This post is optional supporting material for users of the Free Advanced Finances Tracking and Analysis Spreadsheet I have for free downloading on this site. However, it should be useful for anyone who wants to think a bit more about their personal expenditures to get a new perspective on it.
One of the first things you have to do in using my finances spreadsheet is to set it up to tell the spreadsheet how to count and analyze things. Categorization of entries is the main part here, where you determine categories of expenditures, income and methods of payment. The latter two is pretty much defined for you pending circumstances in your life. However, how you want to categorize your spending is another matter all together.
No one set of expenditures categories will suit everyone, of course, but I have some suggestions you might want to think about. Most of them are as I advised in the spreadsheet, categories:
- Where you often spend more than you realize;
- Where you are not sure how much it makes up of all you spend;
- That are bad habits or weaknesses you would like to monitor.
The built-in analyses in the spreadsheet will help you identify that with a click of a mouse, to see amounts spent, or percentage of all categories, or an umbrella category if you put it in one (i.e. Alcohol within Food & Drink). The amounts spent has its own value. The percentage share will give you a different perspective. Then, the comparison with other categories will allow you to just ask the simple question for possible change of behaviour. Compared to what I get out of what I spent in another category, was what I spent in this one worth it? You might soon adjust your value scale far more than you expected, and have a different appreciation for the value of money!
Big and Small Categories
Having a big category like Food & Drink will give you a larger portion of your total expenditure that will definitely open your eyes more. However, it won’t let you isolate potential problems, to see whether a “problem” exists or not. Maybe it’s Eat Out, maybe it’s Alcohol. But unless you monitor them on their own, you won’t know.
That’s why I have the individual categories and the umbrella categories. The latter sums up to five former as you designate it, and you get the same analysis for an umbrella category as you would for a regular category. In addition, you get to see how the regular categories breakdown within the umbrella category to give you more context, like how much of your Food & Drink expenditure is on alcohol?
How much would be “acceptable” anyway? That’s a hard question to answer, but you don’t need to know that answer to start out. After you see it play out over 3 or 6 months, you’ll know whether you’ll accept it or not.
By the way, if you don’t drink all of the alcohol, like you buy a lot of it for dinners you host, split the entry into Alcohol and Gifts to be more accurate.
You have 50 categories to use and five umbrella categories, each with up to five categories to combine.
Frequent Usage Categories
The spreadsheet will analyze and show you the number of transactions you have in any category, along with other analyses. This might be eye opening for some, even though they know they spend money frequently on some things. The favourite example I can think of would be Coffee. Try that for a category. Or if you smoke, get a Smoking category, for anything related to smoking, not just cigarettes (i.e. lighters, hygiene products or extra cleaning to mask the smell from smoking). Just try to have a category for something you spend money on frequently and see if the numbers shock you… especially after you have other dollar figures and see what you might be able to “get” if you didn’t spend so much money on it. I know people who could easily get a grand vacation for their smoking and/or coffee habits. Then see if you have another reason to drop some of these habits.
Alcohol, Food & Drink
I would definitely recommend Alcohol to be a category, unless you don’t drink like me. I really doubt most people have any idea what they spend on alcohol each year. There are average stats from surveys, but their reliability is probably as good as your guess about your answer if you haven’t tried to track it at any time in your past. I’d also make Alcohol to supercede anything else in the Food & Drink umbrella category, and extract it out if combined. For example, your date meal included an alcoholic drink. The meal would go in some category like Dating, and the drink would go in Alcohol. Even if you have to approximate it, or leave out the tax on it to keep it simple, you’ll have an answer closer to the truth than if you did not. And if you had a drink while out with friends, Eating Out essentially, instead of maybe putting it in Eat Out, overrule that and put it in Alcohol.
Food & Drink should be a category for everyone, whether an umbrella category or just a general one. It’s a constant source of our spendings. In my Food & Drink umbrella category, I have Groceries, Farmers’ Market Groceries, Fast Food, Pop and Eat Out. Fast Food supercedes Eat Out, while Pop is extracted from any transactions. Both of these are because they are “bad habits” of mine. They’re not really “bad” because I don’t engage in them much, but I keep my eye on them. This spreadsheet can help you with things way beyond just your finances if you use it! You’d be amazed at the psychological impact in having one of these tools around you, constantly spewing back numbers at you for how much you spend on certain things!
You can also add Cigarettes, Gambling and many other bad habits as categories, but you can figure those out yourself.
I have this as an umbrella category because I have many hobbies. I have each hobby as a category by itself. Having this umbrella category, I can see what share each take of my spending.
So what do the bills in your life take out of our spending? That’s an interesting question. It may be more or less than you expected, considering everybody constantly have bills on their minds. You only have 5 categories for each umbrella category, so you may not be able to squeeze all your bills into such an umbrella category. If not, separate them into different groupings, like Telecomm Bills for phone, data plan, Internet, long distance, cable, etc. and Utility Bills for heat, hot water, electricity, etc. There is a grouping of umbrella groups on their own in the spreadsheet analysis so you can then add your bills’ amounts or percentages together.
Rent or Mortgage
Rent and mortgage payments are a large part of most people’s expenditures. Rent is an easy category to justify. You picked the place. Mortgage, though, is a bit harder, because you’re trying to pay it off as soon as you can, and I’ve heard lots of people say they’ve never been so poor since they took on a mortgage. So how much is it taking up in your expenditures? Do you think it’s worth it? Hard questions to answer, for sure!
Even for the healthiest people, this could be a substantial category. Some athletes I know have the biggest health costs of all. They’re constantly in to see physiotherapists and massage therapists, never mind the usual dentist and doctor, with medication on top. You might also consider lumping in vitamins and medications, whether cough drop or ibuprofen or prescription medication. There are also eye glasses that so many people have at all ages, and on and on. Like Bills, you may not have enough categories and may have to break this umbrella category out into two umbrella categories. If so, I would suggestion Health Professional Fees and Material Health Costs (or Other Health Costs). I’d add Hygiene Products in with that mix, too, if not Gym Membership type of costs for activities promoting health. Or maybe have Preventative Health and Reactive Health. Anything you spent money on to prevent something or keep you healthy goes in the former. Anything you paid for to solve a problem goes in the latter. Maybe you’ll just want to keep it simple and have them as categories rather than umbrella categories. These are just ideas.
Cars are a money sink. There’s Insurance, Gas, Parking, Repairs & Upgrades, Service and so on. Try tracking all that under an umbrella category for your car and see what comes out in what share of all the money you put into your car!
Lots of people make things they sell for fun, or maybe you rent out a place. Well, track what you spend to do any of this in a category umbrella category (breaking out costs of upkeep for a place you rent, for example). Then compare it to the source of income in an Income category you identify and see how you do. That should be fun!
For your sake, I hope you make money on your investments so that you can have an Income umbrella category called Investments. However, you might want to keep an expenditure category there, too. I don’t personally like to track investments outside my bank accounts, like RRSPs and stocks. It inflates the wealth I have in my head when that’s stored away for another time when I won’t have as much income. But if you do, this is a way to keep track of it.
In fact, if you have enough investments, you might want to download a second blank version of my finances spreadsheet and use it creatively to track your investments’ performance. That’s for another time, though.
Gifts and Donations
I’m not sure I would “recommend” these categories too strongly, because it might turn you into a cheapskate to see how much you spend on friends or causes. However, if being fiscally responsible means you should stop buying that cute girl drinks all the time just to talk to her when you don’t even get much out of the conversation, then maybe you should stop. But maybe you’re willing to pay for whatever it is you’re paying for it. It’d be your call. I have a Gifts umbrella category, with categories for friends, work and charitable causes. They all serve a different purpose for me.
Those are just some ideas. You thinking about how you’d like to group things in the spreadsheet could be a very enlightening experience if you don’t confidently have a good idea where you generally spend your money. You might even be excited to get through the days so you can get data to see! Or you might be conscious of not running the totals in some categories now, that you might restrain yourself on things like a beer or glass of wine here and there all the time! I think if people generally had a monitoring tool like this that keeps finances on their mind a lot, they’d live rather differently.
Having money on your mind in term of awareness is far different from that of worry. I can tell you that with my spreadsheet over the past dozen years or so that I’ve had it, money has generally always been on my mind, but that I’ve rarely ever had to worry about it because I knew my limits and lived well within my means.