How to make a budget spreadsheet

Working on improving your finances? If so, you may already know that a budget can be helpful for managing money. But did you know that a budget spreadsheet can be helpful for managing a budget?

You might start by finding an online spreadsheet program you’re comfortable with. Then you could add customizations that’ll make the document work well for your needs. When you’re done, you’ll ideally have a practical tool for managing today’s money—and reaching tomorrow’s financial goals.

Key takeaways

  • A budget spreadsheet can make creating and maintaining a budget easier.
  • A budget spreadsheet can provide an at-a-glance snapshot of your financial picture.
  • You might use a computer program or online templates to make your own budget spreadsheet.
  • Spreadsheet programs can save you work by performing basic math—and some can also connect directly to your financial accounts.

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What is a budget spreadsheet and how is it used?

A budget spreadsheet is a money management tool to help track income, monthly expenses and beyond. Pen-and-paper methods have always been a budgeting option. But between software and online options, modern budget spreadsheets make it even easier to get at-a-glance financial views.

Budgeting spreadsheets can be used with a variety of budgeting strategies, including zero-based budgeting and the 50-30-20 method. And the ability to customize makes it easy to adjust as your debt and savings goals shift.

How to create a budget spreadsheet in 7 steps

Before you start, it may help to gather financial information like pay stubs, bills, receipts, bank statements and credit card statements. That way, you’ll have most of what you need at your fingertips. 

Next, you can start creating a budget worksheet by following these 7 steps:

1. Pick your platform 

The best budget spreadsheet for you is probably the one you’re most comfortable using. Depending on your preference—and your computer—you might find an option that works from Google, Microsoft or Apple.

If building your own budget spreadsheet sounds intimidating, each program offers prebuilt templates to help you get started. You could also reference helpful worksheets from places like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Or research budgeting apps that do most of the work for you. 

2. Break down your income

Income is typically one of the major categories found in budget spreadsheets. To get started, first determine your net income. That’s the total money you’ve earned minus expenses like taxes and interest payments.

It may help to break your net income into subcategories. These would be based on different types of income, such as:

  • Salary and wages from a job
  • Tips and commissions 
  • Profits from selling goods or providing services 
  • Interest, dividends or capital gains on investments
  • Prizes, awards and scholarships
  • Gifts, allowances or inheritances 
  • Government benefits and tax refunds
  • Retirement or pension funds

3. Break down your expenses

Next, list your expenses. They can also be broken into subcategories. Those can include your monthly expenses, plus your bills that aren’t due on a monthly schedule, like annual personal property tax. A bill calendar could help keep track of those. 

Expenses on your spreadsheet can be broken down even further into fixed expenses and variable expenses

Fixed expenses remain generally consistent each month but can have small fluctuations depending on usage. They can include:

  • Rent, mortgage and homeowner association fees
  • Insurance premiums
  • Car payments 
  • Transportation such as bus and rideshare services
  • Loan payments, including those for student and personal loans
  • Property taxes
  • Child care costs
  • Tuition fees
  • Streaming TV subscriptions
  • Memberships such as gym and streaming TV services

Variable expenses may change from month to month and can include:

  • Food including groceries and restaurant meals
  • Utilities like power, phone and internet
  • Clothes
  • Personal care
  • Entertainment
  • Gas
  • Home and car repairs
  • Credit card payments
  • Medical bills
  • Pet care
  • Charitable donations

4. Determine timing

How often do you want to manage your budget spreadsheet? That may largely depend on your financial situation.

For some people, a daily or weekly budget may work best. Some might prefer a monthly budget. Still others might maintain an annual budget.  

5. Set up the spreadsheet

Ready to set up your budget spreadsheet? You can generally make it as simple or detailed as you want. 

At a minimum, you might want to create one category for your total income and another for your total expenses. Then underneath those categories, you could create subcategories to list your types of income and expenses in detail.

By using the program’s subtraction function to deduct expenses from income, you’re able to get a quick look that compares how much money you have coming in to how much you have going out.

Seeing your average expenses each month could help you plan for the future or spot when you’re going over your budget each month.

6. Plug in the numbers

Once you’ve decided on a template and built your spreadsheet, it’s time to plug in your income and expenses. Here’s where the financial information you’ve already gathered will come in handy.

When you’ve plugged in your numbers, you’ll generally get a snapshot of your financial picture. That snapshot could help you make decisions about things like saving or paying off debt.

7. Update as necessary

Your budget spreadsheet may be in good shape. But you may need to update it regularly as your circumstances change.

Did you get a pay raise, tax refund or cash birthday gift? Did you have an unexpected car repair or  doctor visit? Did you splurge on a weekend getaway? You’ll likely want to input those numbers into your spreadsheet.

Keep in mind that there are budgeting apps that can link to your financial accounts to do that work for you.

If your budget spreadsheet isn’t working for you, you can change it. You could even try other budgeting methods until you find one that fits your lifestyle and goals.

Making a budget spreadsheet in a nutshell

A budget spreadsheet can help manage your money, especially when combined with a budget strategy, such as zero-based budgeting and 50-20-30 budgeting

You can also explore helpful digital tools from Capital One to help you manage your accounts, monitor your credit and follow a budget.

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