My Personal Excel Budget Spreadsheet
The very first personal budget I ever made was done using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The budget spreadsheet followed the principles set by Dave Ramsey in that it was a zero based budget done month to month. It was a very simple Excel spreadsheet that basically contained a list of our income and expenses. It provided no automation, and no details on transactions, but it worked. As I began to learn more about budgeting and managing our finances, I began to enhance the spreadsheet a little, but it was still very manual and fairly tedious. I also didn’t care for the way I showed all of the months together on one spreadsheet. I wanted to see one month at a time.
My second version was a little better, and allowed entry of transactions, but I still had to manually categorize them. We also started managing our budget at a per paycheck level, rather than monthly. Since I get paid every two weeks from my full-time job, every so often we would overspend a little in the first paycheck, and be short in the second. To resolve this, we set a budget for each paycheck.
The spreadsheet worked fine, but I wanted a better solution.
Budget Software Programs
I began scouring the internet looking for various budget software packages and trying them. I tried PearBudget’s spreadsheet, PearBudget online (you can read a review of it over at The Simple Dollar), Mvelopes, Mint, and finally YNAB Pro which I wrote a full review off. I used YNAB Pro for 2 months, and while it is a great piece of software , it just wasn’t exactly what I needed. In fact, all of the software I tried was great, but not what I needed. Which brings to me to a very important point. One of the most important criteria your budget solution must meet is that it should work for you. If you don’t like it or you find it tedious, you won’t use it and in turn probably will stop budgeting.
The one main feature that YNAB Pro lacked for me, was the ability to set a budget for each paycheck. In fairness to YNAB, it lacks this capability for a very good reason. YNAB follows the principles of The YNAB Way, which advocates living off of money earned from the previous month. Absolutely a great way to budget and live;however for me, that would take a fairly long time to save up and I wouldn’t be throwing anything except minimums at my debt snowball. After some careful consideration, I’ve decided to not use YNAB for now for this reason, but return to using it once I can live off my previous months earnings.
My Budget Requirements
I decided to write down my requirements for a software package and post them out on the Get Rich Slowly forums and get some input from others on what would work for me. Here are the requirements I listed:
- Ability to allocate budget per paycheck, in my case every 2 weeks
- Ability to import transactions from the bank. Preferably seamlessly integrated, but I’d be okay with downloading and importing.
- Define my own categories and track by category
- Monthly history so I can look back and compare spending for each month
Turns out requirements 3 and 4 are easy and are provided by all of the packages. Requirements 1 and 2 were the stickers. I didn’t find the ability to do #1 in any package. Every package I looked at always wanted a monthly budget. Requirement #2 was supported, but at different levels. For example, in YNAB Pro you must first download your transactions from the bank, and then import them.
Lots of great people responded to the thread, but I very quickly realized that in order to get the requirements I wanted, I would need to revert back to Excel or write my own software program. I actually considered the later, but just don’t have the time. Back to Excel I went, but decided this time I was going to do it right.
My Budget Spreadsheet
I spent a few evenings looking at various budget spreadsheets I found on the net, and used some ideas from a spreadsheet Kevin from No Debt Plan sent to me. I pulled the best ideas from all of these, and added a few things of my own and created my own budget spreadsheet, or at least the 1.1 version of it.
The spreadsheet I’ve created is free and I encourage you to use it, change it, or send it out to your friends. If you make any changes or feature additions to it, I’d love to hear about them. Also, if you find any errors, please make me aware of those as well so I can fix them.
I’m working on a second version now that will import a bank download file and allow you to categorize each transaction. I’ll announce that as soon as I get it complete and fully tested.
The spreadsheet seems to work fine under Google Docs, so if you don’t have Microsoft Excel that would be a great option to use. While I haven’t tried it, it should also work under Open Office as well.
The search continues
I’m continuing my quest to find a solution that works. A few new solutions have arrived recently, including Neobudget and Check The Budget which I’ll be taking a look at. I’ll let you know what I think of them.