been keeping track of our expenditures for approximately 25 years. The way I remember it, we had a 3 month-old baby, and payments on my college loans were scheduled to start in her 4th month, and I needed to get a job. That was distressing, to say the least, but Dh got a year-end raise that covered my loan payments, and I was able to stay home! From that point on, we decided we needed to keep careful track of spending so that we could live within our means.

"Living within our means" didn't mean "not buying furniture with no money down." It just meant we had to be able to make the payments. Thankfully, we didn't go overboard and end up too deeply in debt. College loans for 2 4-year degrees and law school were quite enough debt!

Annnyyywaaaayyy, are you tired of the backstory yet? All that is to say that I am heartily sick of the Budget Book and writing everything down every day! Since I'm spending more time doing accounting on the computer and have learned a little bit about making spreadsheets, I decided to try it for our home records. As I said, we had tried Quicken, and I've tried other pre-made budgeting products (like the ones that come with your computer), but they didn't suit our style.

I created a Google doc sheet that I can share with my husband, so he can enter his expenses from his computer. This is what I love about it:

  • There won't be a giant binder taking up space (once we abandon paper for good)
  • We can access it from anywhere and add our expenses before we forget or lose the receipts
  • We don't have to add up expenses throughout the month to see if we're going over budget in a category---it keeps constant track for us
  • We can easily see how the overall expenditures for the month compare with income (which isn't the same every month)
  • It saves the trouble of adding everything up at the end of the month and finding out that we didn't do very well!
Here is a version of it that I edited to make it suitable for someone else, like you.  
  • In Row 1, you enter your income as it comes in. The Total Income will show up in Row 1: Column S. 
  • Column B is where you enter the amount you have budgeted for each category, and the total amount budgeted will be reflected in B:27. 
  • Enter your expenses, in the appropriate rows, (columns don't really matter) as a negative number. (Like: -350) We don't bother with cents and just round up every dollar, so $35.23 would be entered as -36. (Always round UP)
  • Column S (S for SUM!) keeps track of how much you have spent in each category, with the total amount spent for the month shown in S:27, so it's easy to compare, at any time, your expenses with your budget!

So far, we've just experimented with January. Even though fine-tuning it has been a bit of a chore, and I've taken the time to enter everything that was already spent for most of the month, I already love it and the instant gratification it gives me!

I'm sure a great deal of this is a no-brainer for some of you, but maybe someone will find it useful. I'm not an accountant, and this is the format that has worked for our family for 25 years. Don't mock me for learning spreadsheets late in life in mid-life. ;-) Let me know if it works for you!

I think if you want to use my spreadsheet, you will need to access it, go to FILE> Make a Copy> Rename, and I guess it will be stored in your Google Drive or on your computer. (We're out of my realm of competence, here!) From there, you should be able to edit the categories as needed, leaving the original for others.

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