Money is intertwined in our everyday lives, and the way you manage it will greatly shape your future outcomes. Whether you're trying to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, get out of debt or build savings, a well-laid-out budget can help you reach your goals faster. By tracking your income against your expenses, a spending and savings plan can ensure you're in control of your finances.
Think of a budget as the framework that keeps your financial house from falling down -- it tells your money where to go to maintain daily expenses and reach various goals at the same time. A budget doesn't mean you have to be restrictive, either. On the contrary, it allows you to control spending to ensure you can afford things that bring you joy.
"A budget helps you reach your financial goals because it gives you a full understanding of your spending and saving," says Jim Wang, founder of WalletHacks.com, a personal finance blog. "This helps you find areas where you can cut back on your spending so you can increase your savings elsewhere."
Americans may be more in need of a budget than ever before. In fact, a recent report from Clever found that 61% of consumers are living paycheck to paycheck and 38% have accumulated personal debts of $3,000 or more in the past year.
[Read: The Best Free Budgeting Tools.]
Budgeting can often feel intimidating, but knowing how and where to start can alleviate some fear. Bobbi Rebell, certified financial planner and personal expert for Tally, a credit builder tool, says to start simple. "Look at your available income and write down your priorities, then work from there and see where you can make adjustments," she says, adding that a notebook is a great place to jot down all your expenses and purchases to get better insight into your overall spending habits.
For those who are ready to take the leap into budgeting, creating a spreadsheet from scratch isn't necessary. Save time and hassle by using a pre-made budget worksheet. You can find templates where you manually enter your information for free or subscribe to a service which imports your financial data on a regular basis for effortless financial tracking.
Figuring out which one works best for you may require a little trial and error, but no matter which one you choose, beginning the process is the first step in the right direction.
Here's a look at seven of the best budget spreadsheets to begin your journey to financial wellness:
-- The Budget Mom's Budget Packet
-- Google Sheets
-- Microsoft Excel
-- Tiller Money
-- Personal Capital
The Budget Mom's Budget Packet
Sometimes putting pen to paper helps you feel more connected to the habits you're tracking, which makes the Monthly Budget Packet from TheBudgetMom.com a great resource for budgeting newbies, explains Rebel. This free printable provides a detailed income and expense tracking chart where you enter items like fixed and variable expenses, debt and savings. You even get a bill tracker and monthly spending chart, so you have plenty of options to test and see which works best for your money management needs and preferences.
Create a customized budget spreadsheet or grab a ready-to-go template through Google Sheets, which makes tracking finances easy. With an endless number of budgeting templates to choose from, you can find a tracking chart that fits your needs, whether you're looking to manage your budget on a weekly or monthly basis, or a budgeting template for specific events such as a wedding or upcoming vacation. Google Sheets offers built-in categories along with formulas that make calculating expenses against income effortless. Some even come with pre-formulated charts and graphs that allow you to visualize your overall financial picture. Other features include filtering expenses by category and even sending queries about certain purchases directly to your partner's email through the spreadsheet. Another benefit of using Google Sheets is that it's easy to share with family members, and you can access it across multiple devices if you save it in Google Drive.
If you have Microsoft Office, look no further than Microsoft Excel for your budgeting needs. With a suite of budgeting templates designed to fit many different financial needs, from personal family expenses to basic monthly budgeting to more specific financial tracking for holidays, weddings, vacations and more, there is something for everyone. If you prefer to create your own customized template, basic Excel skills will get the job done.
This site offers a range of monthly budget templates built for Excel users, all for free. Choose among a variety of spreadsheets, from income and expense tracking to personal monthly budgets to wedding budgets and more. For those who need help managing spending on a day-to-day basis, the Budget Calendar Template allows you to track expenses using a calendar format, showing you when monthly bills need to be paid. It includes daily account balances to help you avoid overdrafting your account. Before you download any template, you can click on the link of the budgeting worksheet for a full description and screenshot of the layout to see if it will work for you.
Entering your own financial data into a budget spreadsheet can be tedious and ultimately deter you from tracking your finances, but that's where Tiller Money comes in. The site streamlines your financial accounts and automatically updates a budget template in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel with your spending, income and balances each day. This helps take the work out of tracking your finances, which is a hurdle many people face in taking control of their money, Wang says. You can create your own budget spreadsheet or use an existing template, which gives you more flexibility to format the budget to meet your personal needs. After a free 30-day trial, Tiller Money is $79 a year.
Though the Mint app takes budgeting one step further by streamlining your digital financial accounts in one place, you can also find budget templates designed through Excel on Mint's website with custom options to suit different life stages. For instance, college students can use the college budget template to create a financial tracking chart customized to their needs. Meanwhile, a new parent might find the day care budget template helpful in managing all the new expenses that come with having a baby.
When your finances become a bit more complicated and you have multiple investment accounts and income sources, a basic budgeting template may not be enough to optimize your money management. In this case, Personal Capital may provide a better solution for your budgeting needs. Link all your financial accounts through its personalized dashboard to get a snapshot of your total financial picture. In addition to monitoring your spending, investments, savings and other goals, you can also track your net worth through this dashboard.
Budgeting may feel overwhelming at first, but it's an easy financial skill to master once you get started. You just need to find a template that fits your money needs -- and stick with it until it becomes a habit.