Sunday, July 24, 2011

Budgeting Tools

Well, on my foverever-journey to find "just the right way" to keep my family's expenses (projected and actual) available for viewing at all times I have discovered a few things.
1.  Spreadsheets are a fantastic tool if you will take the time to keep them updated.

2.  Mint is a great FREE budgeting tool, but you have to keep in mind - you get what you pay for, so don't be too dissapointed if some features are lacking.

3.  YNAB is getting rave reviews, but it costs $60.

4.  Writing your income, expenses, savings, etc... down on a piece of paper works as well as anything else, is free, and disappears with important info on it.

If you are looking to start a budget, or just looking for a new way to work with what you've already started, I have put together some of the excel spreadsheets I use on a regular basis and you are welcome to them.  There is a monthly budget template, a savings spreadsheet, and a goals spreadsheet.  I currently use the monthly budget template, but have used all in the past.  The best thing I have found about spreadsheets is they are completely customizable to my exact need and wants. 

As far as Mint goes, I really do like it a lot.  It can automatically link up to your checking and savings accounts, as well as your auto loan, mortgage, retirement savings, etc...  So, it keeps track of your income, your expenses, and your goals, AND it is FREE.  Sounds perfect right?  Well, almost, but I have run across a few things that are just not quite right.  For example, I have money that goes into my FFEF budgetted as a bill and a goal.  A bill, because I "pay myself" each month, and a goal, because I have a set amount I want to get to and I like to see that total go up. Mint counts this twice, so my budget doesn't balance.  Essentially, it doubles the amount I have set up to go to savings so it looks like I'm budgetting more then I make.  I am not, and I know I'm not, so it isn't a huge deal or anything, but I hate to look at the numbers and look like I'm in the negative.  It might not be a problem for you though.  If you decide to go this route I have figured out a way around this issue.  When I set up my goals I link it to my savings account so that as money goes into the savings the FFEF goal number goes up, but when it comes to the money going in I have it listed as an outside source not recognized by Mint so it doesn't get taken out of my budgeted amount.  That way, that money only gets "budgeted" once - as a bill to myself.

I have never personally tried YNAB (You Need A Budget) but I have heard it is great.  You get a one week free trial, which I fully intend to utilize, before you have to decide wether or not you like it. If you decide to keep it there is a ONE time $60 charge plus free software updates.  From what I've read about it, it really changes the way you think about the money in your account.  It sets up the user to grow a buffer in their checking account so that eventually you are paying next month's bills with this month's pay and you don't pay attention to the checkbook balance.  You are always a month ahead (income wise) and if something drastic does happen (job loss) you have a month before you have to worry about coming up with any money because the current bills are already assigned to be paid with last month's (money you've already made) money.  I love the concept, and I think we're going to try to implement it, but I'm going to try to do it without buying the software first.  I'll keep you all posted.

Last, but not least, the good ole fashioned pen and paper budget.  This works great for some people, but not for people like me.  I love writing down our budget and trying different ways to "tweak" it, but if it is paper it just adds to the clutter in our home.  I am not a very organized person, and loose paper just ends up all over the place.  I am the kind of person that will put something somewhere so I know where it is and forget where I put it.  That is a common occurance in our house actually, I know somewhere I have a stack of coupons I want to use (probably in the same place with Will's shot record) that I will find just as they expire.  Eventually I need to get a better system going, but for now, I just give in to the fact that doing things on paper won't really work for me.

As you can see, there are plenty of options available to get a budget up and going, you just have to set aside some time to start it up.  Once you have a good budget in place it really doesn't take much time at all for upkeep.  10 minutes every payday does it for us, so 20 minutes a month total.  Also, don't get discouraged if your 1st, 2nd, or even 3rd budget doesn't work out as well in real life as it does on paper; good budgets, like good music, are not written - they are rewritten.  (That is what my musician husband says all the time when he is on his 5th version of the new song he is writing.)

1 comment:

  1. I will post links to the spreadsheets with Chris gets home and shows me how. I'm sorry I didn't get them out before posting the blog.