While I’m a big fan of Mint.com and have used it for my budgeting for many years, it doesn’t let me project forward or perform what-if scenarios. What-if we take on a new car payment, or focus on paying off student loans before we pay off something else? This is where a budget spreadsheet can be handy.
But it can also be hard to know where to start. To that end, I have built you a Google Sheet that you can use to setup a 2 year projection in just a few minutes. Open it up, make a copy into your own Google Drive or download it to use with Excel or OpenOffice, and start putting in your numbers. The white cells are for you to edit, and the grey cells contain formulas. Note that the numbers in the white cells currently are just for example and should be deleted out.
Here are a few tips to make it even easier:
There are three sheets on this Google Sheet, and the third is the Scratch Sheet. This is where you’ll calculate the majority of your monthly budget.
You can add and remove rows as you like, the goal is just to have the Total cell (B27) referenced in the Other Bills column on the Budget sheet (column V). I’m reasonably confident that will update automatically if you add or remove rows, but be sure to double check column V on the Budget sheet if you do.
Enter the approximate amount you spend monthly on these things. You can adjust this over time.
For expenses that you pay annually, it may be easier to enter that into column D, then have column B divide by 12 to get a monthly cost. Even if the money doesn’t come out of your checking account monthly, it’s great to budget for these expenses and save up for them over time.
Next, lets take a look at some of the other variables used in the spreadsheet.
On this sheet, we’re going to enter some data that will be used throughout the rest of the spreadsheet. I’ve been using a spreadsheet like this for my budget forecasts for years, but I think it was built in a way that only I would understand easily. Taking these data points that were hard coded into formulas and putting them on a separate sheet will hopefully be helpful for you.
Again, you just need to fill in the white cells. If you don’t have anything for that cell (for instance, if you don’t own a home then you probably don’t have a mortgage), just set that cell to 0. And if you don’t have all the data right now, that’s OK. The amount of interest on the right-hand side may have little impact on your overall outlook over 2 years. But it is helpful data to have, especially for your credit cards, so try to get that information if you can.
If you have your current loan amounts typed in along with the interest amounts, the spreadsheet will give you a reasonable idea of how much your debt is growing. This will let you set payments that make sure you’re paying down your debt and keeping it under control. It’s not 100% accurate because calculating interest is complex and there are some numbers that shift in the background, but it’s reasonably close.
Once your numbers are typed into both the Scratch Sheet and the Variables sheet, you’re ready to take a look at the Budget!
At this point, you have taken the first step in building your budget. You have entered what you spend each month on things, or what you think you should be spending, and you have accounted for all your regular bills and payments.
You can now use the Budget sheet to see a projection of your cash and debt. If cash isn’t going into the negatives and debt is generally going down, then you’re in good shape! You can enter additional information on the Budget sheet to account for when you get additional income (like a birthday or Christmas gift), additional cash or credit card expenses, taxes you have to pay, or when you transfer money to and from savings.
With this information, you can start making adjustments to your budget and your life. You know where everything is now and what direction it’s going, and you have an idea of what levers you need to pull to make a positive difference. Paying off high-interest credit cards, saving in advance for annual expenses, and keeping track of one-time income that can be used for later one-time expenses will be tremendously beneficial for you.
I hope this is a helpful tool for you. Give it a try and let me know what you think! If you have any suggestions or changes you would like to see, comment below and I’d be happy to make those.