My budgeting tools

Awhile back I was finding that my paycheques weren’t lasting. I was running out of money before my next paycheque and still had bills to pay. I slowly started to develop a budgeting system to fix the problem. My budgeting tools are of course all computer and mobile based. I’m married now, so the tools we use have to be shared. My wife and I need to both know, what needs to be paid and who has already paid what. So here are the tools we use and how we use them. We use iOS and though some of these tools are iOS only. There are alternatives for other platforms. I will let you know if the tool is iOS only so anyone reading can look for an alternative.

The first tool I found is called Moneytrackin. At a user can set up a user account. The user can then setup all their financial accounts. I setup my bank accounts, credit cards, mortgage, loans (auto, line of credit, etc), RRSP, stock portfolio, etc. Moneytrackin as the name implies is a money tracking site. It isn’t the only one around and it isn’t updated often. I like it because there are no actual links to the accounts themselves. So it doesn’t become a target to get access to the accounts. The accounts are only labelled by name. There are no account numbers or other account information. There are also many helpful features like tags and charts. It is great for keeping track of where my money is going and what is the current balance or balance owing of an account. The accounts can be exported to excel spreadsheets and there is an iOS app. It is hard at first to get into the habit of inputting every transaction. It is a great resource though and well worth it. So my advice would be try your best to get into the habit. Especially if at the end of the week all your money is gone and you have no idea where it went. This will tell you where it went and what it was spent on. A trick I used at first was writting down all my transactions in the notes app on my iPhone. Then later I would add them in the app. Then I started slowly using the app after each transaction. The best part is that the site makes it available on the computer as well. I will warn that it is frustrating at times because the site is not maintained regularly. So there are times, not often, when the app or site won’t load the accounts. Usually I leave it for 15 minutes or so and when I go back everything is working like it should.

The next tool I use is a shared calendar for all the bills. My wife and I use the calendar app in iOS since we both have iPhones but there are lots of other shared calendar solutions out there. In our shared calendar labelled “Bills” we add payment dates, amount to be paid, and a reminder. The calendar has everything that needs to be paid. It has re-occurring items for mortgage, car payments, groceries, etc. along with the other bills. It allows me to look at just that calendar and see all upcoming things that will be paid. It is a vital part of the main tool which we will get into later. My wife and I both get paid on the same day every two weeks. Therefore I budget in two week increments.

The next tool we use is OneNote. It allows me to create the budget and it’s shared with my wife so she can see what needs to be paid, what has been paid and how much money we have. As I go through and describe how I setup the budget in OneNote you may think it’s very detailed. When you’re dealing with a serious subject, which money is, you need to put in work. So it does take some effort and it does require work to keep everything up to date. The good news is that once you develop a system and a rythm it becomes second nature. In Onenote I have setup a notebook called Budget. Within that notebook I have three notes. The notes have their own colored tab within Budget as you will see. The notes are Bi-Weekly, Monthly and Debt. The terminology for the app can be a little confusing but the screenshots will make it clear. Anyway as I was saying, inside those three notes are notes. Bi-Weekly Budget has a list of everything that needs to be paid, a list of all my creditcards and other loans with the current balance, the current balance of my bank account and a to do list of everything that is not automatically paid from the account. The list of all the bills enable me to add it up for a total of what needs to be paid. When things are paid I remove then from the list and update the tota. The account balance also needs to be adjusted whenever money is added or subtracted. I can then subtract the total for bills from the account balance and know how much money I have to pay creditcard and loans. The monthly budget has the same setup for Weeks 1-2 and Weeks 3-4. Since we get paid bi-weekly budgeting for the month minimizes surprises and keeps us completely knowledgable about where our money is going. At the end of each two week period I copy the upcoming two weeks from the Monthly note to the Bi-Weekly note. The Debt note has a list of all the large amount items like Mortgage, Car loan, etc. It helps me keep track of the balance owing and to make sure it’s going down. This note is not updated as frequently as the others.

These are all the tools we use. They are all available for computers and mobile. The next step is to determine budget amounts for re-occuring things other than the bills. Things like groceries, entertainment, etc. After totalling the weekly or bi-weekly bills. Subtract the total from your pay amount. The balance is what can be used for paying outstanding and the re-occuring items. Ideally there should be money left at the end to save. Once the amount of those re-occuring items are determined they should be added to the list of other weekly/bi-weekly bills. This way the total will always account for them.

A few impotant things. Keep everything as up-to-date as possible. Put any future expenditures in the Calendar with an estimate of how much will be needed for the event. Finally do not overspend with plans of using future funds. Unless it can’t be avoided. This starts a vicous cycle and partially defeats the purpose of a budget.