Track Your Finances

posted by Andrea | 01/5/2011

It’s Day #3 of my “11 in 2011 Challenge” — and this goal is one of my favorites!

How many times have you been told to “Create a budget”?

You know you SHOULD create a budget…but have you ever actually taken the time to make one?

And even if you have a budget, do you use it and stick to it?

If you answered “no” to either of those questions, chances are you either hate budgets, or you don’t know where to start…right?

If you fall into the “hate budgets” category, there’s really not much I can do for you. However, if you simply don’t know where to start…I just might have the answer!

Before you can create a reasonable budget {one that makes sense for you and your family}, you need to know how much you’re currently spending. Then, once you know what you’re starting with, you can begin to create a budget that works for you, your family, your needs, and your life.

Goal #3: Track Your Finances

Nope, I’m not going to tell you to create a budget! All I’m asking is that you start tracking where your money is coming from and where it’s going

Don’t worry, I’ll walk you step-by-step, show you how I track our spending, and even give you a FREE downloadable Excel Workbook that you can use to track YOUR spending this year!

{Note, I wanted the Excel Workbook to be customizable for your needs so it should automatically download to your computer when you click on this link. You’ll want to make sure you save it do your desktop to you can easily access it!}

So you know I’m a big fan of organization, right? Well, I personally think that one of the most important areas to keep organized is our finances. I want to know how much money we have, how much we’re saving, how much we’re spending, etc. etc.

I also like to keep things really SIMPLE, so I’ve created this very simple Excel Workbook to track all our finances. It’s nothing fancy but I’ve been using it since college and it still works for me!

Getting Started:

My Excel Workbook has seven tabs or categories (see picture above). Each tab is a separate “Worksheet” within the “Workbook”. I’ll walk you through each tab below…

Also, I’ve conveniently broken the year into 12 months (see left column), and I’ve broken the months into 4 or 5 weeks (Each row = one week), which makes it really easy to track how much you’re saving and spending on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis!

1. INCOME:

Obviously, in order to create a budget, you’ll need to know how much money you make on a weekly, monthly, and/or yearly basis. And I’m not talking about simply recording your pay stub in your checkbook register {although you should do this too!}

I’m talking about recording EVERY dollar you come into contact with.

In my FREE workbook, I include columns for 3 different incomes plus a miscellaneous category for all those little forms of income that might not get recorded. Whether you have a full-time job, 2 part-time jobs, or several random forms of income, you can edit this worksheet to fit your needs. {Please note: the numbers in the workbook are just for “show”}

2. BILLS:

I know, I know, we all hate bills; but unless you choose not to heat your home or insure your vehicles, you have bills.

There are still ways to save some money on bills — like eliminating your cable bill, becoming a one-car family, keeping your heat turned down, etc. etc. — but for the most part, I consider “Bills” as a fixed expense that we really can’t avoid. So, if you track how much you spend in each category {click the image to enlarge it} you’ll have a better feel for where to set your budget and what you can — or can’t — realistically cut from your budget.

You’ll notice I put different bill amounts in different rows — this is because each row represents one week, so if a bill is due on the 3rd week of the month, I put it in the 3rd row for that month. Make sense? I do the same thing with our expenses {see below}. If we spend $40 on gas the first week and $25 the third week, I input that information into the cells accordingly.

3. EXPENSES:

Yes, in my opinion, expenses are different than bills.

As I explained above, bills are …bills {you HAVE to pay them}. Expenses are a lot more variable and provide more room for saving {or splurging if you’re not careful}.

I like being able to quickly see how much we’ve spent in any given month {in the right column} or in any given category {at the bottom of each column}. Click the image below to enlarge the spreadsheet and see some of the more common expense categories.

And if you’re looking for ways to trim down your expenses in 2011, you might want to see how we save money.

4. Debt Reduction:

If you don’t have any debt; do a happy dance, give yourself a pat on the back, and move on to tab #5.

If you DO have debt, this Worksheet is a great way to record how much you’re putting towards each debt on a monthly and yearly basis. Also, since I know many of you follow Dave Ramsey, this form might be very useful for practicing his “snowball method” for paying off debt.

5. GIVING:

Giving is important for Dave and I, so the 5th tab in my Workbook is devoted to all types of giving. As you can see below, we have a column for church, school, good causes, misc, and even gifts to others {like Christmas and birthdays}. This form can be helpful as tax season rolls around…and it’s also a great way to monitor your spending during the holidays!

6. INVESTMENTS:

Even if you can only invest $10 a month, you should still do it!

I’m certainly no investment expert but we do pay someone to be our “investment expert” because we know how important it is for us to make wise choices with our money now…especially in a less-than-desirable economy. I use this form as a simple way to track many of our investment contributions.

7. SUMMARY:

The summary page is, well…the summary! {Please note, these are just random numbers I threw in for the picture}

I have all the formulas set up so your totals from the first six tabs will automatically calculate and show up on the Summary Page — so convenient, I know!

The one thing I really love about the Summary page is that you can instantly see how much money you’ve saved. Obviously, the bottom number “Overall Surplus” should be a positive number. If it’s a negative number, you’re spending more than you’re making!

So that’s it. That’s MY system for tracking all our finances.

If you have any experience working in accounting, you probably think I’m crazy. I know my method is not the most professional, but it has worked wonderfully for me over the last 8 years {and it’s free} so I’m sticking with it!

Once you start tracking your finances, you’ll know exactly how much money you’re making, how much your spending, AND how much you’re saving on a monthly and yearly basis. Even if you never take “the next step” to create an actual budget, you’ll still be more knowledgeable about your financial condition. Plus, it’s really fun to look back over the years and compare.

Download my FREE workbook, or create your own form today… and, whenever you ARE ready to buckle down and create an actual budget, here are a few free resources to help you get started.

  1. Mint.com — Free Personal Finance and Budget Software
  2. Outright.com — Free Online Accounting Software
  3. Saving With Pam — Free 2011 Budgeting Worksheet to help you pay off debt
  4. East Shore Mom — Free 2011 Budget Worksheet

So what about you? Do you currently track your finances? Do you have a budget? Do you stick to your budget?

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64 comments

  1. melissa

    01/21/2012

    Hi! Just found your workbook through moneysavingmom. It looks fabulous! I have minimal Excel skills and have created a spreadsheet, but it’s nothing like this. My question is about the debt reduction. What exactly do I type in there and how does it factor in to the summary page? If I have a medical bill for $800 and I’m paying $50 a month on it, do I type in $800 in that worksheet or $50? Or is the $50 a bill? I’m just confused about that part. Thanks so much!

    [Reply]

  2. Suzanne

    01/22/2012

    My question on income is: do you list your gross or net income?

    Thanks again!

    [Reply]

  3. Crystal

    08/30/2012

    Thank you SO much for this! I am not great with the computer and would have no clue how to make one of these. I am so excited to get on a budget and track our finances. I really appreciate this!

    [Reply]

  4. Tonya

    11/09/2012

    This is great information. This year I started using an excel program, I have mine set up a little different than yours. I am also self employed and this has helped me to keep better track of my income, bills and expenses.
    I too would like to know how you calculate the debt reduction.

    [Reply]

  5. Kaitlyn Cronin

    12/28/2012

    This is wonderful! I have a question about the debt reduction spreadsheet, however. Say you have $1000 on a credit card. In January, do you put $1000 down in the column? Then if you don’t add anything to the credit card total, but manage to pay off $200, do you put $800 in the February column? Or will the numbers then add up in the summary to appear as $1800?
    Any further explanation you can give would be really helpful! My new year’s resolution (or at least one of them) is to use this spreadsheet every week!
    thanks,
    Kaitlyn

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hey Kaitlyn,
    My intentions for the debt reduction worksheet was to type in how much you paid off each month. So if you have a student loan or credit card debt, simply type how much you pay each month to reduce that debt. That way, at the end of the year, you can see how much money you put towards paying off your debt.
    Do that help?

    [Reply]

  6. Jeshua

    01/02/2013

    Excellent,

    Thank you so much, this Spread sheet is very helpful. I’ve been researching for 20 min, it was incredibly exhausting. I will definitely use this for the whole year of 2013 if that’s possible.

    !! Thank you !!

    [Reply]

    Mary Reply:

    Thank you so, so much for this! I too have been searching for something that is easy to use and this looks like it is.
    My question is if you buy groceries say 3 days out of the week do you just save the totals in a book and then total them and put them in for the week?

    [Reply]

  7. Teri

    01/07/2013

    Love, love, love this! Thank you!

    [Reply]

  8. audra

    01/26/2013

    I’m noticing that your Income, Bills, Debt, Giving, and Investments sections only have 4 weeks – and for example, this month [Jan, 2013] 3 days of the week have 5 weeks. If you update your Excel workbook, I’d love to know about it! Thank you so much!

    [Reply]

  9. My FREE 2013 Finance-Tracking Workbook « Andrea Dekker

    03/27/2013

    [...] the last two years now, I’ve shared my ultra-simple method of tracking our finances — how much money we bring in, and (more importantly) how much money we spend in different [...]

  10. Gina

    09/18/2013

    Thank you SO much! I have really been struggling, so finding this today is a great blessing!

    [Reply]

  11. Jessica

    12/01/2013

    I am having so much trouble with debt reduction. I keep track of my husband’s school loans from beforehand, and also our insurance, etc. We put money towards them each month, but I don’t understand how to factor in debt reduction.

    [Reply]

  12. Chelsea

    12/06/2013

    The only problem with this is that it is retroactive – you track what you SPENT and not what you’re GOING to spend. You don’t have control here- you just see how your money is controlling you. Glad to see more people are interested in budgeting though- there really is no excuse for not doing one, no matter your incomce. Write down income and outgo for an entire month.You won’t hit savings and giving goals if you don’t put it in the budget and then stick to the budget.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hey Chelsea, That’s the whole point — to track what you already SPENT… not what you’re going to spend. The #1 problem with budgeting is that people don’t set a realistic budget because they don’t know how much money they actually spend on a daily basis.

    So as I mentioned in this post — tracking your finances is the first step towards creating a realistic budget that you can actually stick to. Once you track how much money you actually spend on a daily, weekly, monthly, and/or yearly basis, than (and only then) can you really set out to create a budget that is practical for you and your life style and a budget you can actually work with without getting totally discouraged or failing after 2 months.

    [Reply]

  13. Leah

    05/08/2014

    Thank you so much for this. A big help!

    [Reply]

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