Thursday, June 18, 2009

Budget Helpers

There are a number of free or low-cost programs available on the Web for helping people manage their money. Here are four – each is different, so play around with them and find something that works for you

A downloadable spreadsheet that runs in MS Excel – functional and easy to use. It advertises being able to set up a budget in 10 minutes and maintain it with two 10-minute sessions a month. Creator Charlie Park originally built it for his own use, saying he couldn’t afford a commercial program (like MS Money or Intuit’s Quicken). Download at

SimpleD Budget
A downloadable, Windows-based program, SimpleD Budget was created by programmer Soichi Hayashi for his wife. It has charts and visual aids to see where you’re at on expenses and income versus the amount you’ve budgeted. When setting up the program it offers templates for various stages of life (college student, parent, etc) that provide different categories for expenses. Download at
A web-based budget tool, My Spending Plan can be managed by different people at different locations. Offered by the American Homeownership Association, it offers more than just budgeting; you can also set up reminders about bills. However, the site includes commercial promotions, and because it is online, it operates slower than the downloadable programs. Also, the tool is in the beta stage, so it’s a work in progress. Sign up at

Microsoft Office Personal Budget Template
A downloadable spreadsheet that runs in MS Excel – a very basic budget, so it’s very easy to use. Microsoft offers several choices. The simplest is the ‘personal budget’ in which you can track expenses and income for a year on one page, but there is also a personal monthly budget (which provides detail for one month only, not a year), a family monthly budget, and a number of other budgets for things such as job expenses, events, a garden, a wedding, and marketing. There’s also a personal financial statement (which is a good idea to have so you can track your net worth). Download at Search for ‘personal budget.’

It’s worthwhile to take a look at them all – it may be helpful to build a budget using the categories of one system, then use, for example, SimpleD to track the spending.

Of course, there are other, less technology heavy systems. A spiral notebook and a pen and calculator are one. The envelope method is another. The envelope method goes like this: get a separate envelope for different household expenses such as housing, food, travel, etc., allocate expenses to the different categories according to your income, put the allocated money in its respective envelope, and then use the money from a particular envelope to pay the corresponding bills. The envelope system was designed for cash – actual money would go in the envelope. But you could modify the system so that you just write the amount of money assigned to each category (envelope) on the outside, then subtract that money from the balance. Then when you get to zero, you’d have to quit spending in that category or 'move' money from another envelope.

1 comment:

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