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Old 08-18-2009, 07:39 PM   #41
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But I don't really say to myself, "oops! I spent too much on electronics and not enough on books." Since I always seem to stay within my budget, I build this Excel summary not for month to month planning but for long term thought and analysis.
FWIW, even though I do detailed budgeting I don't do that either. What budgeting does for me is help me during the month in real time to see that I've spend more than I planned on electronics and figure out where I will cut back so that everything balances at the end of the month.

I realize many will say they don't need that. For them I like the budget method I read once called the 60% solution
A simpler way to save: the 60% solution - MSN Money

The idea being that you divide spending into rather large percentages and taken them off the top and if you do that then it doesn't really matter how you spend the rest.

Philosophically I agree with that. However, as a reformed overspender who was once in very serious debt I have learned that I do better with a bit more structure. It is entirely possible that if I am not budgeting and tracking in real time that I'll spend too much on electronics, then go out to eat too much, then buy too many books, etc. and the American Express bill will arrive and I won't have money to pay it and then I'll be in debt.

So, I like to track throughout the month and then adjust the budget on the fly, so to speak, so that at any point I could pay that American Express card bill without going into debt.
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Old 08-18-2009, 08:22 PM   #42
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However, as a reformed overspender who was once in very serious debt I have learned that I do better with a bit more structure. It is entirely possible that if I am not budgeting and tracking in real time that I'll spend too much on electronics, then go out to eat too much, then buy too many books, etc. and the American Express bill will arrive and I won't have money to pay it and then I'll be in debt.

So, I like to track throughout the month and then adjust the budget on the fly, so to speak, so that at any point I could pay that American Express card bill without going into debt.
Congratulations on figuring out what works best for you, and I can tell a more structured budget is really working for you. It must feel great to know that you used to be an overspender in very serious debt, but that you have conquered that problem.

I think that one reason I don't do my budgeting the same way, is that I don't have much desire to spend a lot and if I do buy something big, I just instinctively cut back on spending for a while.

Wish I could do that with food - - if I overeat, just cutting back for a while. I think thin people just do that instinctively. If I order the lasagna, I want the tiramisu for dessert too, and maybe a snack later on, if you know what I mean. So, I have to keep track and give myself limits, just as you do with your spending.

My spending tends to stay about the same for various categories and if it goes up at all, it is very very gradual and I can catch that on an annual, rather than a daily basis.
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Old 08-18-2009, 09:26 PM   #43
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I withdraw $200 twice a month from the ATM and use this cash to cover all my day-to-day expenses. This includes all purchases at regular retail stores or public venues (grocery stores, drug stores, department stores, pet stores, gas stations, restaurants, movie theaters, sporting events, etc). It doesn't include things like mortgage, utilities, insurance, charity, nor does it include absolute needs such as medical or veterinary care. If I want something that costs more than $200, I must save up for it from previous months. In fact, the first thing I do when I withdraw $200 is put $20 in a "savings envelope." I always have left-over money in my savings envelope at the end of the year.

This approach works for me because I see the ramifications of each purchase (i.e., less green in my wallet). It forces me to constantly make reasonable trade-offs. If I buy one thing, it means I can't buy something else - I can buy the magazine or the video, but not both.

At the end of the year, I tally up all my expenditures (cash, checking account, credit card) and put them into general categories. Sometimes I track food separately, although in general I don't know if I spent my cash on clothes or toilet paper.

This year, however, I'm tracking every purchase to the penny (I did this back in 2001 too). I'll know how much I spent on shampoo and how much I spent on oil for my car. When I track things more closely, I find that I'm less likely to spend money. It's interesting psychology. Also, mostly out of curiosity, I'm seeing if I can spend less than $1000 on food for the entire year (I'm under $600 with a little more than 4 months to go so it looks like I'll make it).
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Old 08-19-2009, 06:45 AM   #44
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I withdraw $200 twice a month from the ATM and use this cash to cover all my day-to-day expenses. This includes all purchases at regular retail stores or public venues (grocery stores, drug stores, department stores, pet stores, gas stations, restaurants, movie theaters, sporting events, etc). It doesn't include things like mortgage, utilities, insurance, charity, nor does it include absolute needs such as medical or veterinary care. If I want something that costs more than $200, I must save up for it from previous months. In fact, the first thing I do when I withdraw $200 is put $20 in a "savings envelope." I always have left-over money in my savings envelope at the end of the year.

This approach works for me because I see the ramifications of each purchase (i.e., less green in my wallet). It forces me to constantly make reasonable trade-offs. If I buy one thing, it means I can't buy something else - I can buy the magazine or the video, but not both.

At the end of the year, I tally up all my expenditures (cash, checking account, credit card) and put them into general categories. Sometimes I track food separately, although in general I don't know if I spent my cash on clothes or toilet paper.

This year, however, I'm tracking every purchase to the penny (I did this back in 2001 too). I'll know how much I spent on shampoo and how much I spent on oil for my car. When I track things more closely, I find that I'm less likely to spend money. It's interesting psychology. Also, mostly out of curiosity, I'm seeing if I can spend less than $1000 on food for the entire year (I'm under $600 with a little more than 4 months to go so it looks like I'll make it).
You know, our spending habits are more similar than I had thought. Maybe the use of cash partially explains why I don't have trouble keeping my expenses down, too. Although I don't usually pay cash at the grocery store, and my regular bills are automatically deducted from my checking account, for almost all other purchases I do pay cash.

Like you, I do get only a set amount of cash from the ATM twice a month and if I run out and have to go back to the ATM early that is a red flag for me.

I use cash for purchases that are under $50 or so (and not done online), and I am pretty well aware of how many purchases larger than that I have made and try to spread them out. I do not shop online much and I do not like dragging myself through malls. The last online purchase that I made was my lavendar Ironman watch, which I think I bought last February. The last purchase other than food that I made in person was my now infamous crystal ball, which I paid for in cash.

As soon as my portfolio recovers I am going to start trying to learn how to spend more and not go wild at the same time. But so far in life I have been a creature of habit, and that has been a tremendous help in keeping expenditures down.
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Old 08-19-2009, 01:36 PM   #45
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We didn't have a detailed budget until I retired, DW left her job and our income was reduced by more than half. (The quality of life improvement was more than worth it.)

I married a bookkeeper/accountant and she began keeping a Lotus 123 spreadsheet detailing the monthly expenses, and another one for the next month, basing variable expenses like heat on last year's numbers. The natural gas bill has been as low as $9 and as high as $330. Annual expenses like property taxes we just divided by 12, put that number into savings monthly, plus an extra $100/month for the broken dishwasher/brake job, etc. and this system works for us. The day-to-day spending we track with Quicken, which we've been using since about '92.

Then when I decided to get a job most of that goes into savings/investments but we did loosen up the spending some on luxuries.
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Old 08-19-2009, 06:35 PM   #46
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No real budget here.

Before semi-retiring, we targeted a certain amount for savings and that came off the top via automatic deductions. Everything else was available for spending but neither of us is extravagant so we usually came out of the month with additional savings, especially after the kids were grown. If the checking account balance started getting a bit low we would take note and cut back.

Now semi-retired we don't even have savings targets. We do track categories in Quicken and occasionally look at them. If the checking account balance is getting low we make our next trip a cheaper one, put off home maintenance/decorating, or whatever.
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Old 08-19-2009, 06:53 PM   #47
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Way back when we used a program called Zilch - it was pretty good at putting in black and white the effects of paying higher interest loans first, or how to end up with the fewest loans fastest. No big secrets, and it's pretty intuitive that paying the highest interest loans first is probably the smartest or cheapest thing to do. Computer cleaning and ran across it again - here's a new link:

Download Zilch Standard, Zilch Standard 4.0 Download

Fond memories of pushing money hard at targets.
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Old 08-21-2009, 11:21 AM   #48
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I don't budget but I do monitor my expenses. We keep a monthly calendar where we write down expenses. I enter expenses into Quicken and this gives me a system for producing a balance sheet and an income statement (income less expenses) at the end of each month. DW is on board with this system, and although she's not to keen on writing the stuff down, she does like to see how we did at the end of each month. Quicken makes it very easy.

So, we don't budget, but we do review expenses, and if we find we are spending too much in one area, we try to cut back. But after having done this for a decade or more, we pretty much know what we are spending our money on even without the monthly reports. I highly recommend using some software like Quicken to monitor your spending and investments. It's easy and it gives you a lot of useful information.
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Old 08-28-2009, 10:17 PM   #49
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I got a rude awakening today when I found my Microsoft Money Plus program inaccessible. I knew they were ending updates, and some online access but I was trying to convert to Quicken and used the Money software for assurance. Then boom. It was dead.

I was using Windows Live and an MSN account primarily because I thought I had to, and couldn't figure out how to stop it. After diddling with deleting the whole progam and futzing with the reload of a backup file I had been faithfully using. I was able to dump the Window Live, and MSN network, and get back over 11 years of data stored.

So be forwarned and forarmed. If you are using Microsoft Money, figure out how to configure it to use offline. At least long enough to convert it to Quicken files.You will still be able to connect to your banks and download data within the program, just not as conveniently.

As for portfolio tracking, I do not have enough in individual stocks to advice on this. My 401k account uses an index fund operated for the California Savings Plus program and had to be downloaded manually anyway.
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Old 08-28-2009, 11:09 PM   #50
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I got a rude awakening today when I found my Microsoft Money Plus program inaccessible.
You really gave me a fright. I quickly started my copy of MS Money and had some difficulty with the password and somewhat panicked. But I calmly re-entered the password and the program responded as expected.

Depending on what version you have, you should not be having problems. Go to the following two links for the whole story on the "end-of-life" situation:

Microsoft Money Home
Money FAQ

In any event, I will again put out the call for a full-feature accounting program capable of duplicating MS Money's features. (Quicken is not inthat class.)
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Old 08-29-2009, 09:44 AM   #51
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Warning navel gazing follows. Reading this is likely to cause rolling of the eyes and searching for an "ignore poster" button.

Like several here, we don’t budget. Somehow we manage to stay within our means without working very hard at it. In the old days, we would review our spending when the monthly bank statement came and cut back if we were spending to much. These days, we use a credit card for almost everything and frequently check the balance online. We also download credit card statements into Quicken, so it is easy to see where the money went category by category.

The one time we extended ourselves was at the bottom of a housing bust when we bought a house in a snazzy neighborhood. I allowed myself to be talked into a “creative” mortgage that offered a great rate that was fixed for 7 years, but then had a one-time adjustment. I never could be comfortable with the “don’t worry, you can always refinance” line, so we paid it off in 6 1/2 years.

I have never thought of myself as frugal, and I don’t think anybody who knows me would describe me as such. I have always enjoyed the toys and status symbols of upper middle class life. So why, when I got bad diagnosis at age 50, could I look around and realize that I could just chuck it all and retire? I think the reason is anxiety avoidance. I am a worrier, and I hate to worry. I can’t enjoy any purchase if it makes me worry about money, so I don’t buy things I can’t afford. It isn’t a logical decision, it is a feeling: “Will that sexy new convertible make me happy?” Inner voice: “Yes, yes, buy it, buy it!” Second inner voice: “You won’t be able to sleep at night worrying about those payments.” So the ragtop stays on the lot.

I guess part of it is the American dream in action: son of blue collar parents goes to college and gets white collar job. Wham! It was a huge jump in socio-economic class, but I never felt entitled to the luxuries of upper-middle class life like I probably would have if my parents had been rich.

And then there is luck. Having the right degree at the right time allowed me to catch the wave of absurdly high engineering salaries paid during the tech. boom.

But end the end, I must have somehow absorbed my parents frugal ways without meaning to. And not a bit of it is genetic: I’m adopted.

We like to think of ourselves as rational, but feelings count: sometimes more than we are willing to acknowledge.
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Old 08-29-2009, 10:41 AM   #52
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I used to use Microsoft Money but they announced they were essentially canning it, I started using an online service called Mint.com. It is free and will consolidate your spending data from your credit cards & bank accounts, and will also track things like mortgage loan balances. I was initially concerned about security but after looking at their site they addressed my concerns adequately.

I track spending on Mint now, but I set up my budget annually on an excel spreadsheet. I figure in a monthly allocation for irregular expenses like insurance & property taxes, travel, car/house repairs, and then include any big ticket items I plan to buy that year (e.g., this year, a new laptop to replace my 5 year old HP). Then I set alerts on Mint for categories that I know from experience I need to watch closely - food & entertainment expenses mostly.
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Old 08-29-2009, 11:47 AM   #53
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I tried Quicken, but too high maintenance for me. I use Excel for budget/expenses, essentially one page looks like a checkbook register with every expense plus a column for major and minor expense categories. Another page is simply a pivot table showing each expense category by month. And I can slice-n-dice from the expenses any way I want too.

I also have a separate Excel spreadsheet to track income and taxes. And a third Excel spreadsheet that tracks investment performance and net worth. I prefer knowing exactly how everything is handled/calculated by building my own spreadsheets vs a package. YMMV.
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Old 08-29-2009, 05:57 PM   #54
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My wife and I live on a "fixed income" so to speak.

This is how it works:
Let's say your budget is set at $60K per year, or $5K per month. Let's say your net monthly income is $7K. First, keep $5K in your checking account and send $2K to the investment account of your choice.

Let's say that, in a given month, your bills total only $4K. So you pay the bills from your checking account and then you sent the $1K left to a savings account. Rinse and repeat. Some months, your bills will total more than $5K, in which case you take money out of the savings account to make up the difference.

If, by the end of the year, you have no money left in your checking and savings accounts and you had to borrow money from a credit card or from your investment accounts to pay the bills, you know you are over budget. If you have money left over on the savings account, you are under budget. Easy. Then you can use Quicken to drill down into the specifics of your spending and identify areas where you can cut back if needed.
This is exactly my plan. I really hate being on a strict budget but I do total up a budget in Excel several times a year so that I can figure out how much I need to put into short term and long term savings. As long as I am meeting my savings goals then I don't worry about the rest of the budget and whether one category is out of whack.


Shawn, How in the world do you spend so little on groceries? Really. I'd like to see a grocery list!!
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Old 08-29-2009, 10:54 PM   #55
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I got a rude awakening today when I found my Microsoft Money Plus program inaccessible.
ED,

You do know that you are not set up to receive Private Messages... or have specifically refused to receive any. Therefore, I was unable to respond to your PM to me. In any event, thank you for the information.
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:22 AM   #56
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I started using Moneydance this year after using Quicken for a decade or more. I never really trusted Quicken. One year it claimed I had about 10 million more than I knew I had, I could never find it and then it just as mysteriously disappeared. Moneydance is clean, does true double entry bookkeeping, and I can tell what it is doing. Plus, updates are free and they aren't trying to grab my data and put it on line or trying to sell me a bunch of junk.

Moneydance is my daily expense records and categories. In addition, I created an Excel spreadsheet for true budgeting tailored to my spending/saving. I use a worksheet for each year, then pad it with the last Dec. and next Jan. My occasional expenses are in bold and I use the links to keep everything straight. Each month, I enter in my bills. I use links to automate almost everything, then overwrite with actual amounts when they occur. I have projections out several years that use the last year's month as the entry, with a multiplier for inflation. This way I can see how I am doing very easily and play what if games on the future.

I no longer track my cash. Every now and then, I add up what is in my wallet and add a misc entry for the delta in the cash account. I once logged all cash to see where it was going but it isn't really worth the bother. I mostly use a cash-back credit card and log all receipts. Once I got the habit down, it isn't a big deal to keep up with it.
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Old 08-31-2009, 10:34 AM   #57
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I started using Moneydance this year
Moneydance is on my list of candidates for MS Money replacement; as is Personal Accountz. See these two reviews:

Money management software review: Personal Accountz
Money management software review: Moneydance

A Google search shows lots of similar assessments of these programs -- these two reviews are important only in that they from the same person.
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Old 08-31-2009, 03:38 PM   #58
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We tried a few budget sw packages and found that a simple excel spreadsheet worked best, based on real $ spent per catagory, summed up monthly and compared to a goal. My SO and I agee on a budget number in January for the year and I fund it monthly, typically increasing it 3%/yr. She then manages the spreadsheet and the budget. Nice and simple and - free.

The hardest adjustment to make was to start managing the $ in the budget. It tock two years to really sink in. No sw package can teach that and the more barriers we removed the more likley we were to hit our budget numbers. So far so good.
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Old 08-31-2009, 04:01 PM   #59
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We tried a few budget sw packages and found that a simple excel spreadsheet worked best,
Great! Tell me how you have a simple Excel spreadsheet handle these ( just for example) tasks:

Online banking and bill payment
Pay your bills in seconds without picking up a pen or licking a stamp. Synchronize your records with transactions downloaded from your bank, with support for OFX, QFX, or QIF files.

Stay on schedule
Easily plan ahead by scheduling recurring or future transactions including bills, loan payments, and paychecks. You know, like all upcoming or overdue bills and automatically calculate principal and interest payments for mortgages and other loans.

Track your portfolio
Follow your investments and bring your portfolio into focus with support for stocks, bonds, CDs, mutual funds, etc. View the total value of your investment accounts or the performance of individual stocks and mutual funds over time -- or in "real" time. How are stock splits and cost basis computations made, and are current prices downloaded automatically?
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Old 08-31-2009, 04:24 PM   #60
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Sure:

We have 12 monthly columes. Each row is a spend catagory and on the bottom I have a sum for the month, goal and a variation cells. At the end of eah row I have the rolling sum over the 12 months, yearly goal and variation.

We front load any auto pay's, recurring payments into each monthly colum. Making small adjustments as we go. My SO has two checking accounts, one for big, occasional spends and one for the daily items. I fund each one based on our previous years run rate + inflation each month. I subtract that $ from a savings account that I fund at the begining of the year when a 5 yr cd expires, I have 5 years of living expenses in CD's.

Since the goal of this is to keep track of our daily budget I do not include investment $'s in the budget. I tract all of the other funds via my vanguard account. This combines all of my assest by class and is very simple.

Simply works best!


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Great! Tell me how you have a simple Excel spreadsheet handle these ( just for example) tasks:

Online banking and bill payment
Pay your bills in seconds without picking up a pen or licking a stamp. Synchronize your records with transactions downloaded from your bank, with support for OFX, QFX, or QIF files.

Stay on schedule
Easily plan ahead by scheduling recurring or future transactions including bills, loan payments, and paychecks. You know, like all upcoming or overdue bills and automatically calculate principal and interest payments for mortgages and other loans.

Track your portfolio
Follow your investments and bring your portfolio into focus with support for stocks, bonds, CDs, mutual funds, etc. View the total value of your investment accounts or the performance of individual stocks and mutual funds over time -- or in "real" time. How are stock splits and cost basis computations made, and are current prices downloaded automatically?
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