Still blogging about money, I decided to try to be helpful rather than just self-interested. So, in a Google Docs account, I put the spreadsheet that has been my main financial tool since I was in grad school. You can see what it looks like.

The spreadsheet is a sort of mix of budget and overview of your cash flow. It just adds up income for each month, and subtracts expenses for each month, but presents it in a year form that lets you forecast what’s going to happen. It’s designed to let you be able to see at a glance that if you do not earn at least $1000 over a summer without TA salary, you will be unable to pay your rent in August.

I tend to enjoy keeping track of my money, but I think this spreadsheet is simple enough that people who don’t may still find it useable. Around the first of each month, I would update the “in bank on first” number, to update the projection over time. That’s the only necessary upkeep (which does require sitting down and sorting out bills, reconciling check register, etc, but doesn’t require tracking expenses as you go). You can also update the numbers for electric bills, etc, if you want to use the spreadsheet to track your expenses, but your projection will be correct without that (assuming your numbers for entertainment, etc, are close enough to accurate).

This is just a dummy sample, but I’m happy to approve anyone’s email to let you edit and play around with it in Google Docs. I aimed the numbers at grad students. If you want to try a similar approach in Excel, the math in it is very simple—formulas are only used in two places. The “in bank at end of month” cell adds all income for that month and subtracts all expenses. “In bank on first of month” cell is set as equal to the previous “end of month” cell.

I’ve checked out Quicken and a few other financial programs, but I’ve not found anything that dealt with the uneven income and expense pattern of academics as clearly and easily for me as my own spreadsheet. Budgeting tools came closest but never quite did what I wanted them to do. Even as a professor, with more money, I still use this simple tool, but now it’s just a subset of my finances instead of the entire picture.