If you’re looking for a quick and easy budgeting tool, the free template in Google Sheets is a great option to track your daily expenses.
Over my nearly decade of experience as a personal finance writer, I’ve learned that the key to making a budget (and sticking to it) is keeping things simple. The standard Google Sheets budget template is user-friendly, but I made a few changes to spend less time budgeting every month.
Google Sheets budget template: 5 steps to better budgeting
I’ve been budgeting with Google Sheets since August 2018. This article will walk you through some modifications to the Google Sheets template and my personal budgeting strategy. Let’s get started…
Google Sheets budget template: Table of contents
- Locate and open the Google Sheets budget template
- Customize Google’s budget template
- Add a Fixed Expenses spreadsheet
- Track your expenses with the Google Sheets app
- Keep a blank template to copy for the next month
1. Locate and open the Google Sheets budget template
The first step is to find the Google Sheets budget template. When you open Google Sheets from a computer, look for the “Monthly Budget” spreadsheet located near the top of the screen. If you don’t see a thumbnail for it, click on “Template Gallery” and find it under “Personal.”
2. Customize Google’s budget template
After you’ve opened the Monthly Budget spreadsheet, customize it based on your personal preferences. In the YouTube video below, I outline some of the changes I’ve made to the standard budget template to save me time every month. I encourage you to watch that step-by-step tutorial if you need clarification about anything in this article.
First of all, Google’s Monthly Budget template is made up of two spreadsheets: Summary and Transactions. Later on, I’ll explain why I add a third spreadsheet for fixed costs. In the meantime, read on to learn about the adjustments I make to the Summary and Transactions spreadsheets.
When I sit down to create my budget on the first of the month, I start with the Summary spreadsheet. I find it easier to make changes to the Summary tab on a computer, not a phone. That’s why I dedicate about 15 minutes a month to updating the Summary page.
Here are the changes I make to the Summary spreadsheet:
- Change the name from Monthly Budget to something more specific: December 2018 Monthly Budget
- Reset starting balance in cell L8 to $0, not the default $1,000
- Adjust the expense categories to be more specific and match my variable expenses
- Add extra custom categories if needed
- Delete the income side of the Summary spreadsheet
The last change may not work for everyone, but here’s why I do it. I use Google Sheets to track my expenses, not income. Since I get paid the same amount twice a month, I don’t like to clutter the budget template with that information. Instead, I log in to my Personal Capital account regularly to make sure that everything looks good with my checking and savings balances.
A note about zero-based budgeting…
If you have a zero-based budget, you want to make sure that you give every dollar a job. So if you take home $3,000 a month after taxes, your expenses should equal $3,000.
I believe that zero-based budgeting is effective, especially for people who are in debt, but I don’t always follow it myself. However, I do make sure that my planned income is greater than or equal to my planned expenses.
If I have $500 left over at the end of the month, I simply transfer it from my checking account to a savings account where it can earn interest. My online bank is CIT Bank, which has an interest rate of 2.45% on its Savings Builder product.
After filling in my budget categories and setting planned spending limits for each of them, I move on to the Transactions spreadsheet. This is where I track my expenses throughout the month. When you add an expense to the Transactions spreadsheet, the Summary page is automatically updated.
Here are the changes I make to the Transactions spreadsheet:
- Delete the sample expense
- Delete the income side of the Transactions spreadsheet
- Make sure all custom categories show up in category drop-down
How to add more custom categories with Google Sheets
When I first started with Google Sheets, I added a bunch of custom expense categories on the Summary page, but they didn’t show up on the Transactions tab in the drop-down. That meant those budget categories weren’t being updated automatically like they should have been. I’m not a spreadsheet pro, but I found a solution…
To add more custom categories to the Summary spreadsheet:
- Go to the last row of the expense column (Custom category 3)
- Highlight the cells you want to duplicate
- Drag down using the blue handle
- Rename the new categories anything you want
Although I don’t use Google Sheets to track my income, you could also follow the same instructions to add custom categories to that side of the Summary tab.
3. Add a Fixed Expenses spreadsheet
Now that I’ve reviewed how I modify the Summary and Transactions spreadsheets, let me explain why I add a third spreadsheet to Google’s Monthly Budget template: Fixed Expenses.
The reason why I budget with Google Sheets is to take control of my money, especially in the variable or flexible expense categories where I tend to overspend. Those are things like groceries, eating out, entertainment, etc. I’m less concerned about fixed expenses such as my mortgage, cell phone plan and insurance premiums. I may be able to comparison shop for better deals on some fixed expenses every now and then, but they’re usually the same every month.
With the Fixed Expenses spreadsheet that I created, I make a simple list of my fixed expense categories and plan my monthly spending. I add up the total for all of my fixed expenses and create a single line on the Summary spreadsheet for them. That way, I can focus on my variable or flexible spending categories on a day-to-day basis, not the fixed expenses that don’t change much.
To add a Fixed Expense spreadsheet or any other sheets, click on the plus sign in the lower-left corner of the template. It will say “Add Sheet” when you hover over the plus symbol.
4. Track your expenses with the Google Sheets app
Once I set up my budget on a laptop at the start of the month, I do the rest of my budgeting on the go with the Google Sheets mobile app. From the app, I can get an overall snapshot of my spending from the Summary spreadsheet and enter transactions from the Transactions spreadsheet.
Here’s an example…
Before I go to the grocery store, I open the Google Sheets app and look at the Summary tab to see how much money I have left to spend.
After completing my purchase, I immediately record the transaction before I even leave the store. All I do is flip over to the Transactions tab and enter the date, amount, description and category.
Checking in with my budget before every purchase has saved me a lot of money. If I realize that I don’t have enough budgeted for something I want to buy, I either skip the purchase or move money from another budget category to cover it.
Let’s say I have $200 budgeted for groceries and $200 for entertainment. If I’m at risk of going over my budget for groceries, I could pull $50 from the entertainment category. I would then go to the Summary tab and adjust the planned spending to reflect the new budget: $250 for groceries and $150 for entertainment. I’m not changing the overall total planned spending for the month, just the categories.
Another great thing about the Google Sheets budget template is that you can share it. If you maintain a budget with a partner, you can both make changes to the budget from a computer, tablet or smartphone.
5. Keep a blank template to copy for the next month
To make things easier when the next month comes around, I keep a copy of my modified Google Sheets Monthly Budget that has only the categories filled in — no dollar amounts!
If you have a blank template ready to go, all you have to do is fill in your planned spending at the start of a new month.
Otherwise, if you make a copy of a budget that has all of your transactions from the past 30 days, those will carry over and the values need to be deleted. It just creates more work.
To save lots of time, build sample Summary, Transactions and Fixed Expenses spreadsheets to copy every month.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to budgeting, but the Google Sheets budget template is a simple and powerful tool to take control of your money — and it’s 100% free.
I was thinking about using this space to review the pros and cons of the Google Sheets budget template, but I can’t think of any cons. Here are the reasons why I really like it:
- Google Sheets is free
- Monthly Budget template can be customized
- Track expenses on the go with the app
- Share your spreadsheet with a partner
- No advertisements or bank information to enter
- No gimmicks or hype
Do you use Google Sheets to manage your budget? Leave a comment below and let me know how it works for you!