A free and simple budget planner

A free and simple budget planner

J.D. doesn't talk a lot about budgeting at Get Rich Slowly — he uses a spending plan — but I want to share a personal budget planner I've created that has helped me immensely. I'm not historically a budget person myself, but I've been using this for a while and it seems to be working quite well. I hope that some of you find it useful, too.

This budget planning spreadsheet is available in the following formats:

  • Microsoft Excel (70kb) — right-click and choose “Save as…” to download. This file should also work with Open Office.
  • Google Docs — select “File -> Copy spreadsheet…” to save to your account.

Please note: This spreadsheet is designed solely to keep you on a budget you've already set, not to help you create a budget. Budgets vary from person-to-person. Create one that works for you, and use this planner to track your progress. (If you need help developing a budget, try this budget estimator from GRS reader Justin M.)

Budget Planner Overview

While my spreadsheet may seem complex at first, it's actually very simple. It's also much more customizable than any software program I've ever used. I've tried both Quicken and Microsoft Money, and but they just had too much going on. They were confusing. My spreadsheet holds a budget for an entire year, yet works on a month-to-month and day-by-day basis. It has a very simple structure:

  • The first column contains labels for the various lines in the budget planner.
  • The second column lists budgeted amounts for each item. Once you set up your budget, you should only have to change these numbers if your situation changes (you get a raise or a bill increases).
  • There are subsequent columns for each month of the year. As you earn and spend money, note it on the appropriate line.

This budget planning worksheet is divided into four sections.

Pre-Tax Deductions

Section one contains all of your pre-tax deductions. This includes insurance and other company benefits. My company takes parking directly from my paycheck before taxes and offers a computer purchase plan that removes money from my paycheck as well. Your budget might include a line for retirement accounts.


The first section contains pre-tax deductions.

Regular Bills

Section two is headed with your Net Monthly Pay (for me, that's two semi-monthly payments). It then lists all regular bills, including Needs and Wants. For budgeting purposes, I don't differentiate between the two — if you pay for it monthly, it goes here. For me, this includes my Rent, but also things like my XM Radio and Gym Membership. I also put my Savings amount here. By treating my Savings deposit like a bill, it comes out before I spend any other money. I pay myself first.


The second section is for regular bills.

Irregular Expenses

Section three tracks your Monthly Cash, which is your Net Pay minus your Regular Bills. This is how much money you have available each month after your fixed expenses. I've budgeted for five categories, but you can easily add or remove them as you wish. I'm considering dividing Food into Groceries and Dining Out myself.

I've also included a Discretionary Budget which includes all manner of items, from Christmas Gifts to Movie Tickets to Alcohol to Speeding Tickets to Books and other entertainment for myself.


The third section is for irregular expenses.

Budget Summary

After the Budgeted Items section, there's a line to show how well you've stuck to your budget.[J.D.'s note: This is the concept of “cash flow” I mentioned recently. Jeff has a high positive cash flow!] This total is cumulative across all categories. If you go $50 over on utilities but cut back on food to compensate, that's fine. Your budget will zero out.

Related >> The Power of Positive Cash Flow


This line measures budget performance.

Non-Budgeted Expenses

The final section contains a simple Other Category. I don't like to have special expenses and income show up in my regular budgeted goals. If I get a bonus from work, I don't want it to look like I made my budget when I didn't. Likewise, if I put $900 into car repair but otherwise stayed perfectly within my regular budget, I don't want to look like I missed horribly.

For example, this month I received a $580 bonus from work but bought a $450 iPhone. I put both of those purchases in Other. My remaining funds for the month show how everything really worked out, but those nonstandard items haven't wreaked havoc with my budgeting process.


The final section is for non-budgeted items.

Day-to-Day Use

The trick to staying with your budget is to track your purchases.This budget planner includes a worksheet for each month. Simply navigate to the sheet for the current month and put in a quick description of each purchase, and the amount.


Track your daily expenses on the monthly pages.

Personally, I do this via receipts. Everything I buy gets a receipt and I keep track of it. If I give $20 to a friend, I just write it on the back of a receipt I already have. I keep all of my receipts in my back left pocket, and each night (or every few nights), I put them all on the sheet. It takes all of five minutes to put in several days worth of purchases.

I've put some example numbers in for the December spreadsheet so you can see how it works.

Conclusion

You can keep the budget planner tidy by “hiding” columns and sheets for the coming months in Excel. (Under the “Format” menu, select “Column -> Hide” or “Sheet -> Hide”.) If you do this, the first column after the original budget numbers (and first sheet after Total Budget) will always be for the current month. When the next month comes, simply Unhide that month, and away you go. This keeps the current month close but past months available for reference. (I'm not sure Google Docs can do this.)

I hope you find this budget planner helpful. It took me several hours to get set up, but now tracking my budget only takes 5-10 minutes of work every few days. It's so much easier to track my money this way than importing and analyzing a bunch of data from my bank and tracking my free credit report has made it all the more easier to understand the past errors and plan or correct my expenses wisely. I've been using this budget planner for six months, and I'm loving how much less money I waste.

Related >> How to Get a Free Credit Report Online

If you've ever wondered “Where does all my money go?” this budget planner can help!. Several years ago I got a $10,000 raise but succumbed to lifestyle inflation. This year I got a similar raise and was determined to see most of it go to savings. And it has, thanks in part to this spreadsheet!

Download: Budget Planner (70kb Excel file)

More about...Budgeting

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Camilla
Camilla
12 years ago

Good post, might be something i’ll give a go in tandem with my visual method of tracking expenditures (wall calender with spending written into each square – blank squares make me happy!). Just recently figured a budget might be a good idea due to some overspending on DVDs, so good timing.

If i ever want to track in more detail, or have Total rows for more analysis, this might do the trick. I am all for free solutions to things like this – sure paid software is shiny, but so are coins, so i think i’d rather save them!

The Saving Freak
The Saving Freak
12 years ago

Receipts are too much of a pain to deal with. It is much easier to use cash. Plus if you take all the cash out for the month for a specific item it is impossible to overspend on that budget item. We do this for groceries, eating out, home stuff, and a few other minor categories.

Kate
Kate
12 years ago

Thanks, Jeff and J.D.! How did you know that one of the items on today’s to-do list was “Work on a new Excel budget layout”?

*checks it off, moves on to filling it out*

Jeff
Jeff
12 years ago

@The Saving Freak: I realize that everyone has their own way of doing things. There are, however, two things I really like about receipts vs. cash. 1) I can actually see where it goes. With cash, you know that you spent $500 on food. With receipts, you can tell that you spent $380 eating out and $120 on groceries (as I recently did, which surprised me), or that you spent $85 in one month at Chipotle (also a recent sin of mine). 2) It doesn’t matter where the money comes from. I can pool cash with friends for delivery pizza… Read more »

Paul Cooper
Paul Cooper
12 years ago

There is also PearBudget which a helpful budgeting spreadsheet that I’ve used the last couple of years and like. Can’t remember where I learned about it – probably here 🙂

Tommy
Tommy
12 years ago

I use two spreadsheets to keep track of my budget. The first is very similar to the Total Budget sheet you have here. The second is an Excel workbook that breaks my monthly budget down into daily amounts and shows me how I’m doing on my budget so far this month and this week. I just made that second workbook public this weekend (http://code.google.com/p/wesabe-excel-budget/), check it out if you want a more detailed view of your spending. It is setup to download spending data from Wesabe, but if people are interested in using it without using Wesabe, it could certainly… Read more »

Dustin
Dustin
12 years ago

I created my own budget planner in Excel a while back. It’s a bit more colorful and graphic than the one originally provided here, which some folks may like and other’s won’t. I have it set up with forumlas, so all you need to do is change the figures that are in bold text and the other figures will update automatically. You’ll need to change the State Tax formula to match your tax bracket for your state.

It’s a *.xlsx document made in MS Excel 2007. Older versions of Excel may not be able to open it.

Download it here

Susana
Susana
12 years ago

Thank you so much! It’s on my to do year after year, you’ve inspired me to start!

Sandy
Sandy
12 years ago

I wrote my list of fixed expenses on the top half of a sheet of notebook paper. And then I listed my irregular expenses on the bottom half, and divided that total by 12 to get the monthly amount to save, and have that amount automatically withdrawn each month from my checking account to my savings account as though it were a bill. Recording receipts would be a nuisance for me, so I withdraw cash and use that. I have online bill paying, so when an irregular expense becomes due (like 2nd installment of property taxes recently), I transfer that… Read more »

Mr DebtBeater
Mr DebtBeater
12 years ago

I use a similar spreadsheet, but since I get paid every 2 weeks I found it hard to make my columns based on months. I have two-week columns outlining my income with what expenses I have to pay in that time.

I have them free to use/copy/whatever here: http://www.debtbeater.org/budget/

(they are outdated by a month, but the same principle applies to any time frame)

John Smith
John Smith
12 years ago

I go for automation. I don’t have the discipline to enter numbers myself. And frankly, I would rater use my time to do other things.

Here’s a blog reference about simplifying your budget. If you make it easier, you save time, and money.
http://holisticpersonalfinance.com/2008/01/28/tragically-unhip-part-1/

Jeff
Jeff
12 years ago

@John ESI Money Smith Do you really find it takes less time to choose a budget category in Quicken than to type in a number in Excel? I felt like I spent to much time in quicken trying to “split” transactions, or figure out how to handle cash transactions easily, or deal with the fact that I got $40 cash back from Target, so I didn’t really spent $75 there. I REALLY, REALLY want automation to work. I just couldn’t get it to be faster than a formula driven, automated spreadsheet. Not to mention the fact that certain banks (like… Read more »

Erika
Erika
12 years ago

I have created my own workbook for my budget. I used to use MS Money but realized that is good for after the fact and not management. I work on a 2 week budget system to fall in line with pay dates. It used to be a little more difficult because DH and I were on different pay dates. This spreadsheet allows me to budget my bills on 24 paychecks and then decide how to use those 2 extra paychecks. I can’t average my salary monthly including those paychecks because I’d fall short every month. Each month gets it’s own… Read more »

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
12 years ago

part of a reason why we should create spreadsheets for our use is that we’re more likely to use something we have already invested into.

Mr DebtBeater
Mr DebtBeater
12 years ago

RE: automation I really like the sound of automation, but now that we’re trying to run everything using the cash-in-envelopes approach there’s still manual entry to be done. I’d like to think spreadsheets are good tools for those who still need to grasp the fundamentals of what’s going on and create good habits. Much like my elementary kids need to know how to do math problems before I’ll let them just start using a calculator to make sure they know and understand what’s going on with the automation. Automation does sound very appealing for people that already have a good… Read more »

leigh
leigh
12 years ago

hmm. this is a more effective way to run a budget than what i’ve got. i just might try this and see if it does me any better 🙂

waves
waves
12 years ago
Hydes Like Us
Hydes Like Us
12 years ago

Thank you! I’ve put together numerous budgets before– but this one looks really easy to use (much easier than what I’ve been doing!).

Always get such terrific tips from this site.

Hydes

JB
JB
12 years ago

Another benefit to using an Excel file for your budget is that it makes evaluating and planning major (or minor) financial changes very easy. For example, if you’re considering buying a new car, or changing your cell phone plan, etc., simply insert a new line into your budget, or change all the data in the cell phone line item. THEN “save as” a different name (like, maybe, “new car possibility”), and you have it right there for as long as you need it (i.e., as long as it takes you to decide that you really don’t need a new car).… Read more »

Devin Miller
Devin Miller
12 years ago

Couldn’t agree more about using Excel as a tool. If you use a software system, you are just entering data and it makes it a tougher habit to start. If you design the tool and more importantly the process around managing the tool, I find the user is much more likely to stick with it. I always like to see how other folks layout a budget.

Devin

Michael
Michael
12 years ago

I’m wary of Excel based budgets. There is a lot of room for error if you truly do not understand how to use Excel. I agree with Paul. PearBudget is the best there is out there. Simple, straightforward and easy to use. It does require you to get your hands a little dirty though. Automation is not better. Being able to download transactions automatically is not always better. My wife and I find that by having to manually enter transactions each week into our checkbook and budget programs that we tend to more carefully monitor our spending. It is similar… Read more »

Funny about Money
Funny about Money
12 years ago

This is good. It’s roughly what I do, but it’s tidier. So…when you get your paycheck, then, you actually enter the pre- and post-tax deductions IN your budget, copying the figures off your pay statement? I can see the advantage of this, in that it would allow you to run a report that would produce figures you could compare with your W-2. I’ve just been entering net paychecks and (incorrectly) trusting to my employer to get the various figures right…big mistake. In this year’s PeopleSoft fiasco, so many screw-ups were generated that not one thing is right. It’s clear the… Read more »

Jarick
Jarick
12 years ago

I use a bit more complicated spreadsheet, but it works great for me. I download all my transactions from my bank website and copy them onto a Register sheet. I have a field for type of expense and notes. I have another sheet which will perform SUMIF calculations based on the type of expense and date range. Since I get paid twice a month, all my expenses are based on each paycheck. A third sheet compares my budget to actual spending for each period. This lets me know my progress as far as deviating from expenses, which I use to… Read more »

Dan
Dan
12 years ago

Last year I created my own budget spreadsheet using Google. When I revamp my spreadsheet, I plan on incorporating most of your ideas. I have separate bank accounts, and while I keep close track of my bills, I don’t so much with my other expenses. Part of me is afraid to. (Only $85 at Chipotle? lol) However, there are 2 things I do that I don’t see on your sheet. First, I put the due dates for my various bills, and label them a certain way so that I remember how they are paid (automatic bill pay via bank, manual… Read more »

7million7years
7million7years
12 years ago

I use the ‘no budget’ approach: 1. Once a year (actually, I’ve only needed to do this once in my life) I tracked every single penny that I earned or spent for just ONE MONTH. I was $30k in debt then. 2. Now, I calc my Net Worth once a year (CNNMoney has a calculator on their site), divide by 40 (I am VERY conservative) and that’s what I spend for that year. Simple! 3. Anything extra (business earnings, contracts … basically, any money that I earn that carries risk) is saved and added to my Net Worth when I… Read more »

Greg Williams
Greg Williams
12 years ago

You can hide a column or columns in Google Spreadsheet by selecting them and then right clicking on them and selecting “Hide…”

Erica
Erica
12 years ago

I LOVE IT! I come from a long line of thrifty people, so I always manage to live within my means. However, I would say my system for tracking spending has been limited to balancing my checkbook. I like to keep things simple and this spreadsheet is PERFECT. I feel smarter about my spending already. Thanks for sharing it. As a side item, I’d like to mention that I only subscribed to your feed a couple of months ago, but I have been thoroughly impressed. After working on your blog for so long, I’m sure you are accustomed to compliments.… Read more »

G.E. Miller
G.E. Miller
12 years ago

I have also posted my Google and Excel budget spreadsheets, which you may find to be a bit more functional, intuitive, and clean than the versions you see here, IMHO. You can download them here: http://20somethingfinance.com/blog/2008/02/10/personal-budget-spreadsheet/

Brian
Brian
12 years ago

Great post and spreadsheets! Thanks for sharing these. However, i have noted one small omission. its either because i am all of a sudden blind or that Google Spreadsheets hates Firefox on Mac OS X Leopard.

There is no place to enter in taxes that are withheld from a paycheck. Am I to create this field myself or do I enter the gross pay minus the taxes in the Gross Pay field?

I am modifying it a little bit and will share my template with everyone once i am finished, if anyone would like to see it. 🙂

Jeff
Jeff
12 years ago

@Brian

I personally didn’t care enough to enter those taxes, so I simply input my Net Pay number manually, instead of calculating it from gross. You could certainly add tax lines and calculate them if you wanted.

arebelspy
arebelspy
12 years ago

So I bookmarked this as a GRS post to check out later, and boy I’m glad I came back to it. The spreadsheet is amazing. I spent hours modifying it (playing with it, really) today. It will be so useful.

Thanks so much for sharing this Jeff, you’re awesome!

rareHERO
rareHERO
12 years ago

Thanks! I’ll use this and work my way out of $16000+ in student loans!
My goal is to pay that off in 3 years with monthly payments of $500, simultaneously saving $400 each month.
Thankfully I have few monthly expenses (no new car, mortgage, etc) so I believe that this is realistic. Once I have a better gauge of my income I can adjust accordingly. Thanks!

brightlotus
brightlotus
12 years ago

Thanks for sharing this spreadsheet! I modified it slightly, but once I got the numbers right, the spreadsheet worked perfectly for my budget needs.

Jim
Jim
11 years ago

Thanks for the useful spreadsheet. The link in post 17 is also great:

http://www.lulu.com/content/1581272

Thank you Jeff and Wave!

Extra Income Ideas
Extra Income Ideas
10 years ago

Thank you, great spreadsheet! I love your site, always providing great information. Creating a budget is the first step to improving your finances. Thanks again!

Manoj
Manoj
9 years ago

Your spreadsheet is great. However many would benefit from an even simpler budgeting software called Innoslice. I used it for my simple expense tracking, and never had to look for another spreadsheet or app.

Jeffrey
Jeffrey
8 years ago

I’ve found something simplest possible:

http://simplemoneyplanner.com

However it seems to be on early developing stage it’s simple like a hammer …

Hareiana
Hareiana
8 years ago

The great thing about MS Excel is that it is in a way a development platform, a tool to allow users to develop and build anything we want to have customized to our needs, anything to do with holding, calculating and relating numbers with text headings. That is really flexible and powerful as shown in this excellent post. For those among us who want to do away with installing and maintaining software on each computer used like MS Excel, and are more comfortable firing a browser on any computer, going to some link on the web and budgeting away in… Read more »

Erin Baker
Erin Baker
8 years ago

I am unable to download this! Can someone help me?

Erin Baker
Erin Baker
8 years ago
Reply to  Erin Baker

I got it:)

Andrea
Andrea
7 years ago

Hi Jeff,
I downloaded your spreadsheet in Aug 2011. We added a few additions/changes to fit our needs and have used it faithfully every month since. I am currently working on a budgeting blog post and would like to recommend your spreadsheet if that’s okay. However, your current excel download just links to another page on this website. Any chance this can be remedied? The Google Doc link seems to work, but it would be nice to be able to download it. Thank you for sharing this! It’s been great.

Anne
Anne
7 years ago

Hi Jeff,

I would really like to download your budget but the link for the Excel download does not work it seems to be linked to another page on your website.

william luke
william luke
7 years ago

Thanks jeff for sharing this use full link and post. I was wondering to find google app that work like real. Is any one tell me about?

Marla Helseth
Marla Helseth
6 years ago

Hi Jeff,

I can’t seem to get the link to the budget spreadsheet to work. When I click on both links (at the beginning and end of the post) it just brings me to the home page of GRS. Can you help? Or can you just send me the link via email?

Ellen Cannon
6 years ago
Reply to  Marla Helseth

The budget spreadsheet is no longer available.

Sarah
Sarah
5 years ago

I just wanted to say thanks for sharing this budget spreadsheet! I’ve tried using SO MANY automated budgeting sites (like Mint, LearnVest, etc.) and because of the way that they link to my accounts, I constantly have issues with getting them to stay connected. Then there’s the issue of going in and choosing categories and trying to stay up-to-date with everything.

This spreadsheet is so much simpler, and for the first time I’m actually keeping up with my budget every day. And because it’s in Google docs, I can access it anywhere! Seriously, thank you. This is a life saver.

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