Fiscal Responsibility feat. Sweet Graphs

Back in April, I took a big step towards being a Real Adult and started my own budget spreadsheet. After just the first month, I was completely shocked at how much I was actually spending (read: THAT much on dining out?!) Now that I’m heading back into the tight grip of grad schooldom, I know that I need to prepare myself for the grad school lifestyle. Which, of course, means living within my means. My first step in this preparation process was to create a budget spreadsheet for myself. I’m a big believer in ‘knowledge is power,’ and had to embrace that mantra to keep my head up while working on this project.

I started in Excel with two of the provided templates: College Cash Flow and Monthly Home Budget. Both templates provides you with a file already outfitted with calculations to auto-fill the green boxes based on data in the yellow boxes. In the College Cash Flow file, you input your starting money on hand and monthly expenses by convenient categories likely to be used by college students (e.g. books, tuition, etc). Your total income, expenditures, cash flow, and ending balance are automatically calculated for each month. The Monthly Home Budget sheet performs a similar task, but on a shorter time scale. You also have an opportunity to compare your actual income/expenses to budgeted ones. Together they are both useful, but I found that with a little extra work I could create a more interconnected, useful budgeting tool, complete with visuals.

I wanted to know more about my individual purchases in addition to total monthly charges, so I added a section to the Monthly Home Budget sheet at the bottom where I could input each individual purchase with Date, Cost, Type, and Notes. I found that having to record each transaction separately also helped me stay aware of my spending as the month progressed. I have Office 2008 for Mac on my computer, so everything I mention subsequently will be specific to that version of Excel.The major amendments to the spreadsheet templates are as follows:

  1. I wanted to have a drop down menu of categories for when I input individual purchases, to eliminate the possibility of typos. This was more an issue of formatting than coding. 
  2. Screenshot 2014-05-21 21.28.05.png
    May was a pretty cool month. I was much more conscious of what I spent even after a month of keeping track and budgeting.
    1. Highlight the boxes where you want the drop down list.
    2. Data -> Validation
    3. Allow: Select “List”
    4. Source: highlight the categories from the Variable Expense section
    5. Okie doke. You can also copy/paste this format into other cells.
  3. Next, I wanted the “Actual” cost cells in my Variable Expense column to automatically update from my individual transaction list. But that meant that each categorical cell would only update with it’s specific type of expense.
    Let me reassure you, this was not too difficult at all! And I felt like such a badass every time I figured out a tiny little thing. 
    1. In the Actual column next to the first category (household) type “=SUMIF(“
    2. Highlight “Type” column then insert a comma
    3. Click the category name then another comma
    4. Highlight the expenses column and end parentheses
    5. Repeat steps for each category/type (e.g. household, groceries, gas, etc.)
    6. Now that the Variable Expense Actual cost cells auto update, I changed the color to light green.  
  4. I wanted my monthly expenses to automatically be filled in on the College Cash Flow sheet. In hindsight, I could’ve made this a little easier on myself by rearranging the “Expenditures” list to match the ordering on the Monthly Home Budget sheet. 
    Oh man, Meridith, there’s not much going on here. Are you going to release a template for everyone. Maybe. Just maybe. 
    1. I started in April, so I would’ve gone to that month’s column in the CCF sheet. Clicked on the cell that matches up with the Household Costs row.
    2. Entered =’April Budget’!$C$55, where April Budget is the name of my Monthly Spreadsheet for April and C55 is the cell where my Household Variable Expenses are totaled. 
    3. Some expenses on the yearly sheet, like utilities, may be broken down into more specific categories on your monthly sheets. You can use =SUM() to compile those cells. 
  5. I love visualizations. I wanted to see these data represented so I could see, at a glance, where my spending was occurring. Where are the sweet graphs?! Missing?!  No sweat, I just had to make my own. I had a pie chart of my variable expenses on my monthly spreadsheets. I kept the fixed expenses off because huge costs like rent would just overwhelm the graph. 
    Can you tell I like food?
    1. Highlight “Variable Expenses” and “Actual” columns
    2. Insert > Chart > Pie > whatever the most basic one is
    3. I also did a similar pie chart for the yearly sheet using the “Expenditures” and “Yearly Totals” columns.
Celebrating my time in Newcastle the proper
 way – dancing my heart out. 

Ahhhh, fiscal responsibility and organization. You really can’t beat it. Don’t be afraid to try your own tweaks to the budget sheets. I’d love to hear your insights. The important thing is that you’re staying aware. I’ve known many a young lad and lassie who just wanted to ignore their financial obligations and responsibilities. Your twenties are not for mistakes and frivolity! Ok…they are a little bit. I’ve mistaked and frivoled. But I’ve also been conscientious of long term savings, and because of that (in addition to supportive parents and lots of living at home) I’ve been able to do some really frickin’ cool shit! After completing my Master’s degree I moved home, worked for a few months, bought a plane ticket, packed a bag, and left for a completely wild 90-day, self-funded, solo adventure through Europe. I had zero responsibilities. Minimal worries about my funds. And all of the funs. All of them! Sure, it meant watching my money closely during my time in New Mexico. I rarely went out and spent money on beers and food. I lived with roommates with ridiculously cheap rents. I nearly never went shopping for clothes. But it was all completely worth while when I landed in Dublin and immediately had adventure after adventure!

I’ve been looking into what other things I can be doing to be extra responsible with my finances. I’m not anywhere near 40, but this cool article has really inspired me to think about awesome next level goals I can set for myself. I’ll be studying for my PhD for the next five years, and while that comes with a stable stipend, it’s not the same as having a job with a 401K and retirement plans and all of these other benefits that I’m mostly clueless about. If you are looking into other ways to keep yourself in check with your cheques, then you might want to consider the many financial apps available. SciFri has a lovely podcast on them. You know how much we love podcasts. I have friends that also swear by the cash envelope system. Each month you take out the budgeted amount of cash (lump sum or broken into categories) and that’s all you have for the month. You run out…tough cookies.

If you’d like more money saving tips throughout the week keep an eye on our STS Tumblr for extra posts. We’ll share different articles and our own personal insights on how we live on the cheap! We also want to hear about what’s your method? Any super awesome money life hacks that we could benefit from? By all means, let us know! 


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