Yearly Family Budget: Free Download!

After showing you how I budget a few weeks ago, I decided to make my customized budget available to all of my wonderful readers!  You can download it free below, and read on to find out how the spreadsheet works.

Download your free yearly excel budget here!

Once you download it, navigate to the practice sheet and fill in your income information.  You will see the percentage cells to the right update to reflect the percentage of your income that each income source represents.

The practice sheet has all of the "changeable" number cells that you can edit outlined in yellow.  Those are the cells you can edit without messing up formulas.  All of the other numerical cells are filled in by formulas and should not be edited.  The category cells you can change to fit your own needs!

Step 1: setting your savings percentages

On the far left of the excel sheet is the "Anticipated" column.  This is where you can visualize your spending and play with the percentages to see what a good spending goal is.  The percentages are all calculated relative to your monthly income.
We can put in a 5% savings and see that 5% of our income is $210, so now we know how much to put away to meet our 5% goal.

Let's say I want to save 15% of my income for retirement.  I can easily go plug in a 15 in the percentages column of the retirement row, hit enter and see that 15% of my income is $630. 

Easy!  You can play around with these percentages to find numbers that match your goals and budget.  As you change the percentages, you'll notice that the amount in the green savings category updates to reflect the total dollars and percentage represented in your subcategories.  Don't worry about the remainder column - we'll talk about that later.

Step 2: filling in your expenses

Expenses are a little different, and they really aren't beset expressed as a percentage of your budget.  In the Expenses section, the percentages are calculated for you based on numbers written in the dollar column.  You can rename the sub-categories and categories to fit your own needs.  
As you fill in some estimated spending amounts, the percentages on the right will update to reflect the percentage of your income that spending represents (note that the percentages round to the nearest whole percent).

If you find you need more or less categories, you can simply add and delete rows as needed.  Note that the best place to add rows is in the middle of a grouping, because that will include that cell in the formula sums.
Once you add a cell, you can simply drag down the formula from the cells above so that everything matches up.

Step 3: putting it all together

Now that everything is is filled out, you can see your total dollars and percentages for each category - expenses, savings, and income.  Your income will always be 100% .  Your goal should be to increase your savings percentages, and decrease your expenses percentages.  Our family's long-term goal is to save 50% of our income!
At the very top of your budget is the Remainder column.  

This shows the amount of dollars and the percent of your income leftover after subtracting your expenses and savings from your income.

The sum of the remainder percentage, the savings percentage, and the expenses percentage should be 100.  What if your remainder percentage is negative?  This is when your spending has surpassed your income.  
If this is happening, spending needs to go down or you may need to supplement your budget by pulling money out of savings (or, even better, finding a new income source!).  Of course unexpected expenses happen, and that is why we have savings.  However, you shouldn't be living with a budget in the red for months at a time!

If this is all a little overwhelming, you can also find a download for a basic excel budget in my post here.  That budget has all the basics to help you start tracking your expenses so you can minimize your spending and maximize saving and investing!

How to: Data Grouping in Excel

Why use grouping?

If you have an elaborate spreadsheet, grouping can help you navigate by hiding information that isn't essential.  However, that information is still there and easy to access!  Your entire budget might be laid out like this - 
There is tons of good info, but it isn't very easy to pull out the most important stuff at a glance!  With grouping, we get something like this... 

...where all the information is succinct and easy to find!  This is great for making budget decisions or making a budget presentation, or really any situation where you need data in excel but DON'T need an excess of rows distracting from the bottom line.

Adding grouping in excel 

When a spreadsheet is getting a little crowded, we can work a little magic to make things nice and tidy.  On the ribbon up top, navigate to the Data tab.  Look for the group button.  

Highlight the rows you want to group.  In this example from the easy excel budget, we are going to group the categories under expenses.  Hhighlight Groceries to Amazon prime, and hit the group button.  Repeat for the income categories.

Now we can shrink these up really nicely using the "-" button on the far left. 

Layered grouping

You can add multiple levels of grouping too!  In my free excel budget download, the practice sheet has double grouping set up.  Here is what it looks like -
You can see that the entire expenses category is one group, and each expense subcategory is a second grouping.  If we minimize all the subcategories, our expenses look nice and tidy!
Or, we can minimize all of our categories and the whole budget is nicely summed up like this -
There you have it!  Grouping makes your budget look tidier while adding navigation functionality.  

5 Budgets for Every Style

Hello! I know it's been radio silence over here for the last few weeks.  We had a house fire and so we've been in survival mode.  We still have lots of recovery to do, so in the mean time, here are some great budgeting methods to check out.  Thanks for your patience!  Hopefully I'll get back to my regular posting schedule soon!

Now - budgeting!  There is no perfect budgeting method!  If you are struggling to find a budget you will stick to, don't give up hope!  I've collected some of my favorite budget plans from finance gurus all over the internets.

Check them out and let me know - which ones have you tried?  Have any of these worked for you?  And, if none of the ideas are right for you, look through my budget board on pinterest.  This board is dedicated to collecting new budgeting methods and ideas!

If you are really just overwhelmed with the idea of setting up a budget, start with my post on writing a basic excel budget in less than 10 minutes.

The Calendar Budget from Busy Budgeter is a great budget for getting started when you are living paycheck to paycheck.  Rosemarie walks you through every step to help you succeed!

If you find yourself at odds with your spouse about how you spend your money, Jordan at FCF has a great post about using "His" and "Her" accounts to manage your finances.  Read about it here.

If you are an impulsive spender, the envelope system might be for you!  Kumiko at The Budget Mom lays it all out for you here.

If you like the envelope system idea but like using your credit cards, check out this cashless envelope system from Thirty Handmade Days.

If you haven't seen anything that fits your style yet, follow me on pinterest and watch your feed for new budgeting ideas every day.

How to: Data Bars in Excel

Welcome to pimp my budget!  I'm going to teach you some easy excel tricks to make your budget look amazing while adding sweet functionality to make budgeting fun and easy.
If you've seen my family budget, you might have noticed the awesome bars on my numbers.  These are called data bars and they can be a great tool for assessing your budget and spending habits at a glance!

Why use data bars?

Data bars look really appealing and help you visualize your spending without actually having to add in any graphs or other graphics.  They sit right there with the numbers, giving you immediate feedback the moment you type in your numbers for the month.

In the snip below, you can see quickly that my two highest spending categories are "Groceries and home" and "Other" at a glance.

You can see the numbers too, but on a zoomed out excel sheet, the data bars really help the high-spending categories pop!

If you don't have a budget set up in excel yet, start here.  You can set it up in about ten minutes, then pop back here to learn how to make the sweet data bars.  And don't worry, it's super easy!

If you're really in a hurry, you can download the basic budget from my google share here, however, I strongly recommend reading through the original post so you understand how the formulas work.  This budget is designed as an example and should be personalized for your different expenses and income.

Adding data bars to your budget

Data bars are calculated in relevance to a grouping.  This means that, in the above group, each data bar represents the percentage of the cell it is in relative to the other cells in the grouping.

That sounds a little complicated, but basically what you need to know is data bars have to be set up in groups.  

So lets pull up our handy-dandy basic excel budget.  It should look somewhat like this, but hopefully with your own different expense and income categories plugged in!

Remember that we need to set these up in groups, so start by highlighting all of the expense cells.  Under the "Home" tab, look for the "Conditional Formatting" menu.
Click on "Conditional Formatting" and select "Data Bars."  If you want to keep it simple, you can pick one of the existing options.  I picked a "Gradient Fill" in red.
How easy was that?

Custom data bars

If you want to customize the bars like I did in my personal budget, click "Conditional Formatting" then "Data Bars" then "More Rules..." at the bottom of the menu.  This should pull up this menu:

You can actually do lots of cool customization with this menu, but I mostly prefer to make cosmetic customization.  I only change the Bar Appearance settings.  Here is what I use - 
And this is the final result! 

Colorizing categories

Then you can select the top row and change the color, to make it all look a little more cohesive.
Adding some color to the other category rows makes everything look all color-coordinated and fun!
How easy was that?  You can add all this customization in under three minutes but it makes your budget nicer to look at and funner to use!  

You can use different excel tricks, like icons or color gradients, to help show you spending trends as well.  Would you be interested in learning to do that?  Are there any other excel tips you want to learn?  Let me know in the comments!

Using Swagbucks to increase your monthly savings

Swagbucks is an online reward site that is pretty well known in the survey/online rebate world.  Swagbucks works as an affiliate and then gives part of their kickback to you, the user.

You are NOT going to get rich using swagbucks.  It CAN help with some of your regular expenses and earn you a little extra every month if you are dedicated.

If you feel like you are living paycheck to paycheck and don't have any save anything, you can use swagbucks to find some savings each month and start building an emergency fund.

Each swagbuck is worth 1 cent.  That doesn't seem like much, and if you are only filling out surveys, you will be making pennies an hour!   The key to swagbucks is being smart about how you use it.

Why use Swagbucks?

Using a kickback tool when shopping online gets you double points if you are also using a rewards card.  If I'm shopping online at Old Navy, I always go through swagbucks' shop and earn link.  That way, I get cash back from swagbucks (sometimes as much as 10%, but usually more like 1%) AND cash back on my rewards credit card that I use for every-day purchases.

If I wait for a special on swagbucks, I can spend $25 and get 6% back from swagbucks and 3% back on my credit card.  That's I get $2.25 back ($1.50 from swagbucks and $0.75 on the credit card).  Boom!  Double rewards.

Ebates is another shop and earn tool, but I prefer swagbucks because they have additional earning methods.

Ways to earn

Swagbucks is well known as a survey site, but I have had the most success with other methods of earning.

The swagbucks home page is filled with deals from affiliates.  You can poke through and sign up for anything that might be relevant.  I use proactive facewash, and I always buy through swagbucks because they almost always have a promo for bonus swagbucks.

You can watch videos from pre-selected playlists, or interact with ad video content from marketers who need views.  

You can also get small swagbucks for entering in codes found on their facebook page, however the denominations are so small and the code posts so hard to see that it's really hit or miss.

They also have a daily survey that will throw you a swagbuck every day you participate. 

Around the holidays, they offer special deals where you can join a team and your swagbucks count towards a team total.  Usually they give bonus swagbucks out for participation, and the winning team gets an extra chunk.

Using the swagbucks search engine will also throw you a few free swagbucks every couple of searches.

Earn through shopping

My biggest earning with swagbucks is cash back from shopping online.  Any time I purchase from Amazon, I use a swag link (not all Amazon categories qualify for cash back, but the categories change often so I always use a swag link just in case).

Swagbucks is connected with a huge network of online retailers, so anytime I'm shopping online I check for a swagbucks shop and earn link before I make a purchase.  

Lately, I don't have to go through swagbucks every time I shop.  I have the swagbucks browser tool installed, so when I'm on a site that can earn cash back, I get a little popup with a button that activates my swagbucks tracking so I can earn on any purchases I make.

Most online bookings you make, including travel, can qualify for swagbuck rebates.  

Sadly, they don't have an affiliate relationship with airbnb yet, but when we do stay in hotels, I book through (through a swagbucks link, of course).  

Swagbucks also does kickbacks when you print and redeem coupons through them.  After making my grocery list each week, I do a quick search in their coupon section for the items I'm already buying.  After printing and using the coupon in stores, I get my swagbucks!

Note that many, many swagbuck rewards take a month or more to get credited to your account.  I always keep track of major purchases that should have big rewards and watch for them to show up.  I have never had an issue, but it isn't unheard of that you have to file a claim to get your swagbucks.  

Earn through engagement

However, I don't do tons of shopping, period.  Since we've been students for so long, old habits die hard and I keep our monthly spending pretty low.

So while my big earnings on swagbucks come from purchases and shopping, the daily hundred or so I earn is through different engagement activities.

In the morning, I hope on my desktop computer and open swagbucks.  They have a few different earning forms that are pretty much automated.  I try to get one of these started and leave it on all day, for automatic earning.  The two I use most are nGage and watch.

I prefer nGage because it has a higher earning rate, but there isn't always an offer available.  NGage is a tool for providing people with page views, as I understand it.  Basically, you will have a page opened in your browser for a certain amount of time, then the next page is opened.  It not always automated, which means I sometimes have to click buttons to get through each page of ads.

If I'm on the computer browsing pinterest, email, or facebook, I use this method because it only takes a little bit of attention to keep clicking through.  I have a second monitor on my desktop, which makes it easy to see when the timer for each page is up.

Watch is swagbucks' video player.  They have set playlists and you get swagbucks when you watch all the videos on the list.  Usually, they will automatically start a new video when one ends, and a new playlist when one finishes. 

Occasionally this feature isn't working and you have to click through.  When this is the case, I don't bother with videos because the earning rate is so low.  However, if it is automated, leaving it running all day can earn an easy 50 - 100 swagbucks.

On really great days, I can get videos running on one screen and nGage running on the other, and then I double my daily total.


Swagbucks has a few different survey providers on there site.  Some people swear by earning the big bucks this way, but in reality, I only get selected (and rewarded) for about one in every ten surveys I try.  

Ultimately, the return rate is low and not guaranteed.  However, I usually try to earn when I am sitting watching netflix.  Sometimes I'll do surveys, and on a good night, I can earn about 200 swagbucks this way.  Most nights, I earn less than 100.

While I don't discourage surveys, I will say that more and more often, I do nGage clicking when I'm watching a show these days.  If nGage isn't available, that is when I go to surveys.  

How it makes you money

This probably seems like small change, and it is.  But a little bit adds up.  I usually cash out once a month for at least $25.  On a month when I'm really dedicated, I can sometimes get to $50, but mostly that is more work than I care to do.

But if you are smart, you can use what your making to save big bucks!  Here is the fun part.

Our grocery budget is $300 a month.  If I can cash out $50 a month in Walmart gift cards, I can lower my grocery bill to $250 and invest that extra $50 or put it in a high-yield savings account.  This way, a small investment of time in swagbucks can give bigger yields over time through the invested savings. 

If you save that $50 you would have spent on groceries every month, you will have $600 saved by the end of the year!

If you put that in a savings account with 1% interest or higher, your numbers could look like this.  (Nerdwallet has a sweet list of high-yield savings accounts here.)
Notice that each month, the capitol amount increases by the $50 you are saving by using swagbucks, plus the interest you earned last month.

In just twelve months, your $600 has earned almost $90 extra without you doing any extra work!  Free money!

Of course, that depends on how often interest is compounded.  This scenario assumes interest is compounded monthly.  (If you are wondering how interest and compound interest work, read this helpful article from Investopedia).

Even if you are just saving $25 a month, which is closer to what I'm making, that's $300 saved, or up to $345 with a 1% return compounding monthly.

The moral?  If you are desperate to start saving, swagbucks can get you started. 

Sign up here for free and let me know what you think in the comments below!

The right way to use your credit cards

Once upon a time, we were told to freeze our credit cards in a block of ice to stop us from using them.  While I appreciate the intention, we live in a world where credit card use is pretty much required.  The key to credit card use isn't to avoid credit cards, but to use them wisely.

Credit cards provide consumers with a level of buyer protection as well as a way to build credit.  Building good credit and showing your ability to manage borrowed money (which is really what a line of credit is) contributes to your credit score, which can help you take out large loans for big purchases, like a house.

Credit cards are powerful in terms of spending, but the biggest problem is they allow you to spend money you may not have!  Using a credit card requires killer discipline.  The do nots of credit cards are really simple: do not spend more than you can pay off and do not let the balance collect interest.  In other words, pay it off every month!.  

Credit card debt falls in the category of consumer debt.  Most cards have astronomical interest rates, and once interest starts collecting, the bill gets out of hand fast.  If you have credit card debt, it is the first thing you should try to knock out when getting your finances in order!

Now that I've hit all of the basic concerns with credit cards, we can start on the fun stuff!

Why do I need a rewards card?

I'm going to give you several examples throughout this article, but the sum of it is that rewards cards give you something back.  As long as you are buying groceries, gas, or pretty much anything else, putting it on a credit card can earn you points and rewards that can do anything from putting money in your pocket to paying for your trip to Hong Kong.

If you are already swimming in consumer debt, you do not need another card right now (although looking at a card with no interest for a year and balance transference might help you get it under control).  But don't close your cards once you pay them off!  Having mature credit lines is very good for your credit history.

If you are following a budget and living within your means, you can use a credit card to expand your budget (through rewards, NOT by spending up to your credit limit!).

Cash back rewards

The best thing about credit cards are the rewards.  Plenty of credit cards offer basic cash back rewards, usually starting at 1% back.  This might seem small to you, but think of how much you spend every month.  Even if your typical expenses are only around $1,000 a month, that is $10 back.  Over a year, that's $120 you get just for using your credit card!

There are all kinds of 1-2-3 rewards programs.  Some have extra cash back for travel charges, others for eating out.  We have a few different credit cards that have different rewards incentives.  We use each card differently.

We wanted something that would give us extra benefits for our regular expenses (we don't eat out or travel much), so we found a card that offered 3% on gas, 2% on groceries, and 1% on everything else with no spending minimum and no yearly fees.  We use this card for everything.

When we first moved to Texas, we prepaid a 3-month lease.  We put it on our credit card, so we got 1% back on a purchase in the $4,000 ball park.  That gave us around $40 back, just for paying rent!  Sadly, our new apartment doesn't accept credit card payment, but it was awesome while it lasted.

If you're looking for a good cash back card, Good Financial Cents has a list of cards with awesome rates here.  In addition to a great  reward rate, keep an eye on APR, yearly fees, and spending requirements.  You don't want to get dinged for something unexpected!

Lot's of institutions run signup bonuses where you can get larger-than-normal points back for spending a certain amount on the card.  Having a great reward rate is awesome, getting an epic signup deal is better!  You can also talk to your bank, but don't be afraid to branch out.

Some of the best rewards come from online banks, so finding a good deal might mean getting involved with a new financial institution.

Always do your research and only apply for cards with reputable institutions!

Travel rewards

Like to travel?  The pro tip for traveling affordably is using credit card rewards to buy pricey plane tickets!

We have a trip to France planned later this year, so in 2017 we opened a credit card with an airline.  The card came with an incentive for 60,000 miles if you spent $1500 in the first three months.

We put all of our expenses on that card until we hit the $1500, which got us a big chunk of starter miles.  After racking up enough miles to get us overseas, we switched back to our every-day cash back card.

On top of that, we get travelers perks like free checked baggage, priority boarding, and cancellation insurance.

Bonus: when we buy the tickets, we will get extra miles for putting them on our travel card.  Boo-ya!

One thing to watch out for on travel cards is the annual fee!  While many cards these days have no annual fees, we ended up with a card that does.  We knew this, but decided it had the right benefits for us.  When we hit the one-year mark, we will look at our travel plans and decide if we should cancel or pay the fee for another year of benefits.

I found this awesome infographic from Creditnet that compares travel cards so you can find benefits you need!  After you look this over, be sure to check out the hot deals from Million Mile Secrets to see what cards are offering awesome signup bonuses.  
Compare Credit Card Miles and Rewards on the Best Airline Credit Cards - Infographic

And if you're wondering about using your credit card while traveling, there is a fabulous article about it on WiseBread.  

Store cards

Way back in the day, we lived in a tiny college town that had a Walmart and a local grocery store.  Once or twice a month we would drive to a nearby city that had exactly one Target and one Sam's Club.  Of course we got a club membership.  

When we moved to Provo, UT, we were only 5 minutes from Sam's club, so we continued to do a big chunk of our shopping and Sam's club.  After a few years of this we clued in to store credit cards.

We figured out a Sam's club card would get us a bigger cash back on in-store purchases.  We also buy most of our gas at Sam's, so the gas rewards didn't hurt either.

We opened a card and got enough cash back to pay for our membership, and then some!  Win!  We ended up closing the card later for convenience reasons.

BUT the moral of the story stands - if you do most of your shopping in one place, take a look at a store card!  You usually get a higher rewards rate in addition to discounts and other benefits.  

I used to work at Gap, so I spent lots of time selling customers a GapCard.  We would have a mom who came in to the store once a week to shop, but she wouldn't open a GapCard!  Not everyone needs a GapCard, but if you are spending $250 a week on clothes at Gap kids, then you need a Gap card.  

A GapCard gives you cash back at Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Athleta as well as Gap.  You get a 10% discount (and at the time, there was also 20% off on Tuesday).  You get special coupons in the mail and we often had big discounts as a sign up bonus.

I'm not trying to sell you a GapCard, just trying to show you that a store card might have benefits you didn't realize!

Look at your budget and figure it out; where are you spending $100 a week?

If it's at target, then why don't you have a REDcard?  If it's Walmart, they have a credit card too.  So does Costco, and Starbucks, and pretty much everyone else.  (Note: if they don't have a credit card, they might have a sweet rewards program that is FREE!)

Final warning

Once again, PAY OFF YOUR CARD in full when the balance is due.  Don't collect interest!  Did I say that enough?

Also, opening tons of credit cards can negatively affect your credit history.  The calculation of your credit score is a little mysterious, but one thing that is important is mature accounts.  If all of your cards are less than six months old, you're not helping your credit score.

There is also some talk of credit inquiries negatively affecting your score, but I don't completely understand how that works yet (when I figure it out, I'll let you know!).  Basically, don't bite off more than you can chew or apply for twenty credit cards in one month.

Having too many cards can make it hard to track the balances, so make sure you are meticulous and don't use cards that you can't track.  You don't necessarily need to close accounts you don't use, though!

We have one line of credit from our first credit card together.  It has no rewards of any kind, but it also has no yearly fees and no spending requirement.  We use that card once every few months to keep it active, but mostly we just leave it alone.  It is our oldest line of credit together and having it balances out some of our younger credit lines!

If you have yearly fees or a spending requirement on a card you don't use, then it might be a good idea to close it.  Just try to have a long-term view when it comes to opening and closing credit lines.

Cheap Eats: Coffee Cake

Every so often, I like to share some of the "cheap" food that I make when our grocery budget is tiny!  Cheap doesn't mean low quality, it means foods you can make with inexpensive ingredients that you often have on hand.  Having an arsenal of low-cost meals and treats can help you save tons on groceries!

I love to bake.  I love to make and eat delicious desserts, especially cookies.  I almost never buy cookies, chips, soda, or other junk food - not because I don't like to eat it, but because I don't like to spend extra money on unhealthy food.  That isn't to say I'm a super healthy eater, I just make most of my treats and snacks at home.  Making things from scratch is almost always significantly cheaper!  Even those $1.00 box mixes have a markup.
One of the things I love to make is coffee cake.  My go-to recipe is this one from Lil' Luna.  Besides vanilla, the ingredients are cheap, every day items and it makes a 9x13 pan so you have plenty.  My kids devour this stuff, so I'm always glad we have a nice big pan so it lasts a few days!  I leave out the margarine on top, usually the cinnamon sugar is tasty enough alone.

You can get everything mixed and in the oven in less than 10 minutes.  Start it just after dinner for a yummy dessert or make the night before for a sweet and easy breakfast!  Besides being easy as cake (get it? ha!), I love this recipe because I can make it even when our budget has been spent.  These are all basic ingredients that won't break the bank!  We ate this often when my husband was unemployed because we love desserts at our house, but chocolate and other decadent desserts had ingredients that were too pricey for our microscopic budget.

What are your go-to treats?  I've got an upcoming post about saving money on groceries and I'd love to hear your tips in the comments!  Have a great week, friends!