You made it! This week your only task will be to create a first draft of your budget. Budgeting can be challenging as you try to balance your long-term goals with your short-term needs and wants. As such, I suggest creating it in two …
You’re almost there! Only one more week until I describe how to create your budget. Before you can do that, you’ll want to make sure that the income and expenses you’ve entered don’t have too many mistakes. In this post, I’ll talk hot to review the …
Your budget includes your income in addition to money you spend. In my previous posts on the budgeting process, I talked about setting your goals and tracking and recording your expenses. This week, I’ll focus on your paycheck and other sources of income.
Before getting to that topic, here are your budgeting tasks for this week:
- Continue using and refining your expense tracking system.
- Continue to enter your expenses into the spreadsheet.
- Record the details from your pay stubs and any other sources of income.
Your pay stubs include both your wages and some expenses and taxes that are deducted by your employer. This information can be entered on the Income tab. You’ll need your pay stub as it lists all of the items that flow into and out of your paycheck to get the net amount of your check or automatic deposit. Put information from each line on your pay stub in a different row on the Income tab of the spreadsheet.
The date of each paycheck goes in Column A.
Record the amount of each line item in Column B. Your income, such as your wages, should be entered with positive numbers. Deductions, such as taxes, your share of employee benefit charges and retirement savings, should be entered using negative numbers. Use one row in the spreadsheet for your wages and another for each of your deductions.
You can record the category for each line in Column C. If you want to use the tax approximation included in the spreadsheet, you’ll need use the labels “Wages”, “Retirement Savings” “Federal Income Taxes” and “State Income Taxes” for each of those categories. Otherwise, you can use whatever labels you want.
If you get paid less often than once a month, enter the number of paychecks you get each year in Column D of each row. Otherwise, leave this column blank.
Other Sources of Income
If you have other sources of income you receive on a regular basis, such as returns on investments, disability income or support from your parents, you’ll want to include those in your budget. Unless you are on a leave from work or retired, you might leave any investment returns in your savings and not use them for spending. It is important to be aware of all sources of income in your budget including increases in your savings, so I suggest including them in your budget explicitly.
Interest, dividends and appreciation are the three most common types of returns from investments. If you have any such returns, enter their amounts in Column A, their category in Column B and how often you receive the amount from Column A in Column C. The three types of returns are taxed differently in the US. If you live outside the US or don’t want to use the very rough tax approximation in the spreadsheet, you can enter a single line item for total investment returns and call it whatever you would like. Otherwise, enter “Interest” in Column B for interest payments, “Dividends” for dividends received and “Appreciation” for changes in the market value of your investments. Appreciation can be either positive (market value has gone up) or negative (market value has gone down).
For any other sources of income, enter the amount, category (with a name of your choosing) and how often you receive that amount in Columns A through C, respectively. Sources of income other than investment returns and wages will be ignored in the income tax approximation.
Your budget won’t be complete unless you include all your expenses, including those that you don’t pay every month. In the past three weeks, I talked about creating systems for tracking and recording your expenses and setting your goals. This week, I’ll focus on expenses you pay …
Setting one to three realistic financial goals is critical to financial success. In Steps 1 and 2 of this series, I talked about creating systems for tracking and recording your expenses. This week, I’ll finally focus on the first step I take in budgeting (as …
Now that you’ve found a system for tracking expenses for budgeting, it is time to start recording them in your spreadsheet. In Getting Started with Budgeting, I talked about how to track your expenses. This week, I’ll focus on the following steps from my very first post (as numbered in that post):
- Enter all of the checks and cash transactions from my checkbook into the spreadsheet and identify the type of expense.
- Enter all of the transactions on my credit cards into the same spreadsheet, identifying the type of expense.
When I am tracking my expenses for budgeting, I start with my checkbook and enter all of the transactions from my check register, including line items for cash and payment of credit card bills. I then enter the cash transactions I’ve tracked. I’m not very good at tracking cash expenditures and my husband is even worse, so unaccounted-for cash is a big line item in our budget. If your budget it is at all tight, tracking your cash expenses will be very important in setting priorities and meeting your goals so I encourage you to do better than I do.
The rest of this post will outline how to do these steps using the spreadsheet I created for you (that you hopefully downloaded last week, but I’ve attached it to this week’s post in case you didn’t get a chance to do so).
This Week’s Budgeting To Do List
Here are your tasks for this week:
- Continue using and refining the expense tracking system you developed last week. You’ll want to do this task for at least one month, so keep at it!
- Think about the categories you want to use for budgeting.
- Start tracking your expenses for budgeting:
- Enter your expenses into the spreadsheet.
- Enter your cash transactions into the spreadsheet.
- Enter your credit card transactions into the spreadsheet.
The spreadsheet I created is flexible, so you can either follow my approach of tracking one or both of cash and credit card expenses separately or you can enter them all in the same place. The benefit of my approach is that you’ll know the amount of your untracked expenses. The disadvantage is that you have to enter data on three different tabs and will have a couple more entries related to credit card transactions. I suggest using whatever approach is easiest for you, as the end product is the most important part, not how you get there.
Each time you open the spreadsheet, you may need to click the “Enable Editing” button at the top of the screen and then the “Enable Content” button. By clicking these buttons, you’ll be able to enter your data, save the spreadsheet and use the macros.
When you create your budget, you’ll want to look at your expenses in various categories. Examples of categories are utilities, groceries, restaurants, treats (coffee, Dairy Queen, a fun purchase, whatever you buy that you don’t really need), insurance, car maintenance, rent or mortgage payments, retirement savings, emergency savings and so on. You can create whatever categories you want! As you are creating them, you’ll want to keep the following in mind:
- Your categories should separate discretionary purchases from necessary ones. For example, you could create a category for food that includes all of your groceries and restaurant purchases. Unfortunately, eating at restaurants is usually much more expensive than cooking at home. If you need to cut back on your expenses to meet your financial goals, knowing how much you spend at restaurants is important as you could cook at home more often and save some money.
- You don’t want too many categories. My budget has about 30 categories in it. While I find that number to be a lot when trying to figure out my future expenses, I find I need that many to understand where my money is going. If you live a very simple life, you may need only 10 or 15 categories, but beware of the previous point if you end up with only a very few categories. If you try to use too many categories, you’ll find yourself forgetting the category names and will find the creation of the budget itself more challenging.
- Category names should be meaningful. When you enter each transaction, you are going to also enter its category. These category names will appear on the summary that you will use to inform your budget. Because you’ll want your budget line items to be useful, you’ll want to start by creating meaningful category names.
- Category names should be short enough that you don’t mind typing them. You’ll also want to be able to remember them from one day to the next. If you misspell a category name or create more than one variation, for example household goods and house stuff, you’ll have the chance to change them later, but that can be tedious.
What to Enter
On the Bank Transactions tab, you’ll record the expenses you pay from your bank account. These payments will include everything you pay with a check along with any payments you make directly from your bank account such as automatic payments, on-line bill payments and the like.
If you are going to track your cash purchases separately, you’ll put the amount of cash you withdraw from the bank or are given as income on this tab and put the actual cash purchases on the Cash Transactions tab. Otherwise, you can your actual cash purchases directly on this tab. More details are provided below.
If you are going to track your credit card purchases separately, you’ll put the total amount of each credit card bill on this tab and put the actual transactions on the Credit Card Transactions tab. Otherwise, you’ll put your actual credit card purchases directly on this tab. For credit card transactions, regardless of whether they are entered on this tab or the separate Credit Card Transactions tab, you’ll want to use the charges on each credit card bill, not the amount you paid. If you enter just the amount you pay, you’ll could be either over- or under-stating your current expenses, depending on whether you have been increasing or decreasing your spending over time. More details are provided below.
Data to Enter
Rows 1 through 6 of the Bank Transactions tab briefly summarize these instructions for tracking your expenses for budgeting.
You’ll enter your information starting in Row 10. I’ve highlighted the cells for inputs in light green. For each transaction, you can enter the purchase date in Column A and where you made the purchase in Column B. These columns are not used elsewhere by the spreadsheet, but can be very helpful when you look at your total expenses and wonder where and when you made purchases in various categories. When I create the financial statements for our farm (a process very similar to this part of the budgeting process), my husband often questions the totals in some categories. Being able to tell him where and when the purchase was made increases the credibility of the calculations.
Enter the amounts of your purchases in Column C and the corresponding category in Column D. If the things that you bought in one purchase fall into more than one category, you’ll want to have one row on this tab for each category with the corresponding amounts.
The last entry for each purchase (Column E) lets the spreadsheet know if this row has a purchase you make less often than once a month. For example, you might buy holiday gifts once a year and you may make significant birthday gift purchases a few times a year. On the other hand, you probably pay your utility bills and buy groceries every month. For purchases you make every month, you can either leave this column blank or you can enter 12 (for 12 months a year). For purchases you make less often, enter the number of times per year you make these purchases. Continuing the previous examples, you’ll probably want to enter 1 for holiday gifts and a number between 1 and 12 for birthday gifts (e.g., 3 if you give significant gifts for each of your parents and your significant other = 3 people).
If you choose to enter cash transactions on the separate tab, you’ll need to identify all cash withdrawals and cash you are given on this tab as well. Put the word “Cash” in both Columns B and D.
If you choose to enter credit card transactions on the separate tab, put the word “Credit Card” in Column D of this tab. In Column B of this tab, enter “Credit Card” followed by one space and then a number. For the first bill, use the number 1. Increase the number for each subsequent bill, so the second one will say “Credit Card 2” in Column B, the third will say “Credit Card 3” and so on.
If you choose to enter your cash transactions separately (which I highly recommend), you’ll want to go to the Cash Transactions tab of the spreadsheet.
What’s on this Tab
Rows 1 through 6 briefly summarize these instructions. Rows 9 through 12 show you how much cash you have tracked on this tab as compared to how much cash you have withdrawn from your bank account. The value in Cell C12 is the amount of cash you have withdrawn from the bank, but not tracked. You’ll want to keep this number as small as possible.
Data to Enter
You can input the information about your cash transactions starting in Row 16. I’ve highlighted the cells for inputs in light green. For each transaction, you can enter the purchase date in Column A and where you made the purchase in Column B. These columns are not used elsewhere by the spreadsheet, but can be very helpful when you look at your total expenses and wonder where and when you made purchases in various categories.
Enter the amounts of your purchases in Column C and the corresponding categories in Column D. If the things that you bought in one purchase fall into more than one category, you’ll want to have one row on this tab for each category with the corresponding amounts.
The last entry for each purchase (Column E) is an indicator of whether it is a purchase you make less often than once a month. See the discussion above for details on how to complete this column.
Credit Card Transactions
If you choose to enter your cash transactions separately (which I think is much less important than your cash transactions as your credit card bill will list all of your purchases), you’ll want to go to the Credit Card Transactions tab of the spreadsheet.
What’s on this Tab
Rows 1 through 6 briefly summarize these instructions.
Rows 9 through 30 compares the total charges on each bill, as recorded on the Bank Transactions tab, with the transactions you have tracked on this tab as discussed below. The values in Column C of this section are the total amounts on each bill. The values in Column D show the total charges recorded on this tab for each bill. Column E shows the charges on your bill that you didn’t track. You’ll want to keep the numbers in Column E as small as possible.
Data to Enter
You’ll enter the information about your credit card transactions starting in Row 34. I’ve highlighted the cells for inputs in light green. For each transaction, you can enter the purchase date in Column A and where you made the purchase in Column B. These columns are not used elsewhere by the spreadsheet, but can be very helpful when you look at your total expenses and wonder where and when you made purchases in various categories.
Enter the credit card bill number on which these charges appear in Column C. This number will be the same number you used on the Bank Transactions tab when you created the line item for the credit card bill whose transactions you are entering.
Enter the amounts of your purchases in Column D and the corresponding category in Column E. If the things that you bought in one purchase fall into more than one category, you’ll want to have one row on this tab for each category with the corresponding amounts.
The last entry for each purchase (Column F) is an indicator of whether it is a purchase you make less often than once a month. See the discussion above for details on how to complete this column.
Need more Rows?
On one or more of the tabs, you might need more rows for tracking your expenses for budgeting. The instructions for how to add more rows depend on whether you are using Windows, an Apple or Google Sheets. The instructions are provided below and on the Instructions tab of the spreadsheet.
Windows or Apple
- Put your cursor in any cell in the row above where you want to insert rows. This row must be above the one with the note in Column L that says “Don’t go below this row.”
- Click on the “Insert 10 Rows” button on that tab.
- Put your cursor in any cell in the first row where you want the new rows inserted.This row must be above the one with the note in Column L that says “Don’t go below this row.”
- Hold the shift key and move the cursor down until the number of highlighted cells equals the number of rows you want to add.
- From the menu at the top, select Insert and then Row Below.
- Find the instruction at the top of the tab that tells you which columns need to be copied.
- Go to the last row above the ones you inserted.
- Put your cursor in the leftmost column of the ones that need to be copied in that row.
- Hold down the shift key and use the right arrow to highlight the cells in all of the columns that need to be copied. Let go of the shift key.
- Hold down the Ctrl key while you hit C. Let go of the Ctrl key.
- Move your cursor so it is in the leftmost column of the ones that need to be copied in the first inserted row.
- Hold down the shift key and use the down arrow to highlight the cells in all of the rows that you inserted plus the first row below the ones you inserted. Let go of the Shift key.
- Hold down the Ctrl key while you hit V.
If you make a mistake at any time, you can always undo what you’ve done but holding down the Ctrl key and hitting Z. You can do this several times to undo several steps.
One Last Tip
As with tracking expenses for budgeting, you’ll want to find a process for recording them that works for you. Some of you may find it easiest to record your expenses in your spreadsheet every day or even right after you make each purchase. Others of you may find it easier to record them once a week. When you record them isn’t as important as getting them into the spreadsheet, so find an approach that works for you and stick with it!
This week, I’ll conclude the case study about Mary and her savings. Her last question focused on whether to pay off her student loans. The considerations include: The interest rate on her loans. How many more payments she has. What she can earn if she …
You may be thinking you’d like to get started with investing. Before doing that, you’ll want to look at how much savings you have and how much you can invest. In this three-part post, I’ll illustrate a framework to guide savings and investing decisions, key components of a financial plan. This post will focus on a very high-level structure for your investable asset portfolio and, specifically, emergency savings. My next post presenst a case study addressing saving for large purchases and retirement. The third post will continue with the case study, focusing on when to accelerate your debt payments.
To help set the stage, I’ll create a fictitious person, Mary, whose finances I’ll use for illustration.
- Mary is single with no dependents.
- She lives alone in an apartment she rents.
- She makes $62,000 per year.
- Mary has $25,000 in a savings account at her bank and $10,000 in her Roth 401(k).
- Her annual budget shows:
- Basic living expenses of $40,000
- $5,000 for fun and discretionary items
- $10,000 for social security, Federal and state income taxes
- $4,000 for 401(k) contributions
- $3,000 for non-retirement savings
- Mary has $15,000 in student loans which have a 5% interest rate.
- She owns her seven-year-old car outright. She plans to replace her car with a used vehicle in three years and would like to have $10,000 in cash to pay for it.
- She has no plans to buy a house in the near future.
Mary’s questions are:
- Should I start investing the $25,000 in my savings account?
- Should I have a separate account to save the $10,000 for the car?
- What choices do I have for my first investments for any money I don’t set aside for my car?
- Should I pay off some or all of the principal on my student loans?
Investable Asset Portfolio
Investable asset portfolio? Isn’t that something for companies and for the rich? Actually, no. I think about any savings and other invested assets as a portfolio. My husband and I own many other assets, such as our home, our cars and our household goods. Because those are not assets that we can invest, we include them when we are evaluating our net worth but don’t consider them part of our investable asset portfolio. Mary’s investable asset portfolio consists of her savings account and her Roth 401(k).
Within my portfolio, I strive to keep a target amount in very liquid (i.e., easily converted to cash), low risk assets for emergency savings. If I have a large purchase that I want to make soon, such as when we sold our house but knew we were going to buy a new one, I invest that money in slightly less liquid, slightly more risky assets with slightly higher returns. I’ll call these designated savings and talk about the investment I chose in the next post in this series. I then look at the rest of my portfolio in terms of how long until I will need the money, how much return do I want and how much risk I can tolerate, as well as how much time I’m willing to spend researching and monitoring it.
Expenses Paid Less than Monthly
There are some expenses that you pay less often than once a month. Examples include presents (most of us have a relatively large expenditure in December, but also don’t forget birthdays), property taxes if you own a house and insurance. In the months that you don’t have these expenses, you’ll want to set aside enough money so you make these payments when they are due.
Mary has made a list of these expenses from her budget. Specifically, she has budgeted $400 for presents, $1,000 for a vacation and $1,000 for car and renters insurance which she pays once a year. She puts $200 a month into her bank savings account to cover these expenses. When she pays for her insurance or vacation, she transfers the money back to checking.
Three to six months of basic expenses is considered a good target for emergency savings. To help me estimate how much I need in emergency savings, I imagine what would happen if I couldn’t work for that time period. There are many expenses that will be eliminated, such as income taxes, commute expenses and some others. However, there are also additional expenses, possibly including the full cost of health insurance.
In addition to not being able to work, other uses of emergency savings include unexpected medical expenses, serious illness or death in your close family that requires travel and major repairs to your car or house. It is important to recognize what is an emergency and what is not. For example, a funeral is an emergency, while a wedding is a luxury. Your furnace needing replacement is an emergency. Routine maintenance and even medium-sized repairs to your car or house are not emergencies as they are budget items. An important component of using emergency savings is to modify your budget immediately to start re-building it.
Mary has decided to start with a target of four months of expenses for her emergency savings and plans to build it up using $1,500 a year from her non-retirement savings budget until it reaches six months of expenses. As a first approximation of how much emergency savings Mary needs, she could take a third (four months divided by twelve months in a year) of her salary or just over $20,000. Because Mary has a budget, she can identify those expenses that absolutely necessary. Her budget shows $40,000 of basic living expenses so a third of that would be $13,333. She will use $13,000 as her target for her emergency savings, leaving her with $12,000 for designated and long-term savings.
Where to Invest?
Mary considers only a few choices for her emergency savings – including her bank savings accounts, a high-yield checking or savings account at a brokerage firm and a money market account.
A Bit about Money Market Accounts
Money market accounts tend to return a slightly higher yield than savings accounts. They are like other securities in that you have to buy and sell them, but you can often have access to your money in 24 hours (as compared to instantly for a savings account).
Money market accounts also have slightly more risk than savings accounts. Many money market funds buy very safe securities, such as certificates of deposit and US government bonds so have very little risk. Others take more risk by investing in commercial paper which is essentially a short-term loan for a company. In 2008, the value of a few money market funds backed by commercial paper fell below $1.00. When the value of a money market fund falls below $1.00, it is called “breaking the dollar,” For emergency savings, you’ll want to focus on funds backed by US government debt securities.
Money market accounts from a bank are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, while those at brokerage firms are not. Money market funds at brokerage houses are insured by the US Treasury if the brokerage firm fails but not if the fund breaks the dollar. If the value of the investments purchased by the money market fund fall in value, the value of your principal might decrease. I am not aware of any money market funds that have lost value. There are some money market funds that invest in higher risk instruments. For emergency savings, Mary will consider only money market funds that buy low-risk instruments.
You might be thinking I’m kidding. Keep some money in a savings account! You might be excited to participate in the seemingly glamourous world of trading stocks and other financial instruments. Unfortunately, those financial instruments are risky. That is, you might lose some of the money you invest in those instruments if their value goes down. (I have a lot to say about risk and reward in this post.)
Back to Mary’s Emergency Savings
Because emergency savings are meant to be available on a moment’s notice at their full value, Mary will keep hers in those two very boring places – a savings account and a money market account.
At one brokerage firm, high-yield checking and savings accounts are earning 0.35% to 0.45% as I write this post. US government-backed money market accounts are earning as much as 1.9%or about 1.5 percentage points higher than the checking and savings accounts. (The money market rate at one bank is 1.87%or essentially the same as the brokerage firm.) Mary decides to put half of her emergency savings in a high-yield checking account so she is sure to have instant access to it and half in a money market account. This decision gives her an average return of 1.275%, as compared to the 0.06%she was earning on her bank’s savings account. So, while the savings account and a money market account are not as exciting as buying stocks, she can improve her return as compared to her bank’s savings account.
In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about how Mary plans to invest her designated savings and long-term savings. I promise – the choices get a bit less boring.
The key takeaways from this case study are:
- There are different purposes for savings – expenses you don’t pay every month, emergencies, large future purchases and long-term.
- Expenses paid less than monthly can be budgeted and set aside in a very safe, easily accessed place, such as a savings account, until needed.
- Emergency savings of three to six months of basic living expenses is a good target.If you have lots of back-up options – financially supportive parents or relatives, another place nearby you could live for a few months in an emergency or the like, your target can be at the low end of the range. On the other hand, if you are like one friend of mine whose family lives in Europe while he lives in the US so an emergency trip home would be very expensive or you don’t have many back-up options, you might want to set the high end of the range as your ultimate target.
- It is important to replace emergency savings as quickly as possible after using them.
- A portion of emergency savings (the greater of one month’s expenses or travel expenses to immediate family) should be available at any time; while a portion can be invested in something that takes a day or two to access.
Your Next Steps
This post talks about Mary’s situation. Here are some questions you can be asking yourself and things you can do to apply these concepts to your situation.
- Make a budget. A budget will help you understand your financial situations. For help with budgeting, check out my series of posts with a step-by-step plan for building a budget, starting with this one<//li>.
- Identify the expenses in your budget that you pay less than once a month. Determine how much you need to set aside each month to cover them. In each month, you will increase this component of your savings by 1/12thof the total amount of less-than-monthly expense. You will also reduce it by any of these expenses that need to be paid in the month.
- Do you want to start a relationship with a brokerage firm? If so, here are some questions to consider:
- What types of accounts does it offer?
- What are the fees and limitations associated with those accounts?
- What are the returns it is offering on those accounts?
- Can you access those accounts using an ATM card, electronic banking or checks? What are the fees associated with them? My brokerage firm waives all ATM card fees which is great in an emergency because I can get cash anywhere in the world.
- Do you want to be able to meet with someone in person? This question was critical for me. While I probably use e-mail more than I should, I need to be able to go into the office for big transactions and, to a lesser extent, advice. If you are like me in that regard, particularly if you are looking for advice, you’ll want a brokerage firm with a conveniently-located office and a team you can trust.
- Set an emergency savings target.
- Look into options for your emergency savings.
- Does your bank or, if you have one, brokerage firm, offer high-yield checking or savings accounts? What are the fees and limitations on those accounts? An account with a large minimum balance isn’t attractive for emergency savings because you might need to empty it on short notice.
- Do you want to consider a money market account for some of your emergency savings? If so, what options are offered by your bank and brokerage firm? What returns are being offered? How long will it take to access your money? How easy is it to access the money, such as by transferring it to your checking account? In an emergency, you probably won’t want to feel overwhelmed by the process of accessing your emergency funds.
https://www.wellsfargo.com/investing/cash-sweep/rates-and-yields/, November 29, 2018.
https://www.wellsfargo.com/savings-cds/rates, November 17, 2018.