Creating a budget doesn’t have to mean setting yourself up for a life of restriction. By improving your money management, you can focus on making your money work for you. That means spending more on the things you want while still staying in control so you can achieve your long-term financial goals.
The right spreadsheet and budgeting technology can help you create and track your financial budget. There’s no need to invest big bucks in complicated and confusing financial technology. Read on to learn about some simple personal budget management tools that can help.
How money management helps you meet your financial goals
You likely have some financial goals in your life, whether it’s improving your net worth, paying off your college student loans, or achieving FIRE (financial independence, retire early). You might also have smaller, more short-term goals, like saving for your dream wedding or buying a luxury car. Smart money management can help you achieve those objectives.
Many people assume that effective money management means scrounging, saving, and never enjoying life. The truth is that living a life of constantly telling yourself “no” isn’t sustainable (or enjoyable). Instead, consider trying a conscious spending plan. Following this logic, you categorize your expenses into essential fixed costs, important investments, savings goals, and — last but not least — guilt-free spending.
By allocating space in your budget for the fun stuff (minus the guilt), you’re more likely to stick to that budget in the first place. By honing in on your Money Dials — the things you really love to spend on — you can prioritize your spending in a way that makes sense for you. Money Dials could include things like fitness, convenience, luxury items, travel, self-improvement, and social status.
Conscious spending is a great way to enjoy life while still building a financially secure future. However, it requires organization. You need to start with a bullet-proof budget, categorizing all of your expenses into one of those four buckets: fixed costs, investments, savings, and guilt-free spending. You then need to decide how much money to allocate to each bucket. Finally, you need to actually stick to your plan.
Budgeting spreadsheets and tools can help at every step. Straightforward spreadsheets can help you create your conscious spending plan. You can then use a budgeting app to help you stick to it, for example, by automating your expense tracking. The entire point of these tools is to simplify money management so you can think about your money less, not more.
3 budget spreadsheet templates to get you started
The thought of creating a budget spreadsheet can be intimidating. Does this mean you’re going to have to master complex financial formulas? Not at all. When it comes to budget templates, it’s best to keep it simple, and there are many user-friendly tools available to save you time and stress. The aim is to use tools that allow you to devote fewer hours to your money management. Here are some highlights.
Microsoft Excel budget templates
Microsoft Excel isn’t all about complex formulas. These free budget templates are an easy way to get an overview of your cash flow (monthly expenses versus monthly income). There are even specialty templates, such as a personal monthly budget, a college budget, a home construction budget, and an event planning budget. If you have the Microsoft Office suite, you can access these Excel templates for free.
Google Sheets budget templates
Google Sheets offers another budgeting method. If you have a Google account, you can access free templates covering weekly, monthly, and annual budgets. There are also budget calculators to help you stick to your selected budgeting rule, like the 50/20/30 rule (which dictates that 50% of your budget goes to essential fixed and variable expenses, 20% goes to savings and debts, and 30% goes to the rest).
The Federal Trade Commission’s budget worksheet
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers another handy budgeting tool. The free budget spreadsheet is available to download as a PDF and provides a list of proposed income and expense budget categories — you just have to fill in the dollar amounts. The formula at the end (subtracting expenses from income) provides a picture of your financial health and can help you figure out how to better manage your money.
3 budgeting apps and tools to help with money management
Using the tools above, you can craft a conscious spending plan. Budgeting apps and tools can then help you put that plan into action. Again, look to simple technology to streamline your efforts, saving you time and energy.
Here are some of the best budgeting apps to help automate money management, giving you more control over your cash so you can meet your financial goals while thinking about them less.
Set up automated payments through your banking apps
Start by making the most of any tech features your bank offers. Most banks provide apps that link to your checking account and credit card, allowing you to automatically track expenses. You can also automate payments, for example, by putting away a set amount of cash on a monthly basis to save money. Automation is a great psychological trick to help you gain control of your finances.
If you like having all of your financial data in your hand, Mint is worth a look. You can track spending, monitor subscriptions, create custom budgets, and more. You can connect all of your bank accounts, including investments, so you have a quick financial picture at hand. If you like the convenience of all of your financial planning tools in one place, Mint is a solid choice. This article provides more details.
You Need a Budget (YNAB)
YNAB is ideal for people who have debts to pay off or savings goals they want to reach. It helps you spend smarter with tools like budget creation, goal tracking, and reports (including visual graphs and charts). The app also provides personal support, including free live Q&A sessions offered weekly.
Financial freedom is found beyond spreadsheets
You don’t have to be a personal finance guru or a professional budget planner to create a workable household budget. The above spreadsheets and tools make it easier to take control of your finances and implement conscious spending habits that work for you. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s a tool to help you get where you want to be financially while ensuring you aren’t going without.
The aim is to create a simple budget that works for you and then automate as much as you can of your money management, from auto-paying bills to setting up automatic deposits for investments and savings. This will ultimately help you think less (and stress less) about money, so you can live the “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” philosophy: “A rich life is lived outside the spreadsheet.”
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