How to Choose
a Budget Spreadsheet
You'll Actually Use
There are countless budget spreadsheets available to help people manage their finances, from the expensive and fully featured financial software products to the old paper and pencil technique. If you're ready to make progress toward your household budgeting goals, the first step is to figure out how much money you have coming in on a monthly basis compared to what you spend each month.
You can gain a solid understanding of your current financial situation by working with a system that works – but how do you choose one that you'll actually use?
Ease of Use
When considering different budget spreadsheets, you'll want to pick one that's easy for you to use. If the spreadsheet is too advanced for your level of computing skills – you won't keep up with it. Find one that is uncluttered, organized, and easy for you to input your numbers. The sheet should automatically calculate totals for you, to avoid the potential for mathematical errors.
Allow Income and Expense Modifications
Most spreadsheet templates will have pre-filled income and expense items, to save you from having to enter everything yourself. It's important that the spreadsheet you choose for setting up and tracking your budget allows you to easily change the categories provided, since your spending and income will probably not match exactly what is provided. If budgeting for a household, make sure you choose a template designed for household budgeting, rather than a personal budget.
Organized by Category
If it's important to you to see how much you spend each month on a specific category of expenses, such as “household expenses”, then you will want to look for a worksheet that doesn't just list all expenses you may have but rather organizes them by category. Many people want to know how much they're spending on food (including groceries, take out, and eating in restaurants); credit card payments; children related expenses; car related expenses; etc. Having a budget spreadsheet that categories your expenses into categories can help you see at a glance how much is spent each month within the various categories and help you find areas to cut back on spending.
Keep Running Total of Progress
The entire purpose of keeping a budget spreadsheet is so you can compare your monthly budget – what you expect to receive and pay – against what you are really earning and spending across each of your spending categories. The budget amounts are your goal, and the actual amounts or what you really spend or earn. This helps you see at a glance the areas of your household budgeting that need improvement, and can give you a very accurate look at whether or not you are living within your means – or overspending.
Debbie Dragon writes finance articles for Vertex42.com – a site offering a large selection of excel templates such as a free monthly household budget worksheet.
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