How to Budget Step 9 – Monitoring your Budget
You may have thought you were done when you created and balanced your budget. However, there is one very important step left in the budgeting process – making sure you are living within the guidelines set by your budget, i.e., monitoring your budget. That is, are you earning as much income as you planned? Are you limiting your expenses to the amounts in your budget? Did you put aside the savings you included in your budget, whether for expenses you pay infrequently, for retirement or something in between?
In this post, I’ll tell you how to use a new, budget-monitoring worksheet to compare your budget with your actual income and expenses.
Entering Your Budget
Since the purpose of the spreadsheet is to compare your actual expenses with your budget, the first thing to do is to enter your budget. Most people find it easiest to monitor their budget on a monthly basis, even if they created an annual budget. If you created an annual budget, you’ll want to divide all of the values in your budget by 12.
Once you have your monthly budget, you’ll enter it on the Budget Monitoring tab of the budget-monitoring spreadsheet at the link below. Note that this spreadsheet is different from the one you used to track your expenses and create your budget, though many aspects of it will work the same as the budget creation spreadsheet (named Budget Template).
Enter Your Category Names
To enter your budget, enter the names of the categories from your budget in Column A starting in Row 8. Here are three different ways you can input your category names:
- Type the names directly into Column A.
- Use Excel’s copy and paste features to copy them from your Budget Template spreadsheet.
a. On the Budget tab in your Budget Template spreadsheet, highlight all of your category names by putting your cursor on cell A11, holding down the shift key and moving the down arrow until all of them are highlighted. Let go of the shift key.
b. Hold down the Ctrl key while you hit C or hit the copy button if you have one.
c. Go to the Budget Comparison tab of the monitoring spreadsheet.
d. Put your cursor in A8.
e. Hold down the Alt key while you hit E, S and V or hit the paste-values button if you have one. If you just use a regular paste button, you will get errors because the cells from which you are copying have formulas in them.
3. Link your monitoring spreadsheet to your Budget Template spreadsheet.
a. Put your cursor in A8 of the Budget Comparison tab of your Budget Monitoring spreadsheet.
b. Hit the equal sign on your keyboard.
c. Go to the Budget Template spreadsheet.
d. Go to the Budget tab.
e. Put your cursor in A11.
f. Hit Enter.
g. Excel should return you to cell A8 of your Budget Monitoring spreadsheet.
h. Hit the F2 (edit) key.
i. Hit the F4 key 3 times. Hit Enter. There should now be no $ in the cell reference.
j. Copy the formula in A8 and paste it in as many cells in Column A as needed until all of your category names appear.
When you enter the category names, make sure that the row with the total amount of income is called “Total Income,” the row with the expense total is called “Total Expenses,” and the difference between those two values is called “Grand Total.”
Enter Your Budget Amounts
Next, enter the monthly budget amounts in Column B next to each of the category names in Column A. You can use any of the three approaches described above for the category names. If you have an annual budget, you’ll need to divided the values by 12 before copying them if you use the second approach or add “/12” (without the quotes) in step (i) before you hit enter if you use the third approach.
Entering Your Actual Income and Expenses
You can enter your actual income and expenses using the same instructions as were used for entering them in the Budget Template spreadsheet. See my posts on tracking expenses and paychecks and income for more details or review the instructions at the top of each tab. Be sure to use the same category names as you used in your budget so all of your income and expenses will be included in the Actual column on the Budget Comparison tab.
For monitoring your actual income and expenses, you don’t need to enter the number of times per year you receive each type of income or pay each bill since your goal is compare what you actually received and paid with your budget.
Options for Expenses You Don’t Pay Monthly
Here are three different ways to monitor expenses that you don’t pay monthly:
- Enter them in the Monitoring Spreadsheet as you pay them and keep them in mind as known variances from your budget each month. This approach is the easiest to implement but also the least helpful for comparing your actual expenses to your budget.
- Adjust the budget amounts to reflect the amount of those expenses you expect to pay in each month. For example, if you pay your car insurance bill four times a year in March, June, September and December, you would
- take your budget amount
- adjust it to a full year if you budgeted on a monthly basis by multiplying by 12
- divide the annual amount by 4
- include the result in your budget for March, June, September and December
- put 0 in your budget column in all other months
This approach is a little more complicated to implement, but will make comparing actual expenses with your budget much easier.
- Add an expense transaction every month equal to 1/12thof your annual expense on the Bank Transactions, Cash Transactions or Credit Card Transactions tab. In the months in which you actually make the payment, you’ll enter 1/12th of your actual annual expense. If the total of the amounts you set aside in previous months differs from the amount you actually pay, you’ll need to include this difference in the actual payment amount in the month you make the payment. This approach is equivalent to moving money from your checking account to your savings account in every month you don’t have this expense and moving it back to your checking account in the month in which you pay the expense.
You can also use any one of the above approaches for income you don’t receive monthly. If you use the third approach, you’ll put 1/12th of your actual annual income on the Income tab.
Monitoring Your Budget – What Happens When Your Actual Isn’t as Good as Your Budget
There are many reasons why your actual income and expenses might look worse than your budget. You may have been planning to work overtime or get a second job to increase your income. Those lifestyle changes can be challenging, so you might not have done them.
More likely, you spent more than you budgeted, either due to an emergency, an impulse purchase or difficulty in breaking long-standing habits. Emergencies happen to everyone. If possible, you’ll want to include building or re-building your emergency savings (see this post for more on that topic) in your budget. While overspending your budget can be problematic, especially if you do it continuously, don’t be too hard on yourself. Changing your spending habits is really hard.
A Few More Words about Budget
Congratulations! You made it through the entire budgeting process. As I said in my first post on budgeting, staying on a budget is like being on a diet. Just as every calorie counts, so does every dollar spent. Sticking to your budget will increase the likelihood you will meet your financial goals, so do your best!