Budgeting Without a Spreadsheet.

A lot of the time when we talk about budgeting we talk about writing everything down in a spreadsheet, and keeping track of all your spending. Not everybody is a spreadsheet person. In fact I’d guess that most people aren’t in love with spreadsheets. They do work, and it is an excellent way to manage your money. If you can stand them, anyway. But what if you hate spreadsheets, but still want to manage your money? Well there are several ways to budget without using spreadsheets.


Envelope method.

This is one of the most popular non-spreadsheet methods. To do this you get a bunch of envelopes. On each one write one of your budget categories; like groceries, entertainment, rent, etcetera. Then when you get paid you put a portion of your money in each of those envelopes. When the envelope runs out of money you can’t spend any money on that. This may take some planning to know how much of your paycheck you should put into each envelope. You can use my post Don’t Create a Budget Yet. Part 1 – Find Out Where It Goes to learn one technique for figuring that out.

In today’s electronic age it’s sometimes impractical to use physical envelopes. Especially for larger things like vacation savings. In this case you can set up multiple savings accounts. Most banks will allow you to do this. Just label each account based on what you want to use the money for.



This is one of my favorites. Now it is even better. You can let the software do all the work for you. You can either buy a program and enter each of your purchases and paychecks into it. Or use a service like Mint.com or an app like Level Money to compile this information for you. Either way you enter budget amounts and the software will categorize it for you. Just pay attention to where the software puts your transactions to make sure it does it correctly. Most learn after a while and will get pretty accurate. These programs can also alert you when you start to get close to your limit.


Using Lists

Sometimes a spreadsheet may be overkill. Especially if your finances are pretty simple. In this case a simple list may be all you need. Just write down the important information. For example, if most of your stuff is set, but you want to control your eating out budget then just write down when you eat out and how much you spent. This will help you keep track so that you can see how much you’re spending.



Budgeting is one of the most powerful ways to improve your finances. But you don’t have to use the standard budget spreadsheet. There are a lot of different ways to budget. This is just a quick list of three ways people I know budget. There are countless other ways to do it. Let us know if the comments how you budget. Do you have a special way that helps you keep track?

Don’t Create a Budget Yet. Part 3 – OK Now Create It.

This is the third post in this series. The first post, Don’t Create a Budget Yet. Part 1 – Find Out Where It Goes., covered how to track what you’re currently spending. We did that so that we have a starting place to create a realistic budget. The second post, Don’t Create a Budget Yet. Part 2 – Figure Out What To Budget., talked about looking at the data so that it will be useful to you. Now we have the data to actually create your budget.


Step 1: Create a new table.

Create a new table. It’ll be similar to the last ones except now put the days along the top, put your new categories along the left side and then create a budget column.

Step 2: Fill in your goals.

Look at the categories that you created and the amounts you actually spent on each category. Develop a goal for each of those categories. Some, like rent, will be easy since they will be the same each month. Some, like eating out, may not be. Write down your budget goal in the new budget column next to the category. Do this for each of the categories that you created.

Step 3: Other categories.

Make sure you list some other categories as well. Specifically put a misc expenses category. Use how much you spent in the previous months to estimate this category. I usually try to estimate a little high for this one.

Step 4: Don’t forget saving.

Add a saving category. Even if all you don’t have any money left add a savings category. If you have a more comfortable income then add an investment category also. But the saving category isn’t negotiable.

Step 5: Adjust the numbers until they work.

Look at how much you make each month. Adjust them to meet your goals. Then adjust the numbers in your budget column until they add up to less than the amount you make in a month. This is where you really make your budget workable. It can be difficult. Try to balance how much you need to spend with how much you can afford to spend. Since you know how much you have been spending this part is easier. Make sure you put a little to savings. It may only be a dollar. That’s fine. But put something there. Once it all adds up you have your budget.

Step 6: Work it and refine.

Now with your budget set up track it just like you have before. The only difference is that as you spend money watch how it compares to your budgeted amount. If you find you’re getting close to the budgeted amount for the month reduce spending. Adjust if you need to for the following months.


Additional tips.

  1. You might find that you constantly are over spending in one item or that you’re constantly spending less. In this case you may need to refine your budget amount. Look at your budget to determine if it is realistic or if you’re just going over budget. Either way, you now have the information to make adjustments.
  2. Pay the important ones first. That dollar you put to savings in your budget, put that in at the beginning of the month so you’re less likely to spend it.
  3. Keep tracking your spending. I usually revise my budget categories and amounts each year. Tracking my spending helps me know how that needs to be adjusted.
  4. Don’t try to make big changes. If you find that one of your categories is completely out of whack make small manageable changes first. They will be easier to maintain. For example, if you find that you are eating out 5 days a week, don’t try to cut it to zero in the first month. Cut back a little at a time until you reach your goal. If you’re able to do better great.
  5. Budgets are rarely static for longer than a year. There is nothing wrong with adjusting as you go as long as you’re making it more accurate and working towards your goals.


What other tips do you have for people creating a budget? Any questions you have about creating your own workable budget?

Don’t Create a Budget Yet. Part 2 – Figure Out What To Budget.

This is the second of three posts getting you to a workable budget. The first post, Don’t Create a Budget Yet. Part 1 – Find Out Where It Goes., talked about tracking what you currently spend. This is important because it shows you how you spend your money. This leads to the next phase looking at all that data to figure out what you need to do.


Step 1: Review the data.

Look at the spreadsheets that you created. They show what you’ve actually been spending money on. If you followed Step 1 in the last post and agreed not to lie, then this will be a good place to build your budget from. Look over the data and see what you’ve been spending your money on. Are you spending it where you really want to spend it?

Step 2: Revise Your Categories.

Rewrite the information out in different ways. This part is up to you. Find out the best way to organize your data so that you can see what you need. For example, you may want to include a bunch of stuff like soap and paper towels, under household items. Or you may want to lump it together with groceries if you buy them all at the same place at the same time. If you aren’t concerned about your utilities you may want to group them. Or you may want to list them separately. The point is to organize the categories in a way that will be useful to you when you’re actually using your budget.

Step 3: Deal with the extra stuff.

You’re going to find that each month you had a few items that don’t really fit into any one particular category. I have a line item in my budget called Misc Expenses. Group your extra items under a category like that. This will help deal with the unexpected expenses each month.

Step 4: Look at the data again.

Summarize up the data into your categories and look at how much you spent on each of those categories each month that you were tracking your spending. Does that seem like a lot? Is it less than you expected? For most people it’s more than they expected. But this is your starting place for making your actual budget.


Now that you have your historical data and you have it grouped in a way that makes sense you can start on your actual budget. My next post will cover putting that budget together.


What are some things that you look at when you’re reviewing your spending?

Don’t Create a Budget Yet. Part 1 – Find Out Where It Goes.

Budgets can be an important part of money management. They can help you make sure that you have enough money to pay all your bills. Typically though when people try to create a budget they simply try to limit the amount they spend in a certain category. For example, when people create a budget they typically try to say that they’ll only spend so much on eating out. This is good, but in the beginning this might not be realistic. It might not even be helpful. If you want your budget to be successful you need to do a few thigs first. This is the first in a series of three posts that can get you to a budget. So here are 4 steps to do before you create your budget.


Step 1: Agree to not lie.

The first step is the easiest for some people and the hardest for others. For any budget to be successful you have to accept that everything will be tracked and that there are no “it doesn’t count” items. So you have to agree that when you create your budget you won’t lie about what you are doing. Then when you are following your budget you have to agree not to lie about what you are spending.

Step 2: Create a spreadsheet.

You don’t need to use Excel or anything fancy. All you really need is a piece of paper to track what you spend. Along the top put 1 through 31. Along the left side write down all the different types of things you spend money on: rent, groceries, eating out, clothes, gas, utilities, phone, and anything else that you spend money on in the month.

Step 3: Track your real spending.

Use the spreadsheet you created. Write down everything you spend money on over the course of the month. If you find that some of your spending doesn’t really fall into one of the categories that you already have then create new categories. This stage is all about recording what you are currently doing. It’s not about trying to make things fit.

Step 4: Track it again.

I recommend tracking your spending for three months in a row. It’s fine if you want to limit some spending in different areas. The point is to track what you actually spend. I recommend three months because you don’t always spend the exact same amount of money on the exact same things each month.


Now, this shows a true picture of what you spend your money on. We will use this to create your budget. First we’ll do a little analysis on what we’ve found. I’ll cover that in my next post. In the meantime write down the money that you’ve received. How much you actually received after taxes on your paycheck or any other money that you received during these months.

Let me know in the comments what else you need to know to track what you’re currently spending.