Have you been searching for a convenient way to keep track of your spending? Can’t find a budget app to suit you? (or maybe you’re just overwhelmed with setting it up)?
Believe me, I’ve been there! It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the choices of apps, free versus paid features, and membership options.
Besides that, it’s disheartening when you spend all that time setting up a budget app, adding in all of your normal bills and expenses – only to find out that the app doesn’t work for you after all! (So frustrating!)
Where I started
I only started keeping a budget a little over a year ago. Before that, I never kept track of how much I spent (cue shocked face). I know, I know, obviously, this was a horrible practice! I go into a lot more detail in this article, but the gist is that I racked up a lot of debt, and finally came to my senses about 14 months ago while listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio.
When I first started keeping a budget I did it the simple way – with pen and paper. I kept it on my kitchen counter at all times to remind me to write things down, and remain accountable to my husband (who I set up as my accountability partner).
But after a year of writing everything down, scratching things out, adding in my head or on my phone’s calculator, I realized it wasn’t quite working for me.
For starters, when I looked back through my log sheets from previous months, I realized that I had made several math errors. (I blame my calculator!)
The main reason I didn’t like this method, though, was that I wasn’t able to see my running balance without doing a calculation.
I needed to not only see how much I had spent but also how much I had left to spend, factoring in those spoken-for items (items I know I’ll spend but haven’t yet).
So I went on the search for a budget app for my smartphone.
Searching for a Budget App
How can there be so many budget apps out there and NONE of them do exactly what I want them to do?
For one thing, most budgeting apps are designed to keep track of all income and all expenses. They often have pre-named categories like “housing,” “utilities,” and “debt.”
But that didn’t fit how I wanted to use the app. (If that is the kind of budget you need, read this.)
Normal monthly bills are not where I overspend. (I know I’m not alone out there!)
I need a budget to keep me on track with my discretionary expenses like groceries, entertainment, and household supplies. Those expenses that are flexible and can vary widely from month to month.
In addition to that, I am not capable of staying within a budget for an entire month at a time! (I need a much shorter goal.)
However, all of the budget apps I’ve tried are based on a monthly budget cycle.
So I need a budgeting system that will help me keep track of only my discretionary expenses within a two-week expense cycle.
After some searching, and trying out a few different (free) budget apps (without success), I decided to use Google Sheets to track my spending, and I am loving it!
I’d love to share with you how to set this up for yourself! Read on…
Why Google Sheets?
I started using Google Drive a couple of years ago to keep all of my important documents organized.
Google Drive is just a central location for all of your documents. Kind of like your computer’s hard drive, except that it is located online.
Here are three major reasons why I love Google Drive. (Note: I am not getting paid a single penny to promote Google Drive in this article. The opinions are solely my own and I feel so strongly about them that I’m willing to share them for free!)
Reason 1: You can access it anywhere
Since Google Drive is located online, you may access it from any computer, anywhere, just by signing in. And by ‘computer,’ I am talking about any device like desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
You can upload all the documents (like Word documents or Excel spreadsheets) from your computer’s hard drive into your Google Drive, and from there you can access those documents at home, work, or even on your smartphone when you’re at the store (which is especially handy for keeping a budget).
Now, be aware that there are some downsides to uploading actual documents (like Word an Excel), which I’ll explain below.
But the best way to use Google Drive is to use the accompanying Google software (available right there on your Google Drive dashboard – no downloading needed) including Google Sheets, Google Docs, Google Slides, and more.
Why are these programs better? That can be explained by my next reason why I love Google Sheets:
Reason 2: Everything is saved automatically
Everything you do within a Google program (like Sheets or Docs) is saved automatically, but this is not true for Word and Excel. (I’ll explain the difference below.)
How many of us have been working on a Word document for hours without even pressing the SAVE button?
How many of us have had documents erased when the power goes out or our laptop battery dies? (raises hand shamefully)
More than once? (hand still raised, now blushing)
Great news! Those days are over!
Reason 3: Documents are shareable
And finally, the third great thing about using Google Drive is that I can share any document with anyone. So if I want my husband to have access to my budget Sheet, I can share it with him and allow him to do any of the following:
- Edit it – this is handy if he also spends discretionary money and wants to log his expenses himself
- Comment on it – with this function, he can see my Sheet and comment (hopefully to say “You’re doing a great job!”), but he cannot edit it
- View it – in this function, he cannot edit or comment, but can only see it
Any of these options can keep my spending transparent to my accountability partner.
Other than those three things, Google Sheets functions in a very similar way to Excel. So if you are familiar with basic functions of Excel, you should have no problem working with Google Sheets. (And if you’re not familiar with Excel, never fear! I’ll go over some basic functions here in a few.)
The Drawback to Google Sheets
The method I’m explaining here is a wonderful step up from pen-and-paper.
But if you need a budget app that pulls in transactions from your bank accounts, there is no way to do that with Google Sheets.
You can, however, use it with a monthly budget cycle, and even keep track of your fixed expenses as well (with just a few tweaks – see my FAQ video below).
Can You Use an Excel Spreadsheet Instead?
In a word, Yes. But I’ll give you two reasons why it’s not worth the trouble.
Reason 1: You won’t see the benefits of using Google Drive
You can use the system I’m going to explain on an Excel spreadsheet. But the benefits I told you above about why I love Google Drive won’t apply. Your document will only be accessible from the location where you’ve created it. So, for example, if you create the spreadsheet on your home computer, you will only be able to use it on your home computer.
You can upload an Excel spreadsheet to Google Drive, but let me give you a scenario in order to explain how this is more trouble than it’s worth.
Let’s say you create a budget spreadsheet in Excel on your home computer. While still on your home computer, you sign in to Google and upload this spreadsheet to your Google Drive.
While at work, you decide to update your budget. You will need to sign in to Google on your work computer and download the Excel spreadsheet.
Once open, you can update the document, but you must save it to your computer when you’re done. Then you’ll need to go back to your Google Drive and upload the updated version of the document. You will be asked if you want to replace the former document or save it as an alternate version.
When you get home, if you want to update the budget again, you’ll need to go through this process again.
See how many more steps there are?
Reason 2: You’d have to have Microsoft Office on all computers
Another reason I don’t suggest Excel is that you may not have the same version of the Microsoft Office Suite on your home and work computers (not to mention your smartphone). And even if you do now, that may change in the future. I ran into this problem when my home version of Excel became outdated, and I was only able to view my Excel spreadsheets at work, but no longer at home.
So… let’s get to the real reason you clicked on this article: How to use Google Sheets to keep a budget!
(If you prefer, you can watch my video below and I’ll walk you through this process step-by-step.
Step 1: Set up Google Drive
Why wait? Let’s go do it right now!
Go to Drive.Google.com. (It will open in a new tab.)
If you don’t already have a Google account (where you currently use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google+, etc.), then you’ll need to sign up for one by following the prompts on the screen.
When you get that done, report back right here for Step 2!
Step 2: Get my Budget Worksheet for FREE
Next, I want to share with you my pre-formatted Budget Worksheet – FREE – for you to use.
Don’t worry, if it doesn’t quite do what you need, I’ll walk you through some easy ways to reformat it in the next step.
To get the FREE Budget Worksheet, click here.
(FYI- This link will invite you to sign up for my newsletter. I’d love for you to be one of the first to read my new articles! But hey, I’m not for everyone. Feel free to hit “unsubscribe” any time you want. I totally respect your inbox boundaries!)
Click on the link called “Budget Worksheet”.
Step 3: Make it Yours
What I’ve done is shared with you my Google Sheet. I have only given you viewing privileges (not editing or commenting), so the first thing you’ll need to do is to add this Sheet to your own Google Drive. Here’s how:
- Near the top left-hand side of the screen, click on the word ‘File’
- Then choose ‘Make a Copy’
- A popup screen will show up (see below)
- Here you can choose to name your Sheet whatever you want, and (a bit more advanced) relocate it into a specific folder on your Google Drive.
- Select ‘OK’
The only thing you really need to change when you first get your Budget Worksheet is the beginning balance (how much money you’re starting with).
To do this, simply put the cursor in the first row of the ‘Balance’ column, and enter the dollar amount you wish to begin with. Do this in the Template as well so that it will remain the same for all future budget cycles.
Step 4: Use It as a Budget App
- Click on the words ‘Date Range Goes Here’ and type in the dates of your first budget cycle. (This can be one week, two weeks, or a month.)
- Enter all ‘spoken-for’ expenses at the bottom in red.
- Enter all actual expenses at the top in black.
(This is all explained on the worksheet itself, by the way.)
In Conclusion (and a Video!)
Congratulations for making it through the setup!
I think you’ll find that using the Budget Worksheet is super-easy once you get started.
Soon, you’ll be wanting to use Google Sheets for everything! (Like keeping track of all your bills. And I have a lot more upcoming posts to share about all the ways I use them!)
For more help, watch my video of FAQ’s (trust me, it’s way easier than explaining it).
This video answers questions like:
- How do I change the color of the font?
- Can you help me add and delete extra rows?
- What do I do when I need to add a new budget cycle?
- How can I add the surplus (or deficit) from the last budget cycle to the current one?
- Can you help me share my Sheet with my accountability partner?
- How do I add recurring expenses to my template?
More questions? Feel free to comment below or send me an email directly. (Don’t worry – there are no ‘bad’ questions! If you are thinking it, chances are someone else is thinking it too! I will do another video if I have more FAQ’s.)