After writing about money for half a decade, here's the spreadsheet I built to keep track of my spending


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Business Insider

Consider this budgeting for beginners.

Over the past five years, I've written about money a lot.


A lot.

I don't pretend to be a financial expert or hold any kind of certification, but between writing, editing, and reading hundreds (thousands?) of stories about money, I've picked a few things up.

Chief among them is that the best, most critical first step you can take to improve your finances is to track your spending.

If you think about it for 30 seconds, it makes perfect sense. If you don't know where your money goes today, how are you going to realistically plan where it should go tomorrow? Unless we start writing things down, we're all going to continue lying to ourselves about how much we spend on bagels, anyway.


For a few years, I let LearnVest (where I used to work) track my spending automatically, by connecting my accounts. That was fine, and I recommend it, or a similar service like Mint or You Need a Budget, over doing nothing. But I couldn't get granular enough. I couldn't manipulate the numbers. I couldn't project anything. And I found having 40 category folders in a drop-down list to be tedious.

I started interviewing real people about their budgets for Business Insider, and found myself getting jealous of their spreadsheets. How nimble! How detailed! How customizable!

So I made my own.

Since its creation, I've shared it with a handful of friends, some of whom have shared it with their friends in turn. They've found it useful, so I got to thinking: maybe you would, too.

A few disclaimers before we get to the spreadsheet itself:


• These are not my actual spending numbers. I repeat: These are example numbers. They are not mine. They are arbitrary numbers I chose to demonstrate how the spreadsheet works. I don't want everyone knowing the truth about how much money I spend on chocolate or blowouts. That shame is mine alone.

• The sheet is not that complicated. That's part of its charm. The formulas in the sheet are pretty straightforward: adding, subtracting, dividing. Nothing wild. Consider it a beginner's spreadsheet. If you have impressive Excel skills, go ahead and trick it out.

• It is for tracking your spending, not keeping to a budget. If you want to set up a budget in the traditional sense, imposing spending limits on each category, this sheet will help you establish those limits. However, you'll need to make some of your own additions if you want to track your spending in relation to a budget rather than to get an idea of where your money goes.

• If you want to use it, you'll have to make a copy. It's a plain old Google Sheet, and it's view-only. So make a copy, then enter your numbers.

Now, to the spreadsheet. Here's how it works:


If you don't want to read about it, skip straight to the spreadsheet »