On Money

How I got my shit together, paid off my credit cards, and finally started saving money.

Jan 18 2015 12:03 PM

It's uncomfortable to admit publicly, but I've never been great with money—the last time I had more than $5000 in a savings account, I moved into a new apartment. If lost my job I'd be fucked—a point proven when I took 2 unpaid weeks off in between jobs and had to borrow $100 from a friend. I repeatedly spend to the limit on my credit cards on something impulsive or last-minute, only to slog through months tightening my belt and paying down the balance before doing it all over again.

The silver lining is that despite all this I've never been late for a credit card payment / bill / rent / IOU, I started contributing to my 401k when I was 21, I've paid off my student loans (!!!), and as a result my credit score is pretty killer, as evidenced by this text message exchange with my last apartment broker:


But there's even more good news! Recently, I've paid off my credit card debt for the last time and I've finally started saving. One of the few things that has helped me get my finances together is You Need A Budget, a multi-platform personal budgeting program based on the envelope method. After using it for a few months, it was helping, but I ultimately I found the time investment to keep up with it made me want to give up. Some other observations:

What I liked about YNAB What I didn't like about YNAB
  • Rule One: Give Every Dollar A Job
  • Budgeting for exactly the money you have in your bank account right now and how long it has to last—there's only focus on right now
  • Easily accessible on mobile

  • Manually tracking every transaction
  • Amount of time invested
  • Budgeting gets harder mid-month when your previous expenditures for the month are factored in
  • Frustrating account balance not matching budget balance weirdness

What's a self-sufficient and unsatisfied designer to do? Solve your own problems and make the thing you wish existed, duh. I decided to make my own spreadsheet that was less cumbersome, took less time to manage, but kept the major thing I liked about YNAB; make a plan for how to spend the money I have right now and be able to re-evaluate when I fuck up that plan. This meant ditching the stuff that I didn't like—manually recording every transaction and being bogged down by spending history.

"Kate, what good is a budget if you don't, like, learn from it?" Whatever man, I get that seeing a history of how you spend your money is helpful for some, learning from the past and all that. Good on ya—but I only ever felt miserable when I looked at that kind of data—you can't change the past and I've never changed my habits from looking at that. Plus, if I wanted to feel miserable about my ability to responsibly spend my money I could just call my dad—this is my spreadsheet, and I want my spreadsheet to make me feel good, not terrified or miserable.

Get & copy the Google Spreadsheet


Start by filling in your balances.


Checking is what's in your checking account right now. Savings is just to see what's in there at a glance and feel good about yourself. For me, I use the loan section to keep track of the remaining balance on my motorcycle loan—but you can use it for a car, personal loan, or whatever, too. (BTW the loan balance doesn't factor into the debt number in cell B7.) For the credit cards, just remember to put the balance due on each one as a negative number, and then B7 will combine those together to tell you total credit card debt. (I started this spreadsheet when paying down my CC debt was my main goal.)

DE2 shows you how much money you have left to budget.


The goal here is to allocate that money to do all the stuff (pay bills, feed yourself, buy a metrocard, pay off debt) that you need to do until you get paid again. Keep allocating until DE2 gets to zero dollars. A good rule is that if you have money left over, plan to send it to savings. Sometimes if I have money left over I just put it in 'spending money' as a catch all to save my fuck ups—it all depends on how good with money I'm committed to being that day.

Set up your expenditures.


So this is where you do all that allocating. The spreadsheet is set up how I like using it—but you can mess around and customize it however you want. I found it helpful for monthly bills to write the day they are automatically deducted from my account and about how much they cost so I don't have to go looking for that info every time I budget for those bills. You'll notice that there's some stuff already filled in for:

Without getting super boring—I have a weird formula for how much money I spend on food based on the day of the week. I do Blue Apron most weeks, which is $60, charged on Fridays. Then I give myself a budget of $15/night for weekdays that I'm not eating Blue Apron meals, and $10 per weekday to buy lunch at work. I also budget $40 per weekend day to feed myself. All these cells are dynamic, which brings us to the next thing:


I use this weird section to count the days, and those dynamic cells fill themselves in and are reflected in cell DE2. One way I could make this spreadsheet better is to just have this section also be dynamic based on current date and next pay date but you've got to start somewhere, right?

Keep track of all the dumb bullshit you're still lusting over.


Something I started doing was keeping track of the big stuff I wanted to buy when I had the money and how much they cost. I started to put them in order of how bad I wanted them, and would take stuff off the list as I stopped thinking/caring about it. It helped to put in perspective that a lot of my impulse holy-shit-I-HAVE-to-have-this-right-now purchases, were... bullshit. Now I try to wait at least one pay cycle AND until I have the extra cash in my checking account to pull the trigger on these things.

You can review the spreadsheet and update as often as you want during the pay cycle.

I usually keep track of the date of edit, update my balances, delete any bills I've already paid, re-adjust the days remaining for food-stuff, and review the other allocations I've made. It's always nice when I've underspent in food or bills and that money then gets freed up as extra cash I an use towards debt, savings, or fun shit.

When I was focusing on paying down my credit card debt, I used to use the spreadsheet to figure out the max I could afford to put towards the cards. Now that I've paid off the debt, I just make sure the credit card allocation columns match my current credit card balances (you can make those dynamic, too!) so that I'll have enough money to pay them in full when the bill is due. Aside from that, now the spreadsheet helps me figure out how much I can afford to send to savings every paycheck!

Hit me up @proulxsie if you have any questions or feedback. It would be rad to hear if this helped anyone else get their shit together!

— KP