Staying on top of your personal budget can be tricky, especially in today’s world of online shopping and subscriptions. But it’s important to see where your money is going, so you can keep your spending under control and cut back on unnecessary expenditures.

That’s why I’ve crafted a free, easy-to-understand budget tracker to help you set up an annual budget, track your expenses, establish your investment goals, and help you save money along the way!

Just a forewarning, this is a rather longgg article, and is designed for you to read as you go along in my free Simple Budget template. So make sure you’ve set aside some time to create your personal budget.

*Disclaimer: I am not a finance professional. These are just the methods that I use to track my personal expenses.

Step 1: Get your free template

Download my FREE Simple Budget template and save it to your desktop for quick access.

Step 2: Input your information

Open up the Simple Budget template that you just downloaded. You will need to be familiar with Excel, but don’t worry, we’re not going to do anything complicated – a basic understanding will be sufficient.

We’re going to start with cells E2 through E15 first.

In cell E2, enter in your annual salary. If you are paid on an hourly basis, calculate out your annual earnings and enter that here.

In cell E3, you can optionally include the percent that you plan on contributing to your 401(k) plan. To change your contribution percentage, click cell E3 where it says “-0.05” and simply change the 5 to a 4, or whatever you decide to contribute. If your company has a 401(k) match program, then it’s important you invest at least up to what they match. Read more about 401(k) retirement accounts in the Basics of your 401(k) – What it is, how to set it up, and why it’s important.

Now we’re moving on to cell E4 –  insurance. Change the “-170” to match what you pay each month for health insurance (including dental and vision).

In cell E5, you will need to calculate your tax rate. To calculate this you will need access to one of your pay stubs. Find your total taxes paid (If not listed, just add up Social Security, Fed Tax, Medicare, State tax if any) and divide that number by your gross pre-tax pay.

For example:
Total Taxes/Gross Pre-tax pay = Tax rate
$200/$1,000 = 0.2 = 20%

Once this information has been entered, cells E6 and E7 will calculate automatically. Adjust your pay cycle using cell E6. For example, if your company pays you twice a month, every month of the year then you would use the number 12 in cell E6, but if you’re paid bi-weekly you would leave it set at 13. You will notice your monthly pay moves over into cells C2 and C3.

Optionally, I’ve included “Member 2” on the spreadsheet if you want to use this as a family budget tool. So if you would like to add in your partner’s information, repeat this process, or if not, then just leave this at $0.

Financial HealthStep 3: Bills, Bills, Bills…and Netflix

In this step, you will be listing out all of your monthly expenses. If you haven’t been keeping track of these, a good place to start finding them is your email inbox. If you signed up for bill auto-drafting or any online subscriptions, you should have receipt of these transactions. I’ve included some examples of what some of your monthly expenses might be, such as cell phone, internet, and utilities. If you have any other monthly recurring charges, simply add those in the extra spaces provided.

In cells B6 through C22 simply label your expenses and put the monthly cost in column C. Sometimes monthly expenses can slightly fluctuate (+/-), so I’ve created the Misc/Entertainment line to account for any changes.

This is where you’re going to start to really see how your paycheck is being spent each month. Pay close attention to your list of monthly expenses – if you have too many, you may need to look at eliminating some of the unnecessary ones so you can save more money. A good goal to work towards is being able to save at least 15 – 20% of your take home pay.

You want to try to keep all of your debt payments to no more than 20% of your income. If it looks like you’re spending more in this area, check out these 7 Steps to a debt-free life.

Step 4: Investments and Savings

Cells H1 through M26 cover both your Investment Savings and your Bank Savings accounts.

Many banks require you to maintain a minimum balance to avoid paying fees to hold an account there. Since the interest rate on bank savings is so poor, I wouldn’t recommend keeping any more than necessary in that account. In the case of the template, I used Chase Bank which has a minimum savings balance of $400.

Instead, I recommend that you get an investment account with Vanguard and deposit what you feel comfortable depositing each month into a total stock market index fund account at first. The fund is extremely low cost, low maintenance, and has great returns. For more information read how to invest your money to make money.

Step 5: Budget for FUN

Planning for a vacation can be a challenge if your budget is already tight. In the template, I’ve used the example of a trip to Orlando, FL, to go to Disney World and Universal Orlando (one of my favorite places to go!). You can use cells O1 through Q11 to breakdown all of your expected costs if you take this same trip, or something similar. You can always swap out the expense labels to make sense for you.

If you decide to set aside some funds for a vacation then it’s best to put the money into your savings account until you need to use it. American Express and other credit card companies often do cash back programs for purchasing goods and services, as well as booking trips with their credit card. You can book your travel accommodations and other expenses with your credit card of choice to take advantage of the points or cashback, but be sure you use the money you set aside to pay off the balance.

If you aren’t sure what card is best for you, check out nerdwallet for the best reviews on credit card reward programs.

Step 6: Big Picture Budgeting

At the bottom of the Simple Budget template, you will see an additional spreadsheet titled Family Budget, which we’ll use for your annual budget.

Line 5 is a line that you will not change but it’s going to calculate the difference between your revenues (money received) and your expenses (money paid out). In Lines 8 through 16 you want to list out all of your revenues. This should cover everything from your monthly pay, money from any side jobs you have, and even expected birthday money you may receive. If you are paid bi-weekly there will be two months a year where you will receive an extra paycheck. List that as a separate line item so you can quickly identify it.

PRO TIP: In cell C8, enter your monthly pay then you will see a small filled box in the lower right hand corner of that same cell, select it and drag right all the way to cell N8. This is quick way to fill all cells for that line.

Next move down to line 20 and do the same thing for all of your expected expenses for the year. Some expenses may not be recurring so you would want to list them here and in the correct month you expect the expense to occur. For example, if you have any pets, you likely take them to the vet for an annual visit, so you can count on incurring that expense around the same time, once every year.  In this example, you would fill out Line 34 as follows: Cell B34 Vet Checkup, cell E34 $200. Once you’ve completed your expense entries, you can drag and fill most of the expenses through December like we covered in the revenue section to speed the process up.

Step 7: Calculate your monthly expenses

Once your annual pay and expenses have been entered in the previous step, we’re going to fill out your expense tracker for the year. Go back to the Monthly Budget spreadsheet.

Go ahead and delete the pre-populated example numbers by highlighting cells B30 over to cell E30 and down all the way until you reach line 222. Once you have those cells highlighted, just select delete and that data will disappear but the format will stay the same.

Now let’s copy and paste in your information! This step is a little more tedious than the rest of them, but shouldn’t take you more than 15 to 20 minutes to complete. I like to start with the expenses and then I’ll go back and add in my revenues. Go back to the family budget and select cells B20 through C33 (if you added more expenses than this, then copy down further so you capture all of your expenses). On your keyboard, press command+C on a Mac or control+C on a PC to copy the information.  Go back to the Monthly Budget spreadsheet, and click on cell B30, and then hit command+V on a Mac or control+V on a PC to paste the information. This will dump all of the data for January’s expenses into your expense tracker. Then repeat this for each month.

PRO TIP: So you don’t have to continue to cut and paste the expense labels it’s easier to select them all the first time and then paste them 12 times consecutively, so all you have to copy and paste are the expenses from the Family Budget instead of the label, and then going back to get the data for February and so on.

Once you’ve copied and pasted all of your expenses, it’s now time to delete out any $0 expenses. Just click on the line number to select the entire row, then right click in the same spot and choose delete. Next, add your month labels in Column A. Simply find where your expenses start over each month and label it Jan, Feb, March and so on. Then you can insert your estimated due dates for your recurring expenses starting in column E starting in cell E29.

Let’s add the revenues! What I like to do is look at each month and figure out how many various revenue lines I need to insert in each month. I’ll then go back into my expense tracker and insert lines by left clicking on the line number and then right clicking and selecting “insert line”. For my bi-weekly pay, I  split that up in to twice a month so that my cash flow or timing of revenues received reflect when I’ll actually get paid.

Once you’ve inserted all of your revenues into each month you’re almost done! The last step is to update cell D28 with your current checking account balance.

*If cell D29 isn’t calculating the formula correctly then it should look like this (Insert the following into cell D29, =sum(D28+C29), then fill that formula all the way from D29 through D222 or however far your expense tracker goes. What this does is calculates your checking account balance for every month based on your revenues and expenses.

PRO TIP: You can add expenses on the expense tracker by just adding a line, inserting the expense information and then dragging the formula from above the cell back down to the bottom of the expense tracker. This way when you learn of a new expense you can quickly plug it in to your tracker!

Step 8 (optional): Student Loans

If applicable, use the Student Loan Tracker spreadsheet, included at the bottom of the document, to monitor your student loans each quarter. Simply click on that spreadsheet and populate the labeled fields with your student loan information starting in cell A3. We recommend updating this spreadsheet each quarter so that you can monitor your student loans. For more information on student loans and the best pay off method you may want to read about how to pay off your student loans.

That’s it – you’ve set up your very own personal budget! Now the key is to stick to it so you can meet your financial goals. I know it can be a bit confusing to follow along with all of these cell numbers and expenses, so if you’re still confused or stuck on a certain step, let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help you out.