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A budget is the foundation of your financial health.  Want to know if you can afford a vacation?  How much you can save for retirement?  How you can pay off your mortgage faster?  These questions can all be answered if you have a budget.

This post examines the steps required on how to create a budget in Excel. We include a budget spreadsheet template in Excel to help you get started.

Budgeting Apps to Consider – Top Picks

Digital Envelope Budgeting System
Net Worth & Cash Flow Tracking
See All Your Accounts in One Place
Free 34-day trial, then $14.99/mo or $98.99/yr
Get the app for free—attach your accounts and build your net worth picture
Starts at $41.88/year
Digital Envelope Budgeting System
Free 34-day trial, then $14.99/mo or $98.99/yr
Net Worth & Cash Flow Tracking
Get the app for free—attach your accounts and build your net worth picture
See All Your Accounts in One Place

What is a Budget?

What is a budget? A budget is a listing of your income and the amount you can afford to spend on your expenses and put into savings. Income includes your wages and returns you get from your investments.

Expenses include every dollar you spend, from income taxes to housing costs to food to fun stuff like vacations, sporting events and going out for a nice dinner and drinks.

You’ll also want to include line items in your budget for the different types of savings – emergency, designated for specific large purchases and long-term/retirement.

To be clear, the budgeting process is to your financial health what cleaning your bathroom is to your physical health. Most people don’t find creating and sticking to a budget to be a lot of fun.

The longer you put it off, though, the harder it is to do. If you don’t clean your bathroom or make a budget, you can end up with physical or financial illness that can be really hard to overcome.

However, if you make a budget, you’ll be much more confident in your financial decisions. You will be less likely to run up more debt than you can afford to re-pay and will be more likely to be able to retire in the fashion you desire.

How to Create a Budget Spreadsheet in Excel

excel budget template

I have a free budget spreadsheet template for you to download and use.

Use it to follow along with the steps outlined below to make sure you are learning how to create a budget in Excel which works for you.

As an overview, here are the steps necessary to create a budget in Excel:

1. Identify Your Financial Goals

In my case, my primary financial goal is to make sure I enjoy my retirement. For many of you, your goals will include down payments on houses, refinancing student loans, college for your children and funding retirement.

2. Determine the Period Your Budget Will Cover

The most common time periods for a budget include a monthly or annual view. If you budget for a month, it is critical to remember to add expenses that you don’t pay every month as you’ll need to set aside money in short-term savings to have the money when those expenses become due.

3. Calculate Your Total Income

Figure out how much Form W-2 or Form 1099 income you’re going to earn during your budgeting period (1099 vs. W-2 can result in different tax situations).

4. Begin Creating Your Excel Budget

Build a personal budget worksheet for tracking your expenses. Consider using the free Excel budget template provided in the email signup above.

5. Enter All Cash, Debit and Check Transactions into the Budget Spreadsheet

Enter all of the checks, debit card and cash transactions from your checkbook or online bank account into the Excel spreadsheet and identify the types of expenses.

6. Enter All Credit Transactions

Enter all of the transactions on your credit cards into the same Excel spreadsheet, identifying the type of expense. Make sure that you don’t double count the credit card payments from your checkbook with the details of the expenses from your credit card bills.

7. Calculate Total Expenses from All Sources

Add up all of the expenses in (5) and (6) by type of expense. These totals tell you where you’ve been spending money and how much you’ve spent in total.

8. Identify Areas for Expense Reduction

Make a first pass at the expense part of your budget by looking at how much you’ve spent and whether any of your expenses are going to change.

9. Run a Comparison of Income to Expenses

Compare your expense budget to your income. If your expenses and target savings exceed your income, you need to figure out how to get more income (take a second job or, in my case, take on a consulting assignment in my retirement?) or cut expenses.

At this point in the process, you will want to identify if you can save more in your retirement accounts about distinguishing needs and wants are critically important.

10. Be Diligent with Your Budget

Monitor your expenses to make sure that you are not overspending your budget.

Do I Need a Budget Spreadsheet? I’m Already Saving Some Money.

creating a budget in excel young and the invested

If you have been working for several years and are able to put money in savings, you might wonder why you need to create a budget. The biggest reason to make a budget at this stage of your life is to make sure you are putting enough money into savings.

I think of savings in three components:

  1. Emergency Savings – Money to cover either your living expenses if you find yourself without an income or travel expenses in case of the death or medical emergency of a close family member. Most people recommend that you target three to six months of basic living expenses for your emergency savings.
    1. It is critically important to distinguish between what is an emergency and what is not. For example, a funeral is an emergency; a wedding is not.
    2. If you want to be able to go to someone’s wedding, the costs should already be in your budget or come from savings specifically designated for attending weddings.
  2. Designated Savings – Money to fund large purchases you want to make in the future. Think of creating designated savings as budgeting over several years.
    1. For example, you will need to replace your car every-so-often or might have a few “dream” vacations you’d like to take or want to make a down payment on a condo vs. apartment-renting or to fund your children’s education.
    2. Unless you make so much money that you can fit the full cost of these items in one year’s budget, you’ll want to fund them over several years.
  3. Long-Term or Retirement Savings – Money to allow you to live when you are no longer working and living a Millennial retirement.

By creating a budget that includes all three components of savings, you’ll be more confident that you will be able to meet expenses when emergencies arise and realize your dreams. The amounts you need to include in your budget for emergency and designated savings are pretty straightforward.

Determine how much you need and the date by which you want to have those amounts available and do the arithmetic.

How Much Retirement Savings Should I Budget For?

mother and daughter rubbing noses and smiling

Figuring out how much to budget each year for retirement savings is much more difficult. There are many factors to consider.

  • How much you’ve already saved.
  • How much money you want to spend each year when you retire.
  • How much risk you are willing to take with your retirement savings.
  • Whether the amounts you set aside are before or after-tax (i.e., in HSAs, traditional or Roth IRAs and 401(k)s).
  • Your current age.
  • Your target retirement age.
  • How long you will live.
  • Whether any of your employers provide you with a defined benefit pension plan.
  • How much you’ll get from Social Security.
  • Inflation rates between now and the time you die.
  • Tax rates on any non-Roth savings when you retire.
  • And so on.

To provide you with some insights on how much to save, I’ve created a very simple example.

  • You want to retire at age 60.
  • You want to be able to spend an amount equal to 80% of your current after-tax salary, adjusted for future inflation. Federal, state and social security taxes currently total 40% of your salary, so the equivalent percentage of your pre-tax salary is 48%.
  • You are willing to take the risk of the overall stock market, so we will assume you average 9% return on your investments.
  • Inflation is 4% per year until you die at age 90. Your salary increases with inflation plus 1 percentage point for merit raises and promotions.
  • You put all of your retirement savings in Roth accounts, so future taxes aren’t an issue.
  • You don’t have any retirement savings yet.
  • You don’t have or plan to get money from any defined benefit plans and, for conservatism, I will assume you get nothing from Social Security.

The chart below shows you what percentage of your salary you need to put in a Roth IRA and/or Roth 401(k) to meet these goals based on your current age.

creating a budget in excel retirement graph

This chart shows that, if you start saving at age 25 under the assumptions above, you need to save “only” 11% of your pre-tax salary in a Roth IRA or 401(k) every year until you retire.

On the other hand, if you are 45, have the characteristics above and use those assumptions, you’ll need to save 42% of your salary every year just for retirement.

Keep in mind that your employer’s matching 401(k) contributions reduce the amount you need to contribute.

All of the values in this chart scale proportionally, so you can increase or reduce the salary percentages if your retirement needs are more or less than are assumed in the illustration.

Also, please note retirement plan limits have increased for 2021/2022.  Take advantage of them if you can when creating a budget in Excel and be sure to put as much in there as you can afford.

You Need a Budget

The amounts you need to set aside for emergency, designated and retirement savings are often a large percentage of your salary.

A budget is a critical tool for increasing the likelihood that you will realize your dreams and meet your current day-to-day needs.

There are many ways to find additional room for savings in your budget. By tracking your income, expenses and financial goals across time, you will position yourself better.

Whether you make a lot of money or live on a more modest income, take the steps listed above for creating a budget in Excel and learn how to take control of your financial future.

Budgeting Apps That Can Help

1. You Need a Budget (the App)

you need a budget

  • Available: Sign up here
  • Price: Free 34-day trial, then $14.99/mo on Monthly Plan or $98.99/year

Consider pairing You Need a Budget (YNAB) with your new budget made in Excel to have full visibility into your personal finances.

YNAB determines how much money you have, what your expenses are, and when your expenses need to be paid. It can track regular payments as well as budget for less frequent costs.

This knowledge can assist couples take control of their monthly budgeting needs.

YNAB makes managing a budget simple. In addition to keeping track of expenses, it can help you establish goals and plan savings.

You can try YNAB for free for 34 days and then it costs $98.99 per year or $14.99 per month if paid monthly.


2. Simplifi

simplifi sign up

  • Available: Sign up here
  • Price: Free 30-day trial, then $47.88 per year or $5.99/mo

Simplifi is a useful budgeting app that allows you to reach your financial goals with confidence. The service allows you to create and track progress toward both short and long-term goals, helping you designate the required funds to meet these goals.

You can use the app’s powerful spend tracking capabilities across several financial accounts like bank accounts, debit cards, credit cards, mortgage and more.

The app creates a customized budget generated automatically based on your combined income, expenses and savings as a couple.

Further, the software uses this information to provide timely insights into how you can maximize your savings, optimize your spending and reach your goals in quick fashion.

Consider starting a free 30-day trial with Simplifi today to see if it’s the budgeting app for couples you need.


3. Quicken

quicken sign up

  • Available: Sign up here
  • Price: Quicken Starter: $41.88 per year, Quicken Deluxe: $47.88/year, Quicken Premier: $71.88/year, Quicken Home & Business: $107.88/year

Quicken has been around for several years and widely been used as a powerful personal finance solution. You can use the app to track expenses and make budgets as a couple, but also handle several other personal finance management needs.

Quicken provides a consolidated view of your finances in one customizable dashboard, leveraging information from your accounts and activity to understand and manage your spending better.

The functionality of Quicken extends beyond just personal finances, however, and also covers useful financial management needs of your small business and rental properties you may own and operate as a couple.

Consider using the comprehensive tools provided by Quicken and their ability to meet your unique financial planning needs.

About the Author

Riley Adams is a licensed CPA who works at Google as a Senior Financial Analyst overseeing advertising incentive programs for the company’s largest advertising partners and agencies. Previously, he worked as a utility regulatory strategy analyst at Entergy Corporation for six years in New Orleans.

His work has appeared in major publications like Kiplinger, MarketWatch, MSN, TurboTax and CNBC’s Acorns. Riley currently holds areas of expertise in investing, taxes, real estate, cryptocurrencies and personal finance where he has been cited as an authoritative source in outlets like CNBC, Time, NBC News, APM’s Marketplace, HuffPost, Business Insider, Slate, NerdWallet, The Balance and Fast Company.

Riley holds a Masters of Science in Applied Economics and Demography from Pennsylvania State University, Bachelor of Arts in Economics and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Finance from Centenary College of Louisiana.