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Budgeting is what saved my finances and what got me out of debt. And while learning how to budget generally isn't fun, I've got an awesome way to make it a lot easier.
I've got the BEST budget spreadsheet for you. Even if you suck at spreadsheets – just give this a try. I personally use it, and the students in my course use it as well. And there are several reasons why I recommend using this over some of the more automated budgeting applications out there. More on that later.
But first – do not be afraid of a spreadsheet! With Tiller (the people who helped me design this spreadsheet), you really don't need to know how to use spreadsheets at all. It's all set up for you – in fact, I worked directly with them, and they designed my very own template.
Tiller, who recently just won the FinTech Breakthrough Award for the best personal budgeting service, provides something that no one else does. Your bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial accounts can be linked with transactions fed directly into a google sheet.
To be honest, it's what I've always wanted when it comes to budgeting. I like having control of how to categorize and being able to do my own calculations, but I've always hated manually inputting transactions and balances. This solves that with a daily feed of all of your transactions and balances.
All you have to do is categorize them. And I think that's actually one of the many benefits of this – it doesn't automatically categorize your expenses for you. This gives you 4 distinct advantages:
NOTE – if you are a current user of Tiller, we've made some updates nad improvements. For directions on how to update your current template to the new one, CLICK HERE.
Here's how it works:
If you already use Gmail, then congratulations – you have a google account. If not, it's free and easy to set up.
Almost every banking institution and credit card will be available. My bank is a small regional bank, and I had no issue getting it linked up. Simply provide your login information for each account.
The first month is FREE – and if you love it (which I do), there is a very small monthly fee after that.
On the ‘Planner' tab, you set your budget, see check your spending for the past few months, and also decide how to categorize your spending. To start with, simply decide the spending categories.
Tip: keep is simple. Although the program will allow you to create as many categories as you'd like, I'd recommend 10 at the most.
When you initially set up your spreadsheet, this part will take some time. And you probably won't enjoy it. But it's completely necessary. Using the categories that you decided on, go through each transaction on the aptly named ‘transactions' tab, and use the drop-down menu to classify them.
The number of transactions that will initially populate on this tab will vary by banking institution. Some will only import a couple of weeks worth of transactions, some will import several months. As a general rule, it would be best to have three months of spending categorized, but do the best with what you have.
Tip: The “Transfers” category will always be available in the drop-down menu. If you use this category, it will not count that transaction towards your spending. It's very helpful in a couple of instances:
Phew! Now that you've finished categorizing expenses, let's get started planning your budget prospectively – meaning, planning out the next month's expenses BEFORE you get there. Mark and I have our “Budget Night” on the last Sunday of every month.
Using the average of the past 3 months of expenses (which is located in column B on the planner tab), use your best judgment of the upcoming month to give yourself a reasonable spending limit for the upcoming month.
At the top, you will see if your planned budget is over or under. Make sure to “spend” every bit of income you get. If you have extra, make a plan for it – use it to pay off debt, or put it into savings.
It's not good enough to make a plan if you're not gonna follow through with it, right? Luckily, tracking your spending is very easy with this spreadsheet. All you gotta do is just categorize your recent transactions as they come in. The spreadsheet does the rest for you.
After you categorize your transactions, go to the dashboard to see how you're doing. This tab will give you a snapshot of how your income and expenses are progressing. It will also show you your current balances of all linked accounts.
The awesome thing about spreadsheets is that you can do whatever you want! Do you want to get crazy with some projections of your savings or retirement accounts? Add a tab and do it. Or maybe you just want to do some side calculations to see how long it will take to save up for a vacation. Just do it.
You can add as many tabs as you'd like, and they won't affect the budgeting tabs that come with the template.
Here's a video to show you how it all works: