You’ve made the big decision. This year is going to be different. This year you are going to get on top of your personal finances and create a budget to help you plan, track your progress, and, with a bit of luck, create a surplus that you can apply to savings or other investments.
Instead of wasting time doing the budgeting equivalent of re-inventing the wheel, you can find many examples of budget spreadsheets online. These will help you with your layout, give helpful tips about which types of income and expenses you need to remember to include, and provide links to average household expenses charts as a comparison guide for your own expenses. You may even be able to download a ready-made template that perfectly suits your spending patterns, just waiting to have your own figures slotted in.
Basic Excel spreadsheet
Free Financial Advice has a downloadable budget spreadsheet which is, as the name implies, absolutely free. It is a basic Excel file so it doesn’t have any colorful bells and whistles. You will need a reasonable knowledge of Excel in order to make your adjustments. Beware, the formula cells are not locked, so you can accidentally delete or overwrite them. There is no provision for tracking actual expenses or making comparisons between actual and budget, but the homepage does have some useful advice about staying on track.
Printable monthly budget form
Debt free destiny also has a free Excel budget template, but the confusing layout makes it a little harder to follow. One useful tool you will find on this site is a simple printable monthly budget form with all the income and expense headings you are likely to need. There are blank spaces for you to enter your own figures and make budget vs. actual comparisons. No software or knowledge of Excel is required, just a pencil and calculator.
Pencil and calculator only
About.com also has a printable budget worksheet for use with pencil and calculator, but the income section is unnecessarily complicated by including the concept of gross salary, taxes and net salary. Personal or household budgets only need to be concerned with net income.
Great spreadsheet for a low fee
Simple Planning has an Excel spreadsheet that shows you how to set up annual and monthly budgets by adapting the template provided. You can then track your actual income and spending by month and compare your actual results with your budget, aided by colorful block and pie charts. It appears to be a very user-friendly tool, but it is not free. You will need to pay a small fee to download it.
Personal Budgeting has a pared-to-the-bone sample budget that is interactive. That is, you enter your details on the screen in real time and see the results instantly. It is however, lacking in detail and not able to be adjusted, because once again the aim is to sell you downloadable budgeting software. Nevertheless, this site is worth a visit for the budgeting tips section.
Compare your expenses with the average household
Money-Zine has a “Household Budget Basics” page with links to a free Excel-style worksheet for monthly budgeting; you will find it in the “Additional Resources” box. It has an easy-to-follow layout in alternating colored rows and a different color for total rows and columns. It does not provide any means of tracking actual expenses and comparing with budget, but there are useful budgeting tips listed under “Budget Worksheet Part II”. Other links provide useful tools for calculating the percentage of your income you spend on various typical expenses, and then comparing the results with an average household. If you want to see typical expenditure in dollar rather than percentage terms, then follow their link to the Bureau of Labour Statistics’ Consumer Expenditures page.
Lots of options at a single website
Vertex42, saving the best until last, has a variety of free Excel budget templates, including personal, household, family and business budgets. There is even a wedding budget. Layouts are clear and colourful, but once again the formula cells are not locked, so take care.
Trying to operate in today’s financial climate without a budget is a bit like attempting to find your way from Albuquerque to Zylonite without a map. Try to make time to visit these budgeting websites to get you started on the road to financial control.