I have tried a few different budgeting programs and tools over the years to help us stay on track. I started with Quicken and used it for a couple of years. It is so exhaustive as a tracking tool and has so many functions and reports. While I did like it and it worked great, it could get complicated. I got so caught up in all the options and learning every function, that budgeting started to feel too overwhelming.
Then I tried Mvelopes from Crown. Crown’s Money Map was one of the first resources that made me really think about having a true goal and direction in our money management. Mvelopes uses a cash envelope spending principle as the basis for its budget tracking program. This online program is now offered free. I liked how it incorporated online tracking with an envelope spending system. You can still use your debit card and track the transactions by assigning them to the different categories in your budget. I moved away from this system for two reasons. At that time, it was a paid for service and we were trying to cut out everything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. Also, we were not doing a good job tracking every transaction, assigning them into categories, and truly staying on budget. Using our debit card was leading to overspending frequently. We had a good plan but terrible implementation.
After getting some of Dave Ramsey’s resources in our hands, we really started talking about going to a total cash spending system. So I pulled out an old Budgeting Spreadsheet that I had never really used. It’s just an Excel spreadsheet (that can easily be used online with Google docs) that has a pretty good list of possible budget categories already listed and the formulas are already there to do all the math.
Just put your budget amounts into the Projected column, then put in the amounts you actually pay in the Actual column after you pay a bill or spend in that category. (I only use a handful of the categories provided. Most of my sheet is blank.) So, now, my simple budgeting steps are:
- Paycheck is automatically deposited into account with Direct Deposit. Enter amount into Actual column.
- Bills are automatically paid with Online Bill Pay from my bank immediately after payday. Enter amounts into Actual column.
- Withdraw cash for spending categories on the first day of the month and put in envelopes. Enter amounts into Actual column.
- Transfer money into savings for any categories used for planning/saving. Enter amounts into Actual column.
- Then paycheck goes in again later in the month and our second set of bills go out.
- At the end of the month, I just make sure all the budget categories have amounts in the Actual column so that everything is paid and handle any extra financial matters. Then I go to the next sheet (tabs at the bottom) for the next month.
Budgeting Spreadsheet - If you choose to use this and you have a Google account, you can click the link, sign-in, then go to File, Make a Copy before you enter any information. If you do not have a Google account (by the way, you should get one!), you can go to File, Download As…, and save it to your computer.
Mint.com - I have a few friends that use Mint and love it. I’ve only heard good things about it.
Financial Notebook - This is a great guide to creating a Financial Notebook of your own to track expenses, set and maintain financial goals with Free Printable Downloads.
Quicken - from $49.95 for basic software package. $9.95/month for Bill Pay add-on
Dave Ramsey’s Online Gazelle Budget - 7-Day Free Trial, then $9.95/month or $89.95/year
Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover ($16.49) and Workbook ($12.89) – Everyone I know that has read this book has said their perspective and practice in money management has been drastically changed.
This is a part of a week long series on budgeting. Check out the other posts.
Budgeting Part 1 – Why Have a Budget?
Budgeting Part 2 – How to Set Up a Monthly Financial Budget
Budgeting Part 3 – What Do I Do With My Debt?