Ready or Not #236: Keeping Track of Finances

You know that it is going to be painful.  It always is.  I’m talking about the after-the-holidays, in-the-red, and credit cards gone-wild-and-out-of-control pain.  Ouch!

I actually don’t do too bad this time of year because I just can’t afford to.  But I think my husband is getting a little wearisome of my frugal ways.  The other day we were talking about what Christmas gifts we were getting for our adult children.  For my daughter’s birthday present (she was born on Christmas Eve) and her Christmas present, I combined them together and paid for three months of her car insurance.  She was very excited about the whole thing.

My husband wasn’t.

His comment to me was, “Do we ALWAYS have to be so darn frugal?  Can’t we just buy something fun?”  Well, yes, but not right now – maybe later.  Until then, my daughter is absolutely thrilled.

After that conversation, I got thinking about the pain and suffering that I would experience if I went wild and bought everything I wanted for everyone I know.  It just isn’t worth the worry.  I’ll just tell them how much I love them instead and maybe buy them a case of toilet paper.

Then I got thinking about the new year coming up and I wondered what I could do that would help me and my husband better understand our spending habits and possibly have a bit more money for this time of year – so that we could buy something fun.

Out comes my Excel spreadsheet (I love Excel).  I already had a spreadsheet that I have used for several years to track my regular expenses, but I decided to take it up a notch and make it even more effective to help evaluate all of my spending habits.

It is a very easy and simple spreadsheet (in .xlsx format) to use and if you understand Excel at all, it is very self-explanatory and you can stop reading.  If however you are intimidated by Excel spreadsheets, or formulas, or stuff like that, I am going to give you a simple Excel 101 tutorial so that you will feel comfortable using it.

The first thing that I want you to remember is to never type in or delete from the grayed out cells or “boxes”.  I purposely grayed out the areas that have formulas or are linked to other areas.  If you accidentally do type in the area, don’t panic – just go to the top of the sheet and hit the “undo” button.  The undo button is the perfect eraser of accidentally doing bad things.

When you start using the spreadsheet, remember that in column A you can change any of the names to tailor the spreadsheet to your circumstance.  I put the colored separator lines in between sections because that is how I like to set mine up.  If you don’t like the separators, then just right click on the line, scroll down and hit delete.   Easy.  If you want to move the line you can right click on the line # (e.g. #7, 10, 15 and 18) and highlight it.  Then you move the cursor over the line, click down on it when you see the cross with the arrows on each end and while the cursor is still depressed, you can drag it to where you want.  You can also make more colored lines by just highlighting the row again and hitting the right clicker on the mouse and copying it.  To paste it in the new area, right click again and click “paste”.  You might need to adjust the size of the line if you want to, but it isn’t necessary.

Once you start using the spreadsheet and there are larger numbers in a cell, you might get the dreaded pound mark (#####).  All that means is that your number is too large to be displayed fully in the cell.  That is a really quick and easy fix.  Just go to the top of the spreadsheet and on the line to the right of the cells that are too small, move your cursor over the line between the two letters (A-B-C-etc.)  Then you can either double click on the line and it will automatically adjust to the right size, or you can manually click on the line and drag it so that it is wider and to your specifications.  I told you this wouldn’t be hard.

Now on to what the spreadsheet can do.

I have formulated each column to add up the monthly expenses.  I have formulated each row to add up the expenses for each item (e.g. mortgage/rent, utilities, etc.).  Simple – that is where I stopped before, but I wanted more.

At the bottom of the spreadsheet, where the monthly totals are added, you will notice another line.  That row is your monthly income and below that row is another row showing the positive (or negative) balance for each month.  At the extreme bottom on the right side of the spreadsheet it displays the running totals for the year – both income and expenses.

So where does the income figures come from?  You enter them – on the next tab.  If you click on the next tab on the bottom of the spreadsheet, the “Income” tab, you will find another very simple spreadsheet to enter your sources of income.  I have only made three rows and two columns, but you can add more rows or columns if you need to.  You might have to double check the formulas, but if you run into any problems just click onto the “Contact Us” tab here on our web site and I will try to help you.

When you start entering your income in the cells, it will automatically start adding up on the side and at the bottom, but it does even more.  If you will go back to the “Expense” tab you will find that your income has automatically shown up on that page.  I linked the monthly income figures to the expense sheet so that you could automatically and immediately see where you are according to your budget.  Neat, huh?

Now another nifty little trick.  Obviously, every time you go grocery shopping you will not want to get your calculator out and add the amount onto the previous figure.  This little trick will help you to create your own little formula so that you won’t have to.  When you want to add figures in a particular cell, but only see the total sum, you first type in the equal sign, then the number you want to add, a plus sign, and then another number.   When you hit the “Enter” button it will automatically display the total of the formula.

An example of this would be if you went to the store three times (#1 – $150, #2 – $50.35, #3 – $75.20) to spend a total of $275.55.  In the cell you would type:  =150+50.35+75.20 – then you hit the “Enter” button and it will automatically display $275.55.  When you look at the cell, it will display the result, $275.55, but if you look at the display above it will show you your formula.  This is kind of handy because you can continue to add more figures to your sum and you can also see how many times you went to the store – three times.

If you have an unusual expenditure and you want to remind yourself what it was, then you should add a comment.  To add a comment you right click in the cell and scroll down to “Add a Comment”.  A little box will pop up and you can type whatever you want.  You can also adjust the size of the box if you need to.  You will know that there is a comment in a cell by a little red tag in the corner of the cell.  The way you read the comment is to drag your cursor over the cell and it will automatically pop up for you to read.  If you need to edit the comment, just right click again and scroll down to “Edit Comment” or “Delete Comment” if you want to get rid of it.

If you run into a problem and need help, click on the “Contact Us” tab (this is something new that Nina has added) on the A Prepared Home website and send me a note and I’ll see what I can do to help you figure it out.

This spreadsheet is meant to be a tool for you so that you can use it to really see how your money is being spent.  When you see what you are really doing vs. what you think you are doing, it might help you to evaluate what changes you might want to make – or pat yourself on the back if you are happy with your results.  There is no sense in making money just to spend it without the greatest benefit to its value.

Don’t bother starting this financial tracking spreadsheet until the New Year; let it be one of your New Year goals.  Until then, enjoy your spending season.  Just don’t overdo it so that you (or I) can buy fun things next year.

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