I'm seeking advice on budgeting.

Historically, I've been crap at managing money. Things have improved in recent years. My main tool is Martin Lewis' Money Saving Expert budget planner.

It's simply a spreadsheet, into which you feed your income and outgoings. You can supply each line item as either a daily, monthly or annual income or expense. The sheet works out both a monthly and an annual total for each and the difference (be it positive or negative).

The monthly summary is a useful benchmark against which you can compare your monthly bank statements, but it's not sufficient. Consider a one-off annual expense, such as a holiday payment. On the budget planner, the expense will be divided up into monthly chunks and deducted from your monthly income. However, the expense won't be on your bank statements, unless you've made a special arrangement to pay out a monthly sum to another account, such as savings account, for every annual expense. Therefore you can't just compare the planner's monthly summary against your bank statement summary and hope the two match. I really need to see what my monthly outgoings should total to, rather than what all my outgoings are, presented monthly, in order to meaningfully compare the two.

How should I handle this? Should I do as I suggested there and total up my annual one-offs, divide by twelve and make a monthly payment for that sum to a savings account? I'd still want to be able to quickly look at my main statement and judge the overall figure as either 'good' or 'bad'. Perhaps I should feed my various statements into one place, perhaps a finance tool, in which case, which one? How do you manage your finances?


comment 1

Basic answer: accounts when tracking finances need not reflect external financial institution accounts, though some will.

I could give fancier and more flexible answers involving GNUCash and double-entry accounting terminology, but in essence you just need to track the monthly amounts "reserved" so far for your one-offs in addition to the actual savings account balance. The latter minus the former is the available portion of the savings account.

If you want to know the fancier and more flexible answers, I can give those, but there's a bit of a learning curve. GNUCash sucks much less than it used to, though. :)

Comment by Jimmy Kaplowitz
comment 1

I used to try and do everything in spreadsheets too, mainly because I love , but I find I use kmymoney more than anything else for personal financial planning and review. I found it took a little bit of work to get it set up properly, but if you've already got details of you outgoings it is really handy, especially the forecasting charts.


Comment by Grant Phillips-Sewell
comment 1

I am using ledger (from the debian package ledger) to do my book-keeping. I am using it mostly to keep track of my expenses, but you can also use it for budgeting. It is a command line interface, but I think it provides a good and consistent way of doing all sorts of thinkgs. And the documentation is very good!

So if you are willing to work on the command line, ledger might be your tool of choice. As a plus, there is a nice emacs mode. (-:

What I do to facilitate stuff is to convert the account data from my bank (I can download them as .csv) into ledger with a small script and an ever growing list of regexes so that this part just happens automatically.

Comment by mikapfl
comment 1

budget on cashflows: budget your holiday in the month you actually spend the cash on it. Make sure your budget shows a predicted cash balance at the end of each month (opening cash at the start of the month + cash ins less cash outs).

So if you will spend $2500 in July on a holiday, the end of July cash balance will show the $2500 cashout. If your end of July balance is therefore negative, you didn't have enough at the end of June.

When you fix this, by adjusting cash outs (spending) and cash ins (revenue or income) in the preceding months, you will have an additional feature in your budget: end of month cash targets and net cash gain or loss targets.

You should move all your spending to a cash basis, including electricity bills you pay once a quarter, car registration you pay annually etc etc

Comment by tim richardson
comment 5
What Jimmy said. GNUcash is really nice.
Comment by David Schmitt