In a recent focus group here at The Penny Hoarder, we asked people how they like to budget.
It’s 2019, so we were expecting to hear about budgeting apps like Mint and EveryDollar. What we found instead was a love for Excel budget worksheets that ran deep.
It makes sense. Budget worksheets allow you to keep your banking and spending information offline. They’re far more customizable than apps and — if you don’t mind keeping your info on the cloud — you can still bring them with you via Google Drive or Microsoft Office apps.
Monthly budget worksheets or spreadsheets can work for any spending style or budgeting method. But we’ve found that before you can recognize your soul spreadsheet, you’ve got to know your budget self.
4 Steps to Preparing Any Budget
How you prefer to budget is going to affect what you want in a spreadsheet. Figure out how you walk through these basic budgeting steps to know what you want from one.
1. Identify Your Goals
Is your primary goal to pay off debt? Then you might like a zero-based budget. Do you have a stable income, and you’re just trying to get your personal finances organized? You might like the 50/20/30 method. Or maybe you’d like to be able to see your entire year in one sheet.
2. Calculate Your Monthly Income
How much money do you have coming in? If you have a stable salary, you can make a more rigid budget.
Alternatively, if your take-home pay fluctuates or you get paid in tips, you’ll need a budget worksheet that’s more adaptable. Don’t forget supplemental sources of income like child support or alimony.
3. List All Your Expenses
The easiest way to do this is to go through your credit card and bank statements for the last few months and list all your transactions. From there, you’ll need to decide if you want your budget categories to be broad, transaction specific or a mix of both.
4. Organize and Prioritize
When it comes to the organization of your budget, different people prefer different things. Is it important for you to see your entire year at a glance? Or do you only want to see a week-by-week view?
Prioritize expense categories how you prefer. Maybe the most important categories are on top, or maybe you put the most frequently used categories there.
Before You Go…
If you can’t find the budgeting worksheet of your dreams, then you can always make your own. Our post on making your own Excel or Google Sheets budget explains — in plain speak — how the pros assemble their budget spreadsheets.
Even if you don’t want to make your own from scratch, knowing how to do some simple functions will allow you to customize any budget on the list to fit your needs.
Just make sure you’re including everything in your DIY budget. There are literally hundreds of categories for your budget (we have a list of 101). But in its simplest form, your budget will contain five categories.
- Goals (financial or otherwise)
- Discretionary spending
You can break one category (like “transportation”) into subcategories (like “car” or “public transportation”). You can even break those down further into transactional categories like “car insurance” and “car payment.”
A free-spirited spender might like more broad categories and stop at five. The Type-A nerd might want to account for every transaction in subcategories within subcategories. Choose what fits your spending style.
The Best Free Budget Spreadsheet for Everyone and Anyone
There are many fish in the sea, and we promise there’s a budget spreadsheet out there for you. Here are our picks based on budgeting personality types one might fall into.
Best “Year-at-a-Glance” Budget Spreadsheet
For the planner and goal-oriented go-getter, there is the Personal Budget Spreadsheet from Vertex42.
Available as an Excel or Google Sheets template, this budget worksheet has categories that are specific without getting too in the weeds. There’s no place to track transactions if you’re looking for that, but if you record only once or twice per week, it’ll work for you.
You’re also able to compare your spending month over month to track progress toward reaching goals. Whether you’re trying to pay off debt, increase your savings rate or eat out less, this budget will hold you accountable.
Best Free Weekly Budget Spreadsheet
We love the Weekly Budget Worksheet from Spreadsheet123, because you can use it as a weekly, biweekly or monthly budget. The categories are very in-depth, and the categories column is “frozen,” so you can see it even if you’re looking at week four.
This budget will keep you up to date every week all month long, and it is perfect for tight-budgeted college students or anyone who wants a detailed budget on a variable income.
Best Free Budget Spreadsheet if You’re Using the 50/20/30 Rule
Available for Excel and Google Sheets, the 50/20/30 Spreadsheet from Crown of Harts is a simple yet effective monthly budget. A percentage-based budgeting model like the 50/20/30 method allows for more flexibility than a zero-based budget, so the spreadsheet doesn’t need to be as complex.
The columns on the left adjust to tell you the percentage of your budget you spend in each category. All you need to do is adjust your allocations to each category until your percentages are where you want them.
Best Free Budget Spreadsheet for Zero-Based Budgets
We like that the zero-based budget template from Smartsheet has a separate column for tracking your actual spending. It doesn’t allow for individual transactions, but simply being able to monitor your progress against your plan is helpful.
This budget also keeps a running total at the bottom to tell you when you’re at zero. Categories go down to line 57, but you always have the option of not using every line. The budget is available as an Excel template and a Google Sheets template.
Best Wedding Budget Spreadsheet
Available in Excel and Google Sheets, this Wedding Budget Spreadsheet from Bridal Musings was made by a wedding planner, so you can’t rest assured that you won’t miss a thing. It’s also clean and easy to read.
And Bridal Musings doesn’t just plop categories in column 1; they note what you can expect from that category, so you can make decisions faster and budget better.
Jen Smith is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She and her husband paid off $78,000 of car and student loan debt in less than two years on two less-than-average salaries. She gives money-saving and debt-payoff tips on Instagram at @modernfrugality.
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