If you want to save money or pay off debts, the main thing you need to do is make a budget and track your expenses. And you don't even need an app for it, given the number of excellent and free templates available online.
There are some excellent budgeting apps to get your finances in order. But there is a privacy and security concern about giving your financial data to apps. Plus, a spreadsheet lets you customize it as you want, which an app never would.
1. Budget For Life (Google Sheets): Powerful Expense Tracker and Mobile Friendly
Budget For Life (BFL) has made it their mission to deliver a powerful budget manager and expense tracker in Google Sheets that feels like using a personal finance app like YNAB or Mint. It's completely free and easy to set up and offers several surprising features.
Follow the instructions on the website to install the add-on in Google Sheets, and set up a budget based on your incomes and expenses. After that, it's simply a matter of tracking any money coming in or going out in the log, where you also add a date, description, and category to the transaction. BFL will update the main dashboard and other charts to get a quick look at your money situation.
In the Control Panel sheet, you'll find the mobile-friendly BFL Google Form, which you can bookmark on your phone or computer to quickly add any transaction without opening the full sheet. It's a smart innovation that makes this one of the best budget and finance sheets we've seen in a long time.
The Control Panel sheet in BFL includes a lot of other such cool features that most budget sheets don't have. For example, you can design a plan to see your future financial projections, set monthly savings goals, and add a notepad to jot thoughts in your budget sheet.
2. PearBudget (MS Excel): Simple, Month-by-Month Annual Budget Spreadsheet Template
PearBudget is one of the best budget calculator apps on the internet, but it costs $8.99 a month. Many don't know that the app started as a popular spreadsheet on the internet, and you can still download the original template for free.
As the sheet notes, it takes about 20 minutes to set up your finances the first time you use it. After that, it'll only take 10 minutes each month to fix your budget. PearBudget guides even complete novices through each step, showing how to divide your expenses between regular, irregular, and variable spending.
Each month has its own sheet in the Excel file, complete with a summary analysis, income vs. expense overview, and how variable expenses affected your budget. There's a more in-depth Analysis sheet for a quick overview of all months and how you spent your money.
3. Finance Tracker (Notion): Simple Ongoing Money Tracker
Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel aren't the only tools you can use to create a customizable financial planner. Notion is excellent for productivity, and it has one of the best free finance trackers we've seen.
The tracker looks almost like a professional app, and you won't feel like you're in Notion at the outset. It tracks three components: accounts (where your money is), budget (set amounts for spending categories), transactions (all incomes and expenses).
It's pretty simple to use and operate, as the sheet auto-updates based on any transaction you add. You'll see a dashboard of your current finances, such as your budgets appearing in a neat progress bar. There are no monthly or annual breakdowns; it's all about knowing and analyzing your financial situation on an ongoing basis.
To customize the sheet or talk to the developer, you can ask a question on this Reddit post.
4. Monshare (Google Sheets): Budget and Expense Tracker for Couples
Monshare is an excellent app for couples to track finances, split bills, and set budgets. But before it was made, its maker Olga used to rely on a simple spreadsheet for all this. And in a nice gesture, she has shared that online for any couple to use for free.
The sheet lets a couple add their incomes and track their expenses for shared household finances. With spaces for who paid what and what each person's fair share is, you'll be able to set an equitable partnership.
Before you use the sheet, it would be wise to read Olga's blog post on using it best. It has some nice insights into how couples need to track expenses and what can go wrong in the process.
5. Budget Sheets (Google Sheets): Auto-Add Date to Incomes and Expenses
One vexing issue with all budgeting spreadsheets is adding dates to your income and expenses and matching them to the month. Budget Sheets solves this with an automated add-on for Google Sheets.
Once you install the add-on, you'll need to activate it based on the values you choose in the sheet. If it's too complex for you, you can use their default spreadsheet, make a copy, and use the default values for the add-on.
Every time you add an entry in Expenditures or Incomes, the Budget Sheets add-on will automatically add today's date for it. The date then automatically matches the month's tally (based on the add-on). Essentially, you only have to add any expense or income of the day, and Budget Sheets will maintain the rest of your budget tracking.
Without Auto-Updates, Discipline Is Key
Although spreadsheets have several benefits, it's challenging to get them to automatically fetch transaction data from your bank or credit card accounts. And without that auto-update, it's your job to keep tracking every transaction.
The good part is that you control your data and privacy this way. But you'll need the discipline to keep tracking transactions, or it just won't work out.
Don't feel like counting pennies and tracking your money? These budget tools and methods take away the effort and make it easy to manage your money.