Excel 'Envelopes' Check Register Spreadsheet

Excel Check Register Spreadsheet w/Envelope Budgeting

File Type:Excel Spreadsheet (.xls) & OpenDoc (.ods)
File Size:~167kb (.ZIP)
Last Update:2010-01-15
Current Version:       2.3
Reviewed At:Aching Debts Blog
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As Seen in About.com

Sure, Grandma Ettie and Grandpa Stan knew a thing or twelve about saving money. Heck — envelope budgeting was a way of life for them. But you're looking for a better, more up-to-date way of controlling your cash. If you have a knack for spreadsheets, then I've got the tool for you.

I've created a couple of check-register spreadsheets — this one, plus a Deluxe version — which are built upon the envelope-budgeting concept. Click this image to get a look (shown here in Excel 2007) at my free Envelope Register:

Excel 'Envelopes' Check Register

Personally, I think it looks pretty nice. You can grab a copy below...

Download Spreadsheet

...and keep reading to see everything it can do for you!

Spreadsheet Requires Excel 97 or Later

Requires MS Excel 97 or later.

This isn't a stand-alone program. It's an Excel spreadsheet, which means it requires that you have Microsoft Excel installed on your computer for it to operate.

As far as operating system requirements, it should work on Windows 98 and all later versions of Windows.

OpenOffice Users: Yes, it should work with OpenOffice.

Mac Users: It should work fine on Macs. But since I don't have ready access to one, I can't prove it.

If You Like This Spreadsheet...

I guess I could call this free spreadsheet my "lite" version of the "envelopes" check register. I recently created a Deluxe "Envelopes" Register as well. Here's a quick comparison of the two files:

Because of all the work that's gone into it, the Deluxe Register isn't quite free. But enough users have tried the free version, liked it ... and subsequently requested something more full-featured that I just had to put one out there.

So the Deluxe "Envelopes" Register is there when you're ready!

Envelopes and Money? Huh?

The practice of "envelope budgeting" is old — way old. I know for a fact that it dates back to at least the 1980s.

In truth, at least a decent portion of your own family tree's trunk — your grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on — probably managed their own money with envelopes ... or with something very similar. The process works like this:

Envelope Budgeting: When income arrives to your household, you immediately give every penny a job. How? Well, in the strictest sense, many families cash their paychecks and immediately allocate the funds according to purpose:

Grocery money for the month, for instance, might literally go into an envelope labeled GROCERY.

Cash to pay the phone, electric, and gas bills might go into an envelope called UTILITIES.

Cash to pay for clothing might get tucked into an envelope named CLOTHING.

Money being saved (set aside monthly, in true Freedom Account style) for the semiannual insurance bill would accumulate in an envelope labeled INSURANCE. A similar envelope might exist for Christmas and birthday GIFTS.

Since every dollar is allocated ahead of time, an overexpenditure from any one envelope (or category) cannot exist without an equal decrease in some other envelope. We're talking cash-only spending here, people! Debt is not an option!

Is this the most efficient way to manage money? Perhaps not. Technologically, and interest-earning-wise, it certainly leaves something to be desired.

Back in the old days, when people were paid in cash, they would take their money and divide it up in different envelopes. These enveloeps represented the categories in their budgets: food, clothes, and whatever else they needed.

When a particular envelope was empty, they stopped buying that particular item because the money budgeted for the category was gone. So, if you wanted a shirt but the clothing envelope was empty, you didn't buy the shirt that month.
— Dave Ramsey

Yet generations of debt-free families have found that budgeting their household income this way just flat-out works.

With envelope budgeting, these folks in effect spend their money intelligently before they get a chance to spend their money stupidly.

Where do you think it might be easier to factor for your family's overall financial picture: sitting at your kitchen table, with cash from your latest paycheck on one side of you and your planned-expense envelopes on the other side ... or standing in the middle of the neon-gleaming aisles of Fancy Big Box City clutching a freshly-opened Mastercard in your eager hands?

Yeah, you guessed it: The CEO of Fancy Big Box City hates envelopes.

Leaving Paper Envelopes Behind

I couldn't even pretend to be the first to bring this method of budgeting to a 'net audience. Cool products like You Need A Budget beat me to the punch long ago.

But that doesn't mean I can't throw an ultra-simple alternative into the fray, does it?

My goal here isn't to offer anything spectacular; to be honest, that's already been done by YNAB. Rather, it's simply to integrate envelope-budgeting precepts with the standard checking account — and to do it with an Excel-based checking-account register.

Up to 25 Customizable "Envelopes"

So here we go: The spreadsheet allows you to separate your checking account's balance — your money — into any of up to twenty-five different spending "envelopes." All deposits and withdrawals from your account show up as transactions in one or more of your envelopes.

Each column functions as an old-fashioned envelope, holding and tracking all inflows and outflows.

Name, rename, and re-rename your envelopes to your heart's content. Transfer money between envelopes with a few keystrokes.

It's almost too easy.

A Few Pointers to Get Started

Some things to remember while you're working with this spreadsheet:

  • You'll enter data in white or light-beige cells only.
  • You don't enter a single STARTING BALANCE, per se. Instead, create whatever envelopes you need, and then allocate your checking account's current balance among them until the spreadsheet's STARTING BALANCE matches that of your bank account. (In other words, your checking account's balance is always the sum total of what's in your envelopes.)
  • Enter debits (outflows) as negative amounts.
  • Enter credits (inflows) as positive amounts.
  • The TRANSACTION AMOUNT and ACCOUNT BALANCE columns are completed for you automatically. Just allocate each transaction to its correct envelope(s) and the AMOUNT and BALANCE columns take care of themselves!
  • The spreadsheet can handle up to just over 500 transactions. You'll be better off, though, starting a new spreadsheet well before that. (Don't want the file to get too big and cumbersome, do we?)

Some Possible Envelope Labels

Not sure where to start with your envelopes? Here's a small starter set:

  • Groceries
  • Home
  • Debt Payments
  • Utilities
  • Automotive
  • Personal
  • Miscellaneous
  • Cushion

Remember — you've got 25 envelopes to work with, but that doesn't mean you have to make budgeting "25 Envelopes" complicated! Some folks get by just fine on only four or five envelopes.

Split-Category Transactions? Too Easy!

Let's say your last visit to Target totalled up to $110. Of that, $65 went toward groceries, while $27 went toward various household items and $18 went to entertainment. Your spreadsheet entry would look like this:

One transaction can be split among multiple envelopes.

For another spreadsheet that's designed to help you get a grip on those big, multi-category receipts from Wal-Mart and other stores, be sure to check out my Receipt Splitter spreadsheet.

Saving for Freedom Was Never Easier

If you're familiar with the concept of Freedom Accounts, you might guess that the idea had its genesis with envelope budgeting. And you'd be right.

When you think about it, it's easy to see that envelope budgeting is all about planning ahead:

  1. You get a paycheck.
  2. You decide where the money needs to go.
  3. You allocate the paycheck funds to the necessary envelopes.
  4. The money's there and waiting when you need it.

Now take that one step further: Items like the car-insurance bill may hit your mailbox every six months. Christmas is an expense like any other, except that it occurs only once per year. Your property tax bill, too, might be an annual thing. These bills don't reach you every month ... but smart money managers pretend that they do.

And envelope budgeting makes the process ridiculously simple.

Set money aside for irregular expenses ... and track it easily! *Click to Enlarge*

In the screenshot above, Mary has just received and deposited her $585 paycheck. She's allocated the money in her envelopes as follows:

Groceries: $225
Household: $170
Entertainment: $30
Insurance: $60
Debt Payment: $100

Mary's auto-insurance bill is $360 every six months. She sets aside $60 every month ($60 x 6 = $360) so that when the bill arrives, she'll have the money in her account, ready and waiting. With this latest deposit, the "Envelope Balances" row at the top shows her, at a glance, that she has accumulated $140 toward this goal so far.

That's envelope budgeting (and Freedom Account thinking) in action.

Moving Money Between Envelopes

You'll try to keep it from happening, of course. But there will undoubtedly be times when it's necessary to move money from one envelope to another.

Happily, with my spreadsheet, this is an oh-so-simple thing to do!

Let's suppose Mary decides to move $100 from her GROCERY envelope, and split $30 of it to her ENTERTAINMENT envelope and set aside $70 of it for DEBT PAYMENTS. (She's working the Baby Steps and is gung-ho on becoming debt free!)

Here's how such a transaction would look; notice that it has no effect on her overall checking account balance. Her transaction is shaded in bright yellow:

Moving money among envelopes is a snap! *Click to Enlarge*

Best Practices

Keep a "Cushion" envelope. "Cushion," in this case, means keeping a little extra money in your checking account just in case you forget to enter a small transaction or two at some point. We don't want any of those yucky overdraft fees, do we?

Keep a "Miscellaneous" envelope. Hey — stuff happens. But you want it to be small stuff. The bigger things should be handled by your Emergency Fund.

Got interest? If you're doing much Freedom Account saving, consider using an interest-bearing checking account like capital One's 360 Checking Account. Every dollar adds up.

Want Other Check Register Spreadsheets?

As I mentioned above, I also have a bigger, better version of this Envelopes Register available for purchase.

However, if you're inclined toward a more-standard check-register spreadsheet, I have those, too. You can grab one at my free Check Register page. Additionally, I have a more-functional Check Register w/Sorting Macros and Reconcile. It's not quite free, but it's not far off!

Questions? Comments? Contact Me!

Got a question or issue? Don't hesitate — drop me a line. I'll get back to you as soon as possible!

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