Having a budget and following it consistently can really transform your finances. A budget gives you a clear overview of all expenses, income, savings and investments. Being completely aware of the developments in these categories is enough to inspire some positive change with your money management, but it’s only part of the full effect of budgeting. The main effect comes from taking charge of money management in advance of each month or year. However, not all budgets are created equal – from budgeting worksheets to mobile applications and printable templates, each budget type has its advantages and drawbacks. This article will focus on worksheets and how they compare to printable budgets.
Outline of a Budgeting Worksheet
Most budgeting worksheets are comprised of four columns and over twenty rows. Each row represents a type of expense or a type of income. Some worksheets classify expenses into categories and present the categories in separate tables for better visibility and more convenience. All worksheets have at least two columns – one for the title denoting the type of expense and one for the budgeted amounts. However, it is most beneficial to include two additional columns that will make things clearer – one for actual amounts and one that shows the difference between the budgeted amount and actual amount. The best thing about such budgeting worksheets is that the ‘difference’ column makes it apparent where you have overspent and where you have underspent, and the total in the bottom row shows the final result. Also, this column is very easy to construct using a simple formula in Excel or Google Docs.
Worksheets make for such good budgeting tools because of the features of Excel and similar programs themselves. For one, every file can be easily stored on the computer, a USB or online. This is useful because then you are able to retrieve old budgets easily and compare how much your spending has changed since this time last year or over the year in general. Conversely, printable budgets can easily get lost over
time, and even if they don’t, why should you waste space to store them when doing it on your laptop is much more convenient? If it really helps you to have the budget on paper, displayed where you can see it many times a day, then what you should do is prepare and save it on your laptop, then print out a copy to display on your fridge and then dispose of at the end of the month.
Another advantage is that the information in worksheets can be easily changed – copied, pasted, updated, etc. Again, with a printable budget this is not so easy to do. Just filling it in can be problematic. If you use a pencil, it might smudge or fade. If you use a pen, you cannot easily go back and make changes to the paper. In Excel budgeting worksheets, making changes and updates is easy to do, and you are free to save as many changed versions of the same budget as you wish.
Especially useful for budgeting purposes is the fact that Excel and similar programs make it easy to add, subtract, divide, or multiply numbers in a set pattern. If you are using a printable budget template, or you do the calculations in a notebook, you have to do all the calculations by hand. When you add up over twenty items, as budgeting often requires you to do, it becomes highly likely that you will make a calculation error. This possibility is vastly eliminated when using budgeting worksheets. Most of them come with the formulas already set, so that the calculations are done as soon as you fill in the values for the expenses and income.
Lastly, in Excel and similar programs, it is easy to customize any budget template or even combine different budgeting worksheets into one in order to get all the features you want. Once you have the perfect blank budgeting template, you can easily update the worksheet each month, while still keeping last month’s figures saved as well. This feature of budgeting worksheets is more important than it might seem – the level of detail in a budget can help maximize or minimize the benefits from budgeting altogether.
Budgeting worksheets should be detailed enough to provide a clear overview of where your money is going. For example, it makes sense to distinguish grocery shopping from eating out even though they are both food expenses. On the other hand, you shouldn’t go into too much detail and make it too hard to fill in. For example, you don’t have to put expenses on pens, pencils and notebooks as a separate item unless they constitute a significant expense on a regular basis – otherwise, they should be classified as miscellaneous. In general, thirty to forty expense items should provide sufficient detail.