How do you keep track of your bills and recurring expenses? Do you use Mint.com, your bank’s bill payment system or some sort of financial software? Maybe you just keep track on paper. For me, every solution I’ve tried is too much to keep up with. Something always ends up not working the way I expect it to, or things don’t sync up right, or not all of my bills or accounts can work with a certain app, and so on. That’s why I use a good old-fashioned solution: a spreadsheet.
Here’s what I do: I list all of my expenses in chronological order starting with what’s due next. Then, as soon as I pay a bill, I change the due date to the next month and drag the row down to the bottom. For expenses that don’t recur, like car insurance premiums, I just add those in when I receive them and delete them when I pay them. It’s super simple and makes it extremely easy to see how much money I can afford to spend elsewhere on food, gasoline and extra debt payments throughout the month.
See the image for an example of what the spreadsheet might look like. In our example scenario, let’s say Jane put together her family budget just after the new year on January 12th. Jane gets paid on the 13th, so that’s the first line (in green) on the spreadsheet. Next are some student loans and a Wells Fargo loan, due on the 15th, 17th and 18th. She writes those (in negative amounts) in the next three columns. Her husband John then gets paid on the 23rd, so she lists his paycheck (in green) next. Other bills and paychecks follow, until Jane has listed all of her family’s expenses once (and any paychecks that hit during those times, too).
What’s great about this approach to managing money is that you can play around with your spreadsheet’s calculation tools to quickly see how much money you’ll have available to pay bills. I use Numbers for Mac (which is the Mac equivalent to Microsoft Excel) for my own budget spreadsheet. Both Numbers and Excel do the same things – so use whichever you prefer, or use an online solution like Google Sheets. What I love about Numbers is that I can select any number of cells and instantly see the balance that’s left over after adding/subtracting paychecks and bills (SUM, COUNT, AVERAGE, MIN and MAX automatically display in Numbers when you select multiple cells). Because the paychecks are positive numbers and the bills are negative, any adding/subtracting is done how you’d expect. It doesn’t work if all of the numbers are positive. I can highlight the entire column of amounts, for example, and see how much extra cash I should have on hand each month.
Anyways, it’s nothing super fancy, but it’s the easiest, simplest solution I’ve ever seen, and I have the freedom to style it and change it how I want to. I don’t have to rely on any fancy software or systems other than a spreadsheet program, and I can add in notes or additional bills with ease. If you’re a fan of something even easier, please let me know! I’ve tried Mint Bills and a few others and can’t stand them!