Make a Personal Budget on Excel in 4 Easy Steps

Ads by Google

excel logo   Make a Personal Budget on Excel in 4 Easy StepsAbout 10 years ago, my wife and I were straddled with so much debt that we thought it would take the rest of our lives, or at least the next sixty years, to pay it all off. The combination of school loans, car loans and credit card debt was enough to make a grown man double over and cry. There came a moment when we realized that we either had to make a personal budget that could outsmart the system or it would keep us enslaved for our entire adult lives.

That’s when I sat down with a blank Microsoft Excel spreadsheet in front of me and just started playing around, using various techniques to cut down our budget to bare bones, and create a debt plan that wouldn’t take decades to eliminate our debt, but also wouldn’t keep us eating Macaroni and Cheese for dinner until we retire. In the end, I was able to eliminate all of our credit card debt in only 5 years, and we even had good enough credit in the end to get approved for a low-rate mortgage to buy our first home.

Today, I’m going to share a few of the nifty spreadsheet techniques that I used to generate a usable (and useful) budget, and finally, I’m going to share a technique to pay down your debt in a fraction of the time using the same exact payments you’re making today.  It’s a trick that I’ve seen a lot of guys trying to sell elsewhere on the net – I’m going to share it with MakeUseOf readers here, for free.

Ads by Google

Step 1: Structure a Personal Budget Spreadsheet That Doesn’t Drive You Nuts

Anyone who has tried to make a personal “budget” knows the basics. You need to make a log of all of your bills and all of your income. Your bottom line is how much you have left over for fun, or how much fun you have to cut out of your lifestyle before you go bankrupt. It sounds easy, but when you start entering all of your details into a spreadsheet, things get very messy very quickly. A lot of people give up after the first attempt.

sheetlayout1   Make a Personal Budget on Excel in 4 Easy Steps

The basic layout is easy enough. List your bills in the first left column, and then in the next few columns list total balance you owe, monthly required payments, and the date that the bill is usually due.  These four columns are really all you need to create a budget.

However, here I’ve gone an extra step and added a column to the right for each month for easy expense tracking. However, once you get a large number of columns and rows, the screen starts to scroll and you can’t always see the bills to the left or the header at the top. The quick and easy technique to fix this is using the “freeze panes” feature.

freezepanes2   Make a Personal Budget on Excel in 4 Easy Steps

First, select the box where the intersection at the upper left represents the row and column that you don’t want to scroll when you use the spreadsheet’s scrollbars. First, select Window->Split, and then go back again and select Window->Freeze Panes.

scrolldown3   Make a Personal Budget on Excel in 4 Easy Steps

Now, when you scroll up or down (as shown here), the header and left column remain static, so you always know what the value you’ve selected applies to. This is a very useful feature and since I have a very bad short term memory, it has saved me a great deal of frustration where I normally would have had to keep scrolling back to check which bill I’d selected.

Step 2: Lay Out an Organized Budget Using Shading

I remember looking for a free budget spreadsheet back then and finding all of these templates filled with data that just made my head ache. Without clear lines separating the major sections of your budget, you’ll have a hard time zoning in on the area that you’re interested in. The best way to organize a budget spreadsheet is by shading each summary section between your major groups.

topsections4   Make a Personal Budget on Excel in 4 Easy Steps

As you can see here, the first section of the budget pertains to bills, including household utilities and fixed bills, as well as another section devoted to only credit cards. At the bottom of this particular section, the total for fixed bills is highlighted with light green shading so it’s clear and easy to find.

midsections5b   Make a Personal Budget on Excel in 4 Easy Steps

As you can see, once you start shading rows, the entire spreadsheet becomes much more organized and easier to follow.

fill   Make a Personal Budget on Excel in 4 Easy Steps

The “Fill” tool is located on the Excel menu bar and appears as a paint can tipping over with paint pouring out. Just highlight the entire row (click the numbered gray cell to the left) and then click the Fill button and select what color you’d like to use.

Step #3 – Use Excel Formulas to Project Your Credit Card Balances Into the Future

Now that you can make a personal budget that is well organized and structured in a way that’s very easy to follow, the next step is attacking that nagging credit card debt that’s been plaguing you for years. In these next examples, the same formatting techniques are used to create a list of credit card balances and monthly payments.

debtsetup7   Make a Personal Budget on Excel in 4 Easy Steps

Set up your debt log in the same way – split and freeze the panes, but this time list each month along the left, and your credit card balances (and monthly payments) to the right. After you’ve entered in your current balance in the top cell (for example, in this case Capital One is $3,000), in the next cell below it you would enter a formula that multiplies that balance by your card’s interest rate and divides by twelve. That is your estimated monthly interest.

Then you subtract your monthly payment from the balance, and add the interest that you just calculated. Once you’ve got that first cell calculated correctly, you can duplicate the formula for every month below it by clicking and holding the small box to the lower right of the cell you just calculated, and dragging it down as far as you like. Each month will have a new calculated balance based on the previous months balance.

regularpayments8   Make a Personal Budget on Excel in 4 Easy Steps

When you do this projection, you’ll eventually find the spot where the balance is completely paid off. As you can see from my own calculations, when I maintain a $250 payment every month until it’s paid off, it’ll take me until July 2012 to pay off the entire Advanta credit card balance.

Step #4 – Recalculate Payments Based on Interest and Eliminate Your Debt

By playing around with this kind of spreadsheet, I uncovered the very simple, common-sense solution that a lot of scammers out there are charging people for. Instead of maintaining constant payments on each of your credit cards until it’s paid off – you pay the minimum balance on all of them, and divert all of your current “debt-payment” money toward the credit card with the highest interest. Here is how it works.

quickerpayoff9   Make a Personal Budget on Excel in 4 Easy Steps

This is also why I love Excel. By using the ability to “autofill” the monthly balance calculations, I tested different scenarios to pay off debts faster. Instead of paying $100 on Discover and taking until 2011 to pay that balance off, I paid $200 and will have it paid off by December 2009. Then I take that $200 and add it to the existing $250 I pay on Advanta.

As you can see, the Advanta balance is paid off in April of 2011, almost a year earlier. If you have additional credit card balances, you simply “snowball” the payment and eliminate your debt in months rather than years. Excel allows you to see that concept in a very cool graphical form by using the formula “autofill” feature.

Do you use Excel or other spreadsheets to make a personal budget or to plan out your family bills? Share your own tips and resources in the comments section below.

Ads by Google

20 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Mark

I’m a huge fan of excel for my financial tracking. It tracks everything in my life. Mortgage, Savings & Checking Account balances, daily expenses, car repairs & mileage, projected budgets and investments. Plus a bunch of other crap. My wife refers to it as The Grid.

My suggestions:
1. Learn to use the SumProduct formula. It’s basically a sumif, but with the ability to check multiple conditions. Vlookups are also very important.
2. Track every penny you spend. You won’t know how much you spend until you track it. And you will surprise yourself.
3. Back it up often. My recommendation is throw it on Dropbox. That way you get versioning capability and it’s backed up off site and available wherever there’s an internet connection.
4. Get to know Conditional Formatting.
5. Continually refine your workbook. I started mine 10 years ago and it gets better with time.

Reply

Ryan Dube

Hey Mark – I agree. My wife calls it “the spreadsheet” (with some sarcasm of course)…lol. You’re right – there really is no better way to track spending and manage a budget. Thanks for the great tips btw.

Reply

thecolor

Here is one I created years ago with a similar purpose in mind. It’s not functional via the link directly, but you can download it or use it within your google account and adjust it accordingly.

It takes bills you’ve setup, there amounts, your monthly or hourly wages, etc., etc. and adds them up compares them (you know) to see what you need to make in order to “stay alive” for a lack of better terms. :) Enjoy and let me know if you mash anything else up… I’d love to see it.

http://tr.im/v5F5

Reply

Phaoloo

Using Excel is much simple and flexible than Quiken, GNUCash or other budget software else because you manage your budget your own way.

Reply

Rarst

Thanks for hints. :) Made one in OpenOffice just now (was going to for a while). I’ve poked some software for home budget in the past but it seemed overcomplicated for my needs.

Reply

Guy McDowell

Ryan, seriously, this is possibly your best article ever. I hope millions read it because taking responsibility for your personal finances is what will end recessions and depressions.

I do this already, but you’ve helped me hone my spreadsheet even more. Thanks bro!

Ryan Dube

Hey – thanks Guy! I know what you mean, if only more folks would work harder at grabbing their personal finances by the horns, the economy might be in a better place. We can at least hope for the best!

Reply

Donald Scott

I have been on a budget for years.

Reply

Robert

I love using Excel to take care of budgetary means and using it to make predictive graphs and such. Bankrate.com also has cool credit card payment calculator that is a very easy premade way of doing the simulating in the last part of this article. It’s here:
bankrate.com/calculators/managing-debt/minimum-payment-calculator.aspx

Reply

Darren

I set up a Google Docs spreadsheet for my wife and I to track what we spend our cash on. When we did our budget recently, we had good visibility on our credit card expenditure, but zero insight into our cash spend – the only record of cash spend was our ATM withdrawals. We used the Google Docs spreadsheet for about 6 weeks and it gave us a great idea about how much cash we spend, and on what. Here’s the link to a post I wrote about this:
http://blog.sumwise.com/2009/07/16/review-google-docs/

Reply

thecolor

Personally, I really enjoy the incite mint.com gives me. I don’t have to use my CC just to get info. It’ll accept many (so far all) of my financial services and map all that info for me. Spends no matter how small, anytime. It’s quite convenient. I’ve been making the attempt to revert back to using my debit card (cash in plastic), the hardest part is watching my bank account. Previously I’d just use my CC and pay it off at the end of the month, but I never really watched the spending. So, it’s going to be an effort I have not done in years.

Reply

Natuernut

I’ve used excel for budgeting before and liked how simple it was. I’ll have to try your tips out because they look like they’ll help me out a lot.

An easy (and free) way to back up your excel (word, and PowerPoint too) is on Officelive. All you need to do is sign up (it’s free), follow the directions and you’re ready to go. I use it myself for both my excel and word files. Here’s the address: officelive.com

Reply

Igor

Sorry, the link to Arixcel Accounts:

arixcel.com/accounts

Reply

Igor

Hi guys. I’ve been doing budgeting in Excel for years and eventually decided to automate the process heavily, which lead to the birth of Arixcel Accounts – it’s currently a free tool and it can import transaction to Excel from saved bank statements as well as do other useful things.
If somebody gives it a try and leaves me a comment, I would appreciate. Here’s the link:

Reply

brenda

Thank you sir for your great budget tutorial! I created one for my boyfriend, when I punched in his CC info he wasn’t going to pay off his balance until 2017! We worked out the numbers with your formula and he will be paying it off much sooner. Thank you!

Reply

Teach Children to Save Money

Excellent Excel wizardy! As a single parent that was *less* than good with money throughout my youth, teaching children about money is CRUCIAL, in my mind. I’m not going to blame parents, schools, etc, but quite simply, I clearly “didn’t get it”, and I am still paying for those mistakes a decade later! And quite frankly, I hate the position I got myself in, everytime I pay off my past debts… I could have used my time/money sooooo much better.

Reply

Peter

I have always been the type that buys stuff until my account shows a low balance, then I back off until next payday. It’s gotten me into some trouble a few times but has never been a huge issue because I wasn’t dealing with massive amounts of money and was living with my parents. Well I got married this summer and both my wife and I haven’t changed our ways much. We buy what we need, with extra’s here and there (magazines, lunches, etc). And as of now it’s not a problem, but after reading your article and thinking about it, I realize that it could become a problem later on when we have more debt. I also think we could be saving a lot more money for future purchases (house mainly, future kid’s college), if we only paid more attention to our finances.
Sorry for the wall-o-text, but I genuinely thank you for posting this. I am in the process of entering all my info now into a spreadsheet, and for the first time in a while I feel good about my financial future.

Ryan Dube

Thanks Peter – it feels good reading this and I’m very happy that the article served as inspiration to crack open a spreadsheet and give it a shot. Best of luck to you and your wife – and here’s to a great financial future!

Reply

Factopo

These are some good tips, especially in the economy right now.

Reply

Rhys

Hi Ryan

I have created a website (EasyBudgeting) that makes using an Excel budget planner simple and straightforward.

Excel is a great tool for budgeting but some people find it difficult or a bit overwhelming. I invested my time and knowledge to provide people with a solution to their budgeting needs without having to master Excel.

It’s helped 100’s of people worldwide and may be useful for your visitors.

Good luck, Rhys

Your comment