If you are on the fence about whether you should track your spending more closely or not, you must read this excerpt from the blog post "The Power of Tracking Your Spending" by Gerri Detweiler, on www.Credit.com. I have read the book, "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg, and found it very helpful on how to use habit to accomplish things you never thought possible.
But what if tracking your spending did more than just shed light on where your money is going? In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg shares research by two Australian researchers, Ken Cheng and Megan Oaten, who designed a four-month experiment where participants were instructed to write down every purchase. It took some time to get into the habit of recording expenses, but once they did, there were some surprising results.
In addition to building a good habit that will help you in all areas of your life, xlyourfinances maximizes your efforts by feeding your information into an integrated budget and monthly and yearly summaries. You can easily research past transactions with Excel's powerful "auto-filter" feature and you can use the cash forecast and personal financial statement to gain even greater control of your finances. Let xlyourfinances help you develop the one habit that will impact your whole life for the better.
Eric is a young business professional who purchased the program around the time he got married, about a year and a half ago. I followed up with Eric to see if he would be willing to do a personal finance interview and he agreed.
Tell me about your personal finance journey and where you think you are on that journey?
How did you handle your personal finances before you started using xlyourfinances?
What do you like about the spreadsheet, any favorite features?
How has your view of finances changed since you started using xlyourfinances?
Were there any surprises or 'aha' moments once you started using xlyourfinances?
What advice would you give for someone who is struggling with their finances?
How would you rate yourself as an excel user, beginner, intermediate, advanced?
What level would you recommend someone be at before using xlyourfinances?
Recently, xlyourfinances teamed up with www.replaceyourmortgage.com. Replace your mortgage is a method for paying off your home in 5-7 years. The replaceyourmortgage team was looking for a personal finance tool to offer to their customers to help them manage their money better and to make sure they were achieving their mortgage payoff goals. Before I would team up, I decided to look into the replaceyourmortgage method and decide for my self if it was legitimate or not. After researching the website and talking to the owner of replaceyourmortage, I took the leap and became a replaceyourmortgage customer. After going through the educational videos and working with the on-line community, I was able to replace my traditional mortgage with a home equity line of credit with no closing fees. I am not only saving interest dollars, but I have dramatically reduced my loan principal in a short amount of time which is further reducing the amount of interest I am incurring on my house. The effect of a lower interest rate being calculated on a daily basis coupled with the reduced principal has had a major impact on how long it will take me to pay off my house. The best part, is that because your mortgage is completely replaced by a home equity line of credit, you have no risk of paying 'too much'. You can always access the equity you created with your payment and have the cash you need, when you need it. There are many other benefits to the replaceyourmortgage method and I strongly encourage you to check out their website to see if the method will work for your unique situation. It definitely has worked for me and I find myself telling everyone that is interested.
Replaceyourmortgage has now endorsed xlyourfinances as the personal finance tool of choice for its customers. As a replaceyourmortgage customer you will gain access to a special instructional video created to show exactly how xlyourfinances makes it easy to track your finances using the replaceyourmortgage method. You can learn more about this exciting concept at www.replaceyourmortgage.com
by Brad Hoffer
Extreme couponing and buying in bulk are crazes that have been around for quite some time. There are these ridiculous stories of people spending hours upon hours over coupons to get stuff for free and/or routinely shopping at bulk grocery stores which results in having a year or two of products in the pantry, closet or basement. All of this is done in the name of 'saving money'. The problem is, are you really saving money? It becomes very hard to measure at times. For instance, if you save $.50 a tube on a year's worth of toothpaste, let's say you go through 12 tubes a year, you have saved $6. However, if you make one errant purchase, such as a huge tub of pickles that you don't eat, or a pack of 12 kitchen brushes for $30 that you end up losing, you are at risk of throwing away your savings. The same thing happens with coupons. If you purchase something you don't need, the savings from your coupons are quickly eliminated. I have no doubt, there are super-disciplined people, who never make a wrong purchase and only purchase the necessities, and to you, I say, 'good job', 'keep up the good work'. However, for the rest of us, I think a careful look at how we are arriving at our savings and the 'extras' we end up buying needs evaluated. If your efforts to save money is failing, why are you doing it? Isn't it far worse to have the illusion that you are saving money, but in reality you are actually spending more?
Keep in mind, the goal of the companies issuing coupons and operating bulk stores, is to get individuals to buy more. If you are buying more than you need, you are losing the game. Call a time-out and re-evaluate your buying habits, your needs and your wants, and then shop smartly for only those things you need. This is at the core of saving money, buying only what you need. Even when you go to your local grocery store, everything is centered around getting you to buy more than you need. Every aisle has random stuff hanging from the shelves, trying to get you to make that impulse buy, that is, buying something you don't truly need. Think about it, one $3 'excess' item per trip, based on consumers' average 1.5 trips per week*, equals $234 a year. Think of the grocery store's motivation, every customer spending an extra $234 a year times an average of ~11,500* customers equals $2,691,000 in additional annual sales! As with any game, everyone likes to win, don't let the grocery store win! Develop a strategy and stick to it. For my household, we like to shop around the outside perimeter of the store and avoid going down the inside aisles. This approach will typically get you fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, the deli counter, milk, OJ, yogurt, eggs, cheese and bread. There is always something we need down the middle aisles, but we walk those aisles with trepidation!
In every game, big and small, there is a winner and a loser, well, except for some kids' sports where every participant gets a medal. The problem with not keeping score is you don't know how good or bad you really are. Also, if you don't keep track of past scores, you don't know if you are improving. The xlyf excel budgeting spreadsheet will help you keep score better than ever before, keep your history so you know if you are improving, and help you set appropriate goals.
Download the xlyourfinances spreadsheet today and start winning the game against impulse purchases from coupons, bulk stores and grocery stores.
"Expert Interview with Brad Hoffer of XLYourFinances on Expert Excel Tricks"
XLYF's Brad Hoffer took a moment to tell us about the spreadsheet, some possible applications, and ways to save time and money with some black belt Excel kung fu.
Can you tell us a little bit about XLYourFinances? When did you get started? What prompted you to start your own company?
XLYourFinances is a Microsoft Excel personal finance spreadsheet. I have used Excel virtually every day for the past 15 years in the various jobs I have had as an accountant. This has allowed me to learn some of the advanced programming capabilities that exist in Excel in order to build user-friendly spreadsheets to solve complex problems and processes.
As I would learn tricks at work, I would incorporate them into my personal finance spreadsheet. In 2009, I decided to tackle making my spreadsheet "unbreakable" so that others could use it as well. This process took a lot longer than expected; and by the time I put together instructional videos and created a website, it was towards the end of 2010.
I have always wanted to have my own company, but had never found something that I had enough passion about to pursue. Personal finance is definitely something I have passion about, so it made sense to create the spreadsheet and the website, and start helping people with their finances.
...(follow this link to see entire article)...
In that same post, you also talk about a bunch of really useful time-saving tricks on Excel. Can you share a couple of these tricks with us?
The ultimate source for learning tricks in Excel is www.mrexcel.com. I recently supported Bill Jelen's (founder of mrexcel) campaign on Indiegogo. He raised $25,183 to publish his 40th book titled, 'MrExcel XL Book - 40 Greatest Excel Tricks'. I am excited for the opportunity to contribute tips and tricks for this book. With that said, if I had to give one piece of advice to someone wanting to get to the next level in Excel, I would say to learn the 'SUMIF' function. Once you master how this function works, you can start doing some really cool things in Excel.
Any other advice or encouragement for people looking for financial freedom this year?
There is an ancient saying by Ahikar that goes, "I have hauled sand, I have carried salt, but nothing is heavier than debt." Being in debt is kind of just a way of life for a lot of us. I think making a commitment to get out of debt is one of the best things you can do. I'm not as worried about our mortgage, which is for a house that typically retains its value. I am concerned about our credit card debt, where we are buying things we cannot afford and then paying them off over time. When you use your credit card, make sure that you can pay it off in full each month, and make sure that you are spending less than you are making.
In summary, it is difficult to make positive changes which is why I love this quote from Robin Sharma ... "All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end."
For more info and updates from XLYourFinances, follow them on Twitter, and connect with them on LinkedIn.
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by Brad Hoffer
Soon after we moved into our house, a new couple, who I will call Jack and Diane, moved in across the street. We actually knew Jack from high school. Jack and his wife were very nice. I knew he was a banker, but didn't know too much more than that. We would talk from time to time, but most of the time we just waved "hello".
What I did notice, was how Jack lived. Since our neighborhood was new construction, most of us had half-green yards, but not Jack, he rolled out plush green grass. "Wow, look at Jack's yard", I would say to my wife as we drove up to our house. It was professionally landscaped and just looked perfect. From time to time Jack would park his Escalade and boat along the street. It was big and it was nice. Soon Jack got a stainless steel pool and built a patio with a ceiling fan. His backyard was mainly a hill, that is until he basically turned it into a pyramid with all of the stone pavers, steps and fire pit at the top. I usually try not to compare to others, but I found myself saying to my wife, "I don't know how much money bankers make, but there is no way it is that much! He must have some kind of inheritance or maybe he is the president of the bank!" Now at this time, he would have been in his twenties, so I was pretty sure he was not the bank president. The other thought I had was that maybe Jack had 200,000 in credit card debt!
Our house was built without too many upgrades, hoping someday we could add a deck, an island to the kitchen etc. But we knew we wouldn't be able to afford those things for many years. So at times, it was difficult to watch Jack just buy everything, all at once. I'll be honest, it really didn't bother me too much that I didn't have the things he had, however, it did make me frustrated with our own financial position. We felt like we didn't overspend and yet we had credit card debt, we had a large mortgage, school loans and there just never seemed to be enough money to be able to accumulate any real savings.
One day, I was outside and another neighbor asked if I heard what had happened to Jack? "No, what happened?". My neighbor explained…he was driving his car on a high bridge, pulled to the side of the road, got out of his car, ran and jumped off the bridge. The water is shallow, and typically, this would mean certain death. But somehow, miraculously, Jack must have landed in just the right spot in the river. A man was out fishing and pulled him out of the water, unharmed! Completely shocked by this news, he continued to explain, that apparently, Jack had been using his position at the bank to take out fake loans under his Grandpa's name. He had taken over $300,000 in loans, and spent it. He felt like there was no way out of the mess he had made and so he was hoping the life insurance money could be used to make things right.
Throughout the many months following this, the bank did an investigation, and decided not to press charges, they only wanted him to pay back the money. The court decided in addition to paying back the money, he would have to do many hours of community service. It is unbelievable, and controversial, that he didn't get any jail time. The house was foreclosed on by the bank, and all of Jack's things were sold off to repay the bank. His wife stuck with him throughout the whole ordeal and they got an apartment together and started a new life, with very few things. He worked at the meat counter of the local grocery store and eventually got involved in ministry at his church.
We have a neighborhood men's Bible study that meets every other week. Jack came to one of our meetings and shared some of his story. He was truly a changed man, and talked about how his view of money had changed, but that his new life wasn't an easy one, since he would be repaying his debts until his death.
I reflect on his story often…what if we had started to spend to keep up with 'the Jones's'? What if, by comparing to others, we let jealousy and bitterness ruin our lives when the reality was we were comparing ourselves to something that wasn't real? It reinforces to me, that we each have our own life to live. It is a life that God gave you, the job that He gave you at this point in your life, friends and family that He wants you to love. You can spend your whole life wanting something more, wanting what someone else has, but at the end of the day, finding contentment, is one of the greatest riches known to man.
by Brad Hoffer
Succeeding in budgeting, spending less than you are making, carrying no credit card debt, all of these things are a mind-set. A mind-set that says, this is what we 'will do' and this is what we 'won't do'. For years, I fell into the trap of believing that I was somehow beating the system with 0% credit card offers and then juggling the debt from card to card in order to quote / un-quote, "accomplish our goals".
The problem with credit card debt, even at zero percent, is it sucks the fun out of whatever it is you bought. Every time you use your new TV, new computer, put on your new clothes, you have the stress of knowing you still owe hundreds of dollars on your credit card bill. Hundreds, that you don't have. You do the math to see if you can pay it off before the high interest rate 'kicks-in'. Each month you make a payment and each month, those things that you bought are no longer new, in fact, they are getting old. What's worse, if an unexpected expense hits (i.e. stove breaks) you suddenly are in over your head. You cannot afford to buy the stove and you must use a credit card. Now you have just made your situation much worse. You start looking at what the interest rate will become, start looking for other areas of income and where you can cut-back. This is what I call, "the Credit Card Prison", because there is no easy way out, it just takes time, painstakingly slow, time.
This is no way to live. What did you gain? If you save up your money, then make the same purchases, you might have to wait longer, even a year, but in the end, your life is so much fuller. And if what you want is technology, you will always be better off waiting. It will be cheaper and/or there will probably be something better.
So why do we fall for this lie. I remember getting 0% offers and believing it was free money. The truth is, it is not money, it is debt, it is bad-debt. There are situations where it is unavoidable, but as far as you have the ability to avoid credit card debt, you need to avoid it. Your stress, your peace, your happiness will all be improved if you can live without it.
Today, my wife and I do use a credit card, but we pay it off in full every month. We have the mantra, 'never again'. What we mean is, we will use all our power to ensure we will never carry credit card debt again. This is what I call a mind-set. We have set our minds, we have agreed upon a common goal and it influences our conversations and our decisions. This is a powerful way to truly gain control, to guard yourself against the debt trap.
Now when I see a 0% offer, I smile, shred the junk mail and move on with my day in freedom.
By Brad Hoffer
How many categories should you use when you budget? 10? 20? 40? When I first started tracking our spending, I probably had 40 categories. Today, I use 10 spending categories. So why did I change and which way is better?
I really think it is personal preference, however, I would like to share my experience. When I had so many categories I found budgeting to be overwhelming. I also found that when I created a budget for so many small categories, often things in our life would change and I was spending lots of time adjusting budgets, moving budgeted dollars from one category to another. I stepped back one day and said, 'why am I doing this?'. My main goal is to spend less than I make. If one month we needed to spend more on food and less on home improvement, what difference did it make? My main concern was making sure that in total, we didn't overspend. What I landed on was to focus on fewer, but larger categories. I ended up with 5 variable and 5 fixed expense categories. This made it a lot easier to remember what category items fall into. It also reduced the number of times I had to adjust where my budget dollars belong.
I will be honest, the detail-oriented part of me still struggles to group so many things together into one group. But if I am even more honest, I really believe we are doing better today with sticking to our budget than ever before. By reducing the number of categories, you give yourself the flexibility you need to adjust to the needs of the month and still control your overall spending.
If you are familiar with xlyourfinances, you realize that the number of categories doesn't really matter because the spreadsheet will automatically categorize and summarize them against your budget. So there is little to no extra work regardless of the number of categories you have. However, I still believe that when you sit down and look at your budget vs. actual, you are better off with less categories. Each week you are more likely to be focused on your goals and more determined to reduce your spending if you can see the one or two areas you need to improve vs. 15 areas because you have 40 categories you are trying to analyze. This is why I say, "less is more".
This brings me to my concluding thought. There are many products available to choose for personal finance. I don't claim that xlyourfinances is for everyone. But I do believe that for the majority of individuals and families across almost any income level, it will be an invaluable tool in keeping track of and improving your understanding of your finances. Xlyourfinances will help you set goals, reduce your stress and improve your financial situation by giving you the information you need to make informed financial decisions. Whether you decide to use 400 categories or 10, it is your choice and there really is no wrong answer, as long as it works for you!
XLYourFinances is proud to have contributed to the indiegogo campaign. $26,801 was raised for Bill to create this book.
MrExcel XL =ROMAN(40) The 40 Greatest Excel Tips of All Time
This 274-page full color book includes:
by Brad Hoffer
For years, my wife and I have struggled to overcome the trap of spending more than we make. When you sit down to budget and compare your spending vs. your income, it is not much fun when you are perpetually in the hole. No matter how you look at it, it is just depressing. These negative feelings make it very difficult to continue to pay attention to your finances because no one enjoys getting bad news, week after week, month after month, and year after year.
It seemed impossible to break the cycle. Everything we were buying seemed necessary. Now, 'necessary' is a very relative word. I may feel we need to eat out because neither one of us wanted to cook that night and it was 'necessary' for our sanity to just enjoy eating out that night. I may feel we need to replace our vehicle because it is nickel-and-diming us and it is 'necessary' to have reliable transportation. It is 'necessary' to have nice clothes for my job. It is 'necessary' to fix up the house. It is 'necessary' to add a patio to the back yard. It is 'necessary' to upgrade the dishwasher because the dishes just don't seem to come clean anymore. On and on the list of 'necessary' items grows and grows. So what can you do?
I believe the only way out is to become 'fed up'. 'Fed up' with the stress, the worry and most of all, the feeling of helplessness. You then use this frustration to become determined. Determined to spend less than you make, regardless of what that means. This sometimes means taking drastic measures. But no bad habit or routine is easily broken. Changing your heart and mind regarding your money is incredibly difficult. Your way of thinking seems logical and your reasons for spending seem legit. But until you can break down the walls that cause you to continue to fall into the overspending trap, you will not succeed.
But the moment you do break the cycle and start spending less than you earned, suddenly, budgeting becomes fun, that very month! I should clarify what I mean by budgeting. To me, budgeting is the act of comparing your actual results to an accurately prepared budget. When your results are better than your budget, you can't help but be happy. You feel empowered, in control and you feel a sense of freedom.
How many times have you heard the phrase 'financial freedom'. What does this mean to you? I use to think it meant you had so much money you could just purchase whatever you wanted, when you wanted. What is interesting, I know several millionaires, and they just don't spend much money. They set limits and parameters and live within them. Why? Because financial freedom is not being able to buy whatever you want, it is buying what you can afford and living free from uncontrollable spending habits. Overspending is not freedom, whether you can afford it or not.
It is very interesting, when you spend less than you make, you find 'financial freedom', regardless of income. You are free from the financial pressures and stress that come from carrying debt and you feel more prepared for the future.
Fun budgeting is when you sit down, and realize you have some cushion, because you spent wisely, made a plan and stuck to it, or even beat it. If you want budgeting to become fun, stop overspending and you will find true financial freedom.
I have been an Auditor, Analyst, Accounting Manager, Business Systems Manager, Controller, School Board Vice President, Director of Finance and CFO over the past 19 years of work experience. In my free time I developed the XLYourFinances spreadsheet and website I enjoy golf and spending time with my family. We attend church at LCBC.