How to Pick the Right Monthly Budget Spreadsheet – and Stick With It 

By Andy Marker | February 20, 2019

Whether you’re simply looking to gain visibility into your spending habits, put a more aggressive plan in place to pay down that pesky debt, or get rid of credit cards entirely, having a budget sheet to help you stay on track is invaluable.

Setting a budget – and then sticking to it – is a process that looks different for everyone based on your lifestyle and goals. All it takes is a quick Google search to see that resources out there are endless, so how do you go about picking the right budget sheet?

To help you get started, here are a few tips to consider when looking for the right budget sheet and different ideas for customizing your budget so that you’ll regularly use it. We’ll also share some advice from the experts to help you stick to your plans. And of course, a budget sheet for you to use today. One you’ll actually use.


The Four Things to Look For When Using a Budget Spreadsheet

Changing your spending habits is 80% behavior and 20% knowledge. Be sure to keep these elements in mind in your search for a budget sheet, to find a tool that will both shed light on your spending habits and is one that you will regularly use.

1. Customizability  

Money management is different for everyone, so remember that you’ll most likely have to make changes to whatever template you pick. And you want to be able to make those changes easily. 

Templates built in Excel can be incredibly challenging to change and update. Between wonky formulas and old file formats, you’re not set up for an easy start. Making any adjustments or changes to the Excel templates out there is a pain in the neck – and that’s just when you’re getting started. Successful money management is rooted in small steps and lifestyle changes, so look for the ability to adjust your sheets as your habits change.

Rather than an offline Excel sheet, look for a web-based template that is built to be flexible and is easy to adjust.

2. Mobile compatibility 

No matter which tactic or approach you use to put together your budget, personal finance experts like Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey all agree that keeping track of your expenditures in real-time, as they happen, is one of the best ways to stick to your budget. 

Look for a sheet that you can both easily read AND update on your phone – much easier than printing out your workbook and making notes throughout the day or saving all of your receipts and tallying up your purchases at the end of the day, week, or month.

That way you won’t have to worry about losing receipts or setting aside extra time to keep your records up-to-date since you’ll be able to make changes in real time.

3. Simplicity

The less complicated your budget sheet is, the more likely you are to use it and stick to your plan. Look for features to help you keep your budget sheet simple, like hierarchy to organize your different expenditures all within one sheet, rather than a workbook with multiple tabs or an app with multiple categories. 

4. Collaboration capabilities

To be most successful, you’ll want to share your budget sheet with others. You may have different reasons for wanting to share your budget – either with a spouse so you can keep track of expenses jointly, with a family member or friend to act as an accountability coach to help you stay on track, or even with a trusted financial advisor.

Whatever your reasons for sharing your budget sheet, this collaboration can be key to sticking to your budget.

Setting Up Your Budget – Some Tools to Help

There are a number of handy tools out there to help you stick to your plans – take a look at these to help you organize your budget, track your spending, and make sure online spending isn’t putting you at risk:

  • BillGuard – BillGuard helps you take a deeper look at your credit card statements and will help you spot if you’ve accidentally signed up for products or services you’ve forgotten about it or didn’t know you had signed up for.
  • Smartsheet – Smartsheet looks like a spreadsheet, but is online and much more flexible than a traditional Excel spreadsheet. It’s easy to customize and share with others – with a straightforward monthly budget template to help you get started right away.
  • PayPal – A safe way to pay for online purchases and split expenses with others – great for consolidating expenses and keeping track of where your money is going.
  • Toshl – If a budget spreadsheet is not the format that you’re looking for, Toshl is a great alternative to help visualize where you’re spending your money.

Sticking to Your Monthly Budget Spreadsheet – Three Practical Tips

The good news is, once you’ve found the right budget sheet, and the right tools to help you out, a lot of the hard work is done. You’ve decided to change your approach to your spending and you’ve gotten organized. Here’s some more good news for you: sticking to your budget worksheet now isn’t complicated.

Here are a few practical pieces of advice as you set out on the road to your new financial future:

1. Come up with a System for Regularly Entering Your Expenses As You Spend Money.

This is the most basic advice, true. Is it the piece of advice most likely to help you succeed? You bet. Here are a few ideas to help you update your budget sheet as you go:

  • Take photos of receipts on your phone. With photos of receipts on your phone, you won’t have to worry about losing anything – and if you’re using a tool like Smartsheet, you can easily attach the photo to the row that you’re updating.
  • Create a web form to quickly add expenses directly to your budget sheet. Mobile web forms take no time at all to fill out, and depending on the tool you’ve chosen, you can automatically add new expenses directly to your budget sheet. Smartsheet web forms are easy to build and you can save a link directly to your phone’s home screen. To save more time, use drop-down menus in your expense categories, and with just a few taps you’ll be able to add your purchases directly to your budget sheet simply and easily.
  • Stay one step ahead of yourself by scheduling reminders. We’re all human. Even if you do your best to keep track of every expense in real time, chances are, you’ll miss a few. While you’re doing the work of setting up your budget sheet, take a few extra seconds and schedule reminders for yourself to regularly check in to make sure records are updated. Reminders are easy to set for yourself in Smartsheet, Toshl or any other web-based tool.

2. Share Your Budget Sheet with Others.

  • Share your budget with others in your family. Share your budget with your spouse or other family member to jointly track expenses. Here’s where it is especially beneficial to use a tool like Smartsheet to track your expenses – you’ll both have access to the same updated version of your budget sheet to make updates. You can share the same web form you’ve created for yourself with your spouse or your children to update as they spend money, too.
  • Share your budget with an accountability coach. Giving others access to your budget can also be an incredibly helpful way to keep yourself on track. The subtle peer pressure of knowing someone else is checking in can help you stay on track.

In Smartsheet, you can share your budget sheet with your accountability coach with “View Only” access, so they can’t make any changes, but still monitor your progress. You can also schedule a recurring PDF snapshot of your budget to be emailed to them on a regular basis – weekly or monthly.

3. Adjust Your Approach to Keeping Track of Your Finances as You Go.

Make changes as you learn what works for you and what doesn’t. The benefit of choosing a simple, easy-to-customize template is that you’re not locked into any particular structure or format. Make the changes you need and you’re likely to be even more successful sticking to your budget.

Try one of our free monthly budget templates to get started.

Taking Advice from Financial Experts

Here are a few tips from the experts on sticking to your newly formulated budget.



Account for every cent you spend.

Erin Konrad, @CouponPal

My number one tip for sticking to a budget is to track your spending down to the penny! The only way you can truly know where your money is going is if you keep finite records. Knowing where and how you're spending can help you see patterns that can be changed or expenses that can be eliminated (like your cable subscription or daily Starbucks latte). Apps like Toshl are also super helpful in letting you log your expenses and better visualize where your money is actually going.


Remember your savings goals and why you’re doing all this in the first place.

Ray Advani, @squirrelers

Write down and also review your long-term saving goals and purpose each week. This will help keep you focused and on track by reminding you why you're doing this in the first place. Motivation is important!


Take a moment to think before spending money.

David Bakke, @MoneyCrashers

My best tip for sticking to your budget is to start asking yourself one simple question before spending any of your money. And that is - do I really need this? It's easy to get into this habit when you're at a store looking at expensive electronic upgrades like smartphones and flat screen TVs, but you should also do it for your minor purchases as well.

If you ask yourself this question before stopping at a convenience store, you might find that you don't really need those snacks (especially since you can get cheaper stuff from the grocery store), and your coffee can be brewed at home instead. Lottery tickets really are a waste of money and you can get your news fix online instead of picking up a newspaper. If you get into this habit any time you find yourself grabbing for your wallet, you'll find in a lot of instances that the answer to that question is no, and you can save a bundle in the process. More tips for sticking to your budget from MoneyCrashers.


Better Manage Organizational Budget Operations with Smartsheet

Finding the right template can help you get started planning your budget, but you should also look for a solution to ensure your finance operations are as efficient as possible. Consider a tool that provides one location for your team to track and manage financial details, from anywhere, in real time.

Smartsheet is an enterprise work execution platform that is fundamentally changing the way businesses and teams work. Over 74,000 brands and millions of information workers trust Smartsheet to help them accelerate business execution and address the volume and velocity of today's collaborative work.

Use Smartsheet to boost visibility into your finance operations. Make real-time updates and share details with key stakeholders to increase transparency and accountability. With Smartsheet, you can ensure that everyone is working with the most up-to-date information, so that no detail is missed and you are able to make the right decisions at the right time.

Discover why professionals around the world use Smartsheet to manage their finance operations.

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