Sunday, October 15, 2006

How I Manage My Money

Getting (and keeping) a grip on your finances isn't an easy task. Every so often (like yesterday) a frazzled reader will ask, "How do you do it?"

Well, I'll tell you. My system works like this:

The Grand Overview

I track all accounts, balances, and financial transactions in Quicken 2006 Premier Home & Small Business. This is also where I categorize my past and current spending, as well as monitor my net worth, assets and liabilities, and investments. I also use it to track all my small-business (namingly, this website and my wife's jewelry/craft business) inflows, outflows, and accounts. Quicken is also a tremendous tool for handling all tax-related items and accounts. I use the heck out of it for this. Is Quicken pricey? Yes, the fancier versions can be. Does it require a fair bit of learning time? Yes, though this also depends on what version you get and what you want to use it for. Would I give it up? No way. Not a chance.

Monthly Spending Plan / Budget

For all that I love about Quicken, I absolutely despise its budgeting setup. It's cluttered, nonsensical, and useless to me. So, to budget (as well as monitor in real time) my spending for each month, I use a slightly-modified version of my Excel Spending Plan (v2.0). You can download it from the near-bottom of my Excel financial spreadsheets page. And more details can be found at my Spending Plan page.

Emergency Fund

I don't have a specific spreadsheet that I use to track my Emergency Fund. However, I do keep most of my E-fund (say, 90% of it) in its own account at Emigrant Direct (review). Any transactions that affect my Emergency Fund get logged/tracked in Quicken, as noted above, and I can always see its balance right there in my Quicken toolbar.

Freedom Account

I use ExcelGeek's Freedom Account spreadsheet to track my Freedom Account and all its subaccounts and balances. I keep my Freedom Account funds at ING DIRECT (review), in an account that's separate from everything else. If you've never heard of Freedom Accounts before, or if you're just not sure what exactly they can do for you, head over and check out my Freedom Account page.

What combination of software (and/or notebook paper!) do you use?

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— Posted by Michael @ 4:35 PM


Almost exactly the same as you apparently. I use Quicken 2007 to track all accounts and do online banking. I then have a Spending Plan Spreadsheet and a Freedom Account Spreadsheet that I keep in sync with Quicken.

I have a Spending Goal account in Quicken that I drop all my FA money into. My FA spreadsheet then has a page for each category (auto, insurance, Christmas, etc.) with a total page as the first page. All the sub-categories must add up to what my total in Quicken is. This way I don't have to do actual transfers to move money to/from the FA because it's actually still in my checking account (earning interest).

My spending plan is similar in that I balance it to my checkbook in Quicken and carry a balance forward each month. I create a new spending plan spreadsheet each month, as I said, carrying the balance forward from the previous one. Then I enter my bank balance and it should balance between the two.

It's really much easier than it sound. I sit down once a week for about 30 minutes and enter all our receipts and categorize everything. Then once a month I do all the bills for the upcoming month which takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes.


I have revolutionized my life with a spreadsheet charting all my monthly expenses (which come out of a separate account). Each bill is on the left column, and the consecutive months from the beginning of time run along the top. Since I get paid every two weeks, you never know when both the mortgage and the student loan payments are going to come out of the same paycheck and bankrupt you. This projects and charts it all. This month I have $1000 extra, next month I would go $700 short if I hadn't charted it. Another category of monthly bills is contributions to freedom accounts, christmas fund, vacation fund, etc.

Then with cash, I am a firm believer in not charting cash. When it's gone, it's gone, but I personally find that I cannot have a generous attitude when I track every penny - makes me feel poor. So I give myself an allowance for non-monthly items.

Anonymous Anonymous
, at 4:48 PM, October 16, 2006  

I actively budget and everything else seems to take care of itself. ;)

This is a great post though, seriously. What about goals though? I'm curious to hear about your goal setting process, both short- and long-term.


I used excel sheets in the past but now I am using Yodlee and I am very happy with it till now.

Also I have effectively stopped my cash flow so almost all transactions are on credit cards and checks and everythings gets recorded. Makes documentation much easier for me.


We use Quicken for the registers for our accounts: checking, savings, 401K, credit card and all our recurring bills that come out of our checking are set up in Quicken. We have are spending plan/budget in an Excel spreadsheet. We've done this for years and years unfortunately we never seemed to know we overspent until after the fact. Since May and getting back to Mary Hunt we've been trying to find a way to track the spending plan/freedom account balances. Currently we're using software called Home Budget mostly as a freedcom account manager so I know that I've got $52 for gas and $110 for groceries remaining until payday etc. We get paid monthly 4th Friday of the month. This involves recording transactions in both Quicken and home budget which is a bit tedious. It looks like the excelgeek spreadsheet might be a similar thing maybe a little simpler. We'd love to do it within Quicken alone. Any ideas?? We're thinking of setting up an account for each spending plan category in Quicken. But we would still have to transfer the money to the subaccounts at the beginning of the month and back to checking to actually write a check which still seems like a lot of recording. Maybe we should stick with what we've been doing.

Anonymous Anonymous
, at 7:42 AM, October 23, 2006  


Drop me an email at '' and I bet we can figure out a work-around for your problem.

Have you tried my Spending Plan spreadsheet? I've been using it for years, it's free for the taking, and it always allows me to know where we stand for the month.


I have been using Quicken 2004 and tracking my income and expenses in a single file since '01. Quicken 2004's budget system is worse than useless IMO. I have a spread sheet to track my debts (with minimum payments, interest rates and such.) I tried to use another spread sheet to track my budget, but these last few years I've seen my net worth go down and down and I can't seem to get a handle on it.

Just this month, I've switched to a program from a company called SnowMint ( It uses an envelope system with actual little envelopes on the screen that you put amounts in. I inported (via a qif file) all of this years data into it. We'll see if it helps me finally stick to my budget.


Quicken is my main package from tracking my overall financial picture. Over the last few year we have been creating our monthly budget and attempting to stick to it. Quicken did not work as well in the area. I came pretty close using a guide written by QuickenNerd. Quicken still lack a simple report to show me how much money I had left in each budget category.

I have used a number of spreadsheets. I finally settled on a program that work pretty good and is gear toward budgeting. I am currently using YNAB Pro for Windows. Once the transaction downloading features are a little more mature it will be perfect. It does exactly what I need out of a budgeting software!


I use a red pen and a black pen and a $.50 spiral notebook and a calculator. I also utilize a small accordion file so I can keep up with my receipts and bills.

P.S. I keep my money in a sock.


I really enjoyed reading all of your tips. I plan to set up a separate emergency fund and freedom fund.

** Comments Closed on this Post **

Thoughts on my personal finances, goals, experiences, motivations, and accomplishments (or lack thereof).

My financial life began turning around when I took responsibility for it.
— Dave Ramsey


Start (2005-12): ~$21,900
Currently: $0
[About Our Debt Paydown]


Savings Goal: $15,000
Currently: ~$15,115
[About Our Liquid Savings Goal]