Budgeting and Tracking Expenses in a Spreadsheet

At different times in my life I've tried budgeting tools of different kinds, and trying to track what I spend and on what. Most of the time it's felt like too much effort for now result. But I'm back to it now, and I think the key is this: know what you want to learn.

Currently I only keep track of two budget posts. Food and Other. Now, that's far from all the accounts and budget posts we have in the family and it doesn't include bills like mortgage, electricity, insurance, etc. No, these budget posts are essentially food (as evident) and any frivolous spending. I get paid on the closest banking day to the 25th every month, and just to be on the safe side I refill these buckets on the 27th.

For each month I set up a sheet (copied from the month before and edited as needed) that runs from the 27th of one month to the 26th of the next. It has the columns Date, Food, Medicine (which is for historical reasons taken from the food budget. Don't ask.), Sweets (taken from the other budget), Other. Then three columns that keep track of the current balance: Food, Other, Total.

These are the expenses I always want to track, and I save receipts until I've entered them. It's a bit of manual labour, but it pays off in insights. Some horrifying, some simply informative. And for most months I add additional columns for things I'd like to find out more about.

For example:

Now what do I do with these insights? First of all I need to figure out why the food budget post is so tight. For November I've decided to track how much I spend on meat, and which food items cost more than $10 a piece. Those are usually items that have a big individual impact. I don't actually think I'll reduce any of them, but it'll show what kind of room I need for them.

Through the years I've had different banking apps that sometimes try to help out with this sort of work, like classifying expenses into categories depending on where they're bought. But they always fall short of this manual and, frankly, very simple method. Why? First of all because it's not granular enough. Everything I buy at the grocery store isn't food, for example. And this data can never be exported from the apps, which means I can't easily make my own edits, additions, addendums, and archiving.

But spreadsheets. Wow. The simplicity is worth the small amount of extra work.

-- CC0 Björn Wärmedal