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A couple of years ago, balancing the checkbook was a hassle. We’d forget to write purchases in the register, write numbers in less than perfect handwriting, or make an error subtracting somewhere.
Then there was the actual register. When we switched to a new one, we still had to hang onto the old one for a bit. Waiting for everything to clear the bank took time.
We had a desk drawer full of used registers that we were hanging onto for some reason. But then the drawer got full. We both were frustrated, and knew there had to be a better way.
Of course we’d heard of software we could use, but we both disliked the idea of tying it into our bank account. Even though it took time, we’d much rather do the actual entering ourselves, so we could keep a closer eye out for fraud. And of course, going through our purchases one at a time helps keep us accountable to the budget.
In our quest for a new system, my husband created an initial checkbook spreadsheet on Excel. He’s an Excel whiz, so it made sense to go that route.
Since that initial switch, we’ve made some tweaks. But, we’ve been using Excel as our checkbook register now for just over two years. I don’t think we’ll ever go back!
We do have to manually update this. I usually take care of the initial data input from the bank once a week, when I’m updating my business income tracker. Then Bryan and I sit down together to review, analyze, and plan.
Why Excel Works to Balance the Checkbook
To balance a checkbook, you just need a couple of columns of data:
- One to write down where you spent money or got money from
- A column to write down the amounts of each transaction
- A date column
- A column to indicate the type of transaction
Excel works, because you can easily create those columns. It also does the math for you, and writes every number perfectly each time. You can even go in and update an amount later on, and all the numbers further down will automatically update.
No more math errors, crossed out numbers, or sloppy handwriting to worry about!
A computer screen is a lot bigger than an actual checkbook. We really can both sit down and see everything at the same time. We’re both more in touch with the reality of the budget, so it’s much easier to be on the same page.
Beyond the Basics
The above list is all you need for a basic register. But, with Excel you can do so much more!
With formulas and macros, you can create an amazing checkbook. Ours:
- Has a spot for entering the bank’s current balance. This cell turns green if our numbers match up.
- Allows us to easily color code to see what has cleared the bank
- Tracks our spending by category, showing us when we’re over the budgeted allotment
We also have a separate worksheet page for our savings account. This has allowed us to finally utilize our savings for a variety of purposes. We can easily see what the money in that account is earmarked for.
Before it was easy to forget, because we didn’t use the checkbook register for savings. So we’d put money in there, and then forget how much was in each fund. It was a mess!
Our Savings Tracker
Our savings tracker motivates us to save more, as it’s color coded. Once we fill a category, it turns green. For instance, we have a baby emergency fund in there.
As long as our baby emergency fund is at the number we picked, the cell is green. If we have to transfer money out for an emergency, it turns red.
The goal is to keep that cell green!
In addition to our savings tracker, we have another sheet with our debt reduction on their. The goal is to dump the debt, so we can complete the application process to Baptist Mid-Missions.
We’ve come along ways–when we first started trying to pay off debt back in 2009 (for different reasons since becoming missionaries wasn’t in the picture at that time…), we owed over $100K. We’ve now paid off everything but the student loan for my master’s.
For a few years, when I first left the classroom, it was a struggle to pay anything extra on that final debt. Now, we are remotivated with our goal of serving at Missionary Acres. Adding the Debt Dumper to the spreadsheet has helped.
We can run scenarios–how long will it take to pay off debt if we pay only the minimum each month? What if we can double that? We love watching the amount owed go down, and are so thankful that the Lord has been blessing my writing business. If that keeps going well, we should be below the threshold to apply within a year.
Open the Budget Anywhere
Have you ever forgotten to bring your checkbook along? I know I have!
That’s why saving our Excel checkbook to Dropbox was a great solution. We can now open this file on any device, anywhere with an internet connection. We can easily see if there’s room in the budget to cover something we’re thinking of buying.
The portability has been amazing!
How Do You Balance?
Are you still using your actual checkbook to keep track of your spending?
Do you use a program connected to your bank?
What’s your method for keeping the checkbook balanced? I’d love for you to share in the comments!
Photo credit: Oliver Thomas Klein via Unsplash