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Until recently, budgeting, for me, fell into the category of "responsibilities I am ignoring" along with meditating and daily flossing. Of course, I knew I should be budgeting, but the process felt so overwhelming and restrictive that it was easy to procrastinate. That is until I found the Google sheets budget template that turned me into a budgeter.
I, like many, use Google for email, photo storage, and basically, everything else. Yet I'd never thought of using Google to manage my budget until a few months ago, even though the monthly budget template is a free preset that's available to anyone with a Google account.
It couldn't be easier to find. All you have to do is go to Google Sheets, hover over the plus icon at the bottom of the screen, and click "Choose Template." And there, under the "Personal" category, is the "monthly budget" template.
How to use Google monthly budget:
Spread over two pages, the template includes everything a beginner budgeter might need. The summary page shows a monthly financial overview, while the transaction page lists actual expenses and income. Perhaps the best part? The instructions for getting started are clearly outlined in the document.
How to make a budget in Google sheets:
First, enter a starting balance (aka the amount in your account at the start of the month). Next, enter your expected income for the month. Then, enter expense categories. Mary Beth Storjohann, a financial planner and the founder of Workable Wealth, tells HelloGiggles that the spreadsheet's preset categories are a good start for budgeting beginners. "Keeping it simple is great when you're just starting out, like for understanding food, insurance expenses, home, rent, those sort of things."
Storjohann also suggests using expense categories to account for savings, whether that be for an upcoming trip, retirement, or a down payment. If you need help deciding on these categories, think about why you are creating a budget in the first place. "You don't budget just to budget; you need to know what your goals are," Storjohann says. "You are more accountable and likely to create changes because you are laying out something that you want."
For my own spreadsheet, I came up with categories that encompassed my basic needs (i.e. rent, utilities, groceries, healthcare), recurring monthly expenses (i.e. student loans, car payments, investments), fun (i.e. clothing, restaurants, entertainment), and, yes, savings (i.e. emergency fund).
After determining categories, divide your expected income among the expense categories until you have a plan for where each dollar will go. You will likely know some expenses—like rent—off the top of your head. Others, however—like restaurants and entertainment—might require a trip down money memory lane. For these numbers, Storjohann recommends taking a look back at three or four months of bank statements to get a better idea of your spending habits.
How to track expenses:
When you are ready to track a purchase, go to the spreadsheet's transactions page and enter a date, amount, brief description, and category. From there, the spreadsheet formula does the math for you, adding expenses to the designated category on the summary page. This allows you to see how closely your planned expenses line up with your actual expenses—all without having to dig out your old Texas Instruments calculator from high school that's collecting dust under your bed.
While the process of manually logging purchases has been helpful in allowing me to see my spending habits, Storjohann notes it can be overwhelming for some. If that's you, Storjohann recommends sites or financial apps like Mint and You Need a Budget, which can be linked to bank accounts to automatically track and categorize spending.
How to keep a budget spreadsheet going:
Refer back to the spreadsheet's summary page for a look at your finances and how you might need to tweak your spending going forward. Storjohann recommends weekly check-ins for new budgeters and those prone to overspending, while more practiced budgeters can get by with monthly checks.
And if your first crack at budgeting doesn't go perfectly? Perspective is key, especially considering financial planning is a lifelong (not month-long) pursuit. "Money is a journey. Some months you are going to blow it and some months you are going to be great," Storjohann says. "Even if you mess up one month, use the future month to fix the wrong. Give yourself grace and remind yourself that your financial journey is going to have ups and downs, just like your career journey or life journey."
Then, when it is time to plan your budget for next month, simply duplicate your spreadsheet, swap out the starting balance, remove non-recurring expenses and income from the transaction page. You are ready to repeat the process.
You started a budget—now what?
At the end of the day, the reason I love this budget template so much is because it does exactly what Storjohann says any good budget should do: it provides clarity about what's happening with my money.
It sounds like common sense—and it is. But putting a budget into practice feels like magic, especially after so many months of dipping into my savings account when I noticed my checking started to dip.
But Storjohann says budgeting is a journey, and a highly individualized one, at that. "You have to find what works. It's called personal finance; it depends on your personal situation and what's going to motivate you," Storjohann says. "Allow yourself the ability to pivot and see which way feels more natural to you."
So while I have spent a few months happily tracking each and every purchase I make, moving forward, I might test out automated expense tracking. And if I don't end up using my beloved Google template forever? That's just part of the journey. Either way, I am grateful it helped me make progress on at least one responsible adult activity. Maybe it will do the same for you.