Next in my “You can get out of debt – give yourself some peace of mind in this crazy economy” series this week is the idea of budgeting. I’ve written about budgeting and how I budget in the past, and you can get caught up here:
- Basic Budgeting Overview Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
- How I Budget
- Budgeting on an Irregular Income (more on that later too)
- A Good Budget Is Not An Iron-Clad Contract
Today I don’t want to talk about the specifics of budgeting as much as I do the specifics of the budgeting software I use, and some tips and tricks for using it most efficiently. This isn’t for everyone – no matter what your budgeting software preference, the important part is that you budget (or devise a spending plan, or whatever you would like to call it). But for those who have never tried budgeting before, I thoughtinsight into the hacks I’ve devised for the budgeting program I use may be helpful.
I use the spreadsheet version of PearBudget. It is a free downloadable spreadsheet that you can use to keep track of all the money flowing in and out of your household. I like having something on my computer that I enter the data into. There are other programs that will automatically download your bank and credit card transactions, and if that is what you like, that’s great. I like doing things the old fashioned way, it makes me feel more connected to my spending. This is an excel worksheet (I use it in OpenOffice, a freeware program) that has done all the coding work for me as far as making numbers go to the right places. That makes me happy.
When you download the PearBudget spreadsheet, the first thing you’ll do is create your monthly budget. PearBudget uses a monthly system and a yearly summary. There are categories for regular expenses, variable expenses, and irregular expenses. Regular expenses are those that are the same every month – mine are things like our mortgage and car insurance payment. Variable expenses are those that vary per month, such as groceries and gasoline. Irregular expenses are those that aren’t every month but need to be accounted for – I include all our annual expenses as well as things like clothing, medical, and haircuts. You have ten slots for each category – it isn’t necessary to fill up all ten slots, but try to remember all the different categories in which you spend money. If the total comes out higher than your monthly income, you’ll need to adjust some categories downwards.
Now for the hacks. Move on to a specific month, like October. Just because, well, it is October. You’ll see that on the left side are the days of the month in number form, and on the right side a column that you can enter your income into as it comes in too. In the middle and on the bottom are the categories you entered on the first page. I had one problem. The irregular expenses don’t have any monetary amount associated with them on the monthly sheets (the variable does, and the regular should be regular so you don’t need to remember them necessarily). I wanted to be able to track how I was doing as far as spending the irregular categories. Enter the “note” function. If you right-click on any cell, you can enter a note that will be associated with that cell. I love notes. I use notes all the time. I put notes to describe:
- What did I spend that money on and where? For example under groceries, a entry might have a “Kroger” note on it.
- How much is left in that category? Under irregular expenses I track what I budgeted per month with a note, as well as what gets carried over from the past month. So if I had $30 left over from the last month I add that to whatever I budgeted per month and I enter that in the next month’s cell note.
My next hack is in regards to dealing with the monthly budget. My first month using PearBudget went swimmingly, and I matched my ending balance on my budget sheet to my bank balance. I continued with the next month, and something went wrong – I couldn’t match the bank balance and the budget remainder at the end of the month. After a lot of pondering, the solution was simple – because this is based on month to month, I need to enter the remaining balance from one month as income on the next to carry it into that month.
The last hack I use is highlighting in regards to income. I use not only notes, but the cell color to make sure our different sources of income get allocated correctly. I snowflake all of our extra incidental income (from surveys, the blog, my part time jobs) towards debt, and to make sure it goes to debt and not anywhere else, I change the cell color to purple until it is applied to debt, and then to yellow once it is applied. that way when I look at my snowflake savings account, I can figure out where all the money in it came from quickly, and keep track of when it gets moved to paying off debt. I lose track of less incidentals this way.
Those, in a nutshell, are my three PearBudget hacks to make using it suited to my needs. Play around with the program – don’t be afraid to mess with things and see what happens. Like budgeting itself, a good budgeting tool is flexible and adjusts to your own needs.