Sunday, May 26, 2013

Updating and Revising

No effective home budget is cast in stone from the outset.  Keeping a budget means continuously revising projections in the light of new information and updating changed amounts already entered.

Further, revising and updating needs to happen again when bank records catch up with deposits and expenses on their online account data, and finally when their monthly statements are issued and you reconcile the bank's finalized data against your physical checkbook.

As you check off items in bank statements, check them off also on your Pagemonth Budget or other budget you use, as well as checking them off in your checkbook, and reconcile your statements in a timely manner, taking into account such items as check printing fees, late charges or low balance fees if they occur. 

If any amounts from bank records need to be revised in a previous month of your computer budget, add extra income amounts in category 503 and extra fees or penalties in category 120 as other income and miscellaneous expenses, respectively. dating the entries on the dates the bank records indicate.

What these retroactive changes will do, of course, is change your previous months' balances and make any printing you have already done obsolete.  This is why I suggest a monthpage printout at each month's beginning and another at it's end, and a third printout of that month only after all its amounts are reconciled and no further revision will be necessary.  In that way your final. bound pages will accumulate through December accurately.  And keep in mind your final year Summary won't be finalized until mid-January of the following year when your bank statement data through December appears online.

Updating previous data is half the battle of accurate revision.  The other half is revising projected income, expenses and charges as new information becomes known.  Especially during January changed figures typically happen to force revised expenses.  Vendors who put off raising utility bills during late autumn tend to use January, the first of the year, as the time to spring them on you.  Government does the same, raising taxes as of January.  Employers often do the same, adjusting payrolls because the holiday buying season is over.  But often employers will use January as a time to issue promotions as well, and perhaps new hiring.

All of January's changes require revisions in budgeted amounts, perhaps throughout the year.  Another key time is when you prepare and file tax returns.  If you have kept your Pagemonth Budget updated vigilantly throughout the previous year, your tax preparation will be much easier, for you will have totals of deductible expenses available with no added calculations.

Revisions and updating also become frequent around vacation times as you try to free up money to take trips and try to anticipate charges you will incur on them, and when you'll be able to pay those off.  Back to school always has its costs to handle, as does moving to a new job or city, often as autumn begins.  And after that, of course, it's time to begin the holiday buying season planning again.

So there really is no time of the year when a home budget, whether it be ours or someone else's, can be unattended to "run on its own."  Every decent home budget must be closely monitored and continually updated and revised, daily, weekly, monthly, until at last you can put the previous year's final numbers behind you,

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Different Months with Different Needs

With total configurability of all Pagemonth elements, it's not difficult to customize your spreadsheet as you want it to be.  The procedure is usually the same for most changes:  change January first, then copy January's changes through the other months.  But that is just the beginning.

Next, go through the months individually, adjusting parts in each that need specific changes:  the month's name, the calendar adjustments to the right number of weeks, the right number of days, changed income for that month, changed expenses or amounts, etc

Often the autumn months are similar through December, then January brings many changes.  February is always different with its leap years and 28 day months.  March through May are often similar without major holidays other than Easter to buy for.  June, July and August are budget busters, thanks to vacations and back to school, and then we're back to the autumn months with their buildup to the year's end.

This part, the month by month adjustments, is perhaps the hardest to do.  Not only are expenses burgeoning at some points but jobs are changing, folks tend to move in the spring or early fall, paychecks may drop out altogether for certain seasons as in the construction industry or teaching, layoffs in business and manufacturing, extra hiring for holidays then perhaps layoffs again.  Many must scramble to find a way to make ends meet till their income sources return.

How to budget for such a fluctuating, roller-coaster-like pattern?  Our advice is always the same throughout:  Estimate income low, estimate expenses high, pay off high interest loans as soon as possible, and build in plenty of buffering funds to handle the unexpected.

I use my credit card provider's regular monthly payment amount to hedge against such need by always budgeting $1000 more than our charges tell us we'll need to pay it off to zero balance.  That way I won't have any interest to sap away at other bills.

Don't let anyone tell you that paying off your credit card completely will lower your credit rating, because you're cutting off interest they depend on.  It won't.  If anything it will reassure creditors that no matter what they throw at you, you will pay it.

Each month brings different needs, so although customizing your budget begins with transferring January's budget through the year, by no means should you repeat it like a cookie cutter 11 times and leave the other months unchanged.  Month to month individual adjustments, all you can foresee as you learn of their need, will make your projected budget much more accurate throughout the year.

No budget is cast in stone when made. But with frequent reasonable revisions your Pagemonth Budget will serve you well all year.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Excel or Works: Which Is Best for Home Budgeting?

Microsoft Excel is the gold standard for spreadsheet format.  It is part of the Microsoft Office Suite of peograms since 2008, and is used worldwide by the vast majority of people for its reliability, flexibility, and robust variety of available functions.

Microsoft Works Spreadsheet, on the other hand, has been around since 1987..  It is part of the Microsoft Works Suite of programs and is in its 8th version.  While it offers fewer functions than Excel, it is in my opinion easier to navigate and overall easier to edit, print, and save. 

The functions needed for home spreadsheet budgets are readily available in both programs.  I prefer to use MSWorks for my personal home budgeting, mostly because I am more familiar with its functions and behavior than I am with Excel.  But younger users who have grown up using Excel are probably as unfamiliar with Works as I am with Excel, so they will likely prefer Excel for their home budgeting despite its steeper learning curve for my generation.

With its broader range of functions, Excel has been forced to use a wider ribbon to arrange all its choices, but has compensated for that extra width by allowing the user to expand or minimize its ribbon next to its help button.  Works uses its ribbon rows to divide user choices and is therefore vertically leaner.

Overall I believe the choice of Excel or Works for home budgeting is ultimately the user's preference, as both offer more than sufficient choices for every aspect of editing, saving, and printing files.  Both programs offer current updates and help online and operate with imperceptible differences in speed.  So the only true advantage of one over the other for home budgeting, in my view, is ease of use, how it feels to each user.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What Makes a Good Home Budget?

With hundreds of home and personal budgets available at little or no cost, what do the best ones have that the others do not?

In our view, all budgets we are familiar with have accuracy for what they claim they do, so accuracy is a given.

But budgets also need to be current, and here some fall by the wayside by being linked to bank accounts, which are quite accurate manipulating amounts they have cleared, but are never current

Until a deposit or a withdrawal is received and cleared by the bank, it does not exist as a bank record, even if it is expected by automatic credits or automatic debits.  And amounts frequently change even for these.  So bank records, even online, are only as current as their last records received amd processed.

That is why it can be so misleading to rely solely on budgets tied to bank accounts.  The balance shown on your last withdrawal slip may be off by one or more items that have not been received or cleared yet, and online data is almost never in the order you write checks, authorize autopayments, or receive deposits.

Pagemonth Budgets show income and expense items by the date they are scheduled to occur.  When a bill is scheduled to be paid, the balance subtracts it for that day, even though it hasn't cleared yet.  When a deposit is scheduled to be made, it is added to the balance for that day, even if it hasn't cleared yet.

So Pagemonth Budgets show payments and deposits often not yet shown by bank data.  So it is much more current.

When its accuracy is eventually assured and confirmed by bank entry, a checkmark (forward slash) needs to be entered to the right of the amount on the budget.  The checkmark columns in all Pagemonth Budgets thus have a vital function:  to confirm transactions, just as date columns are used to crosscheck items between the Cashflow and Budget sides.

Our insistence on double entry of all amounts, once on the Cashflow side and again on the Budget side, provides a further confirmation of accuracy.

Another characteristic of a good budget is accessibility.  In our opinion every part of a good budget must be open to review and modification by its owner at all times.  And that eliminates the vast majority of remaining free or lowcost budgets. 

Pagemonth Budgets are totally user-configurable and user-accessible in every part, cell, element, item, formula, formattng, and function.  In fact, they could all be edited out of existence, deleted to blank spreadsheets once more.  There would be no practical reason to do so, but it does demonstrate that we mean what we claim.

Good budgets must also be private and secure.  We feel our budgets are both by not residing in a cloud  but offline, in your computer., with a copy saved to a usb drive or other removable device in case even your computer crashes (and who among us can honestly claim his never has!).  I save my working budget to my desktop, again to My Documents, and yet again to my usb drive.

I am not against the Cloud.  I don't mind storing music, photos, videos and other items in the Cloud.
But I will never store my home financial records in the Cloud.  Clouds have a way of vanishing, reacting to sunspots and radiation, evaporating and otherwise behaving badly.

And good home budgets are flexible.  They can be adapted to Church budgets, school budgets, small business budgets, governmental budgets, small manufacturing budgets, club or organizational budgets, and hosts of other uses. 

Pagemonth Home Budgets are flexible enough for any of these uses and many more, thanks to their total configurability.

Good home budgets are predictive.  They not only accurately show financial transactions from the beginning of a year to the present day, but also reasonably predict future transactions and balances through the year's end, with convenient means to adjust amounts as new information becomes available.

Further, good home budgets present comprehensive and pertinent data the user needs and wants, in a practical and convenient, clear format.  We believe we include such information on every Pagemonth page, from the chronological "checking account" mirror we call the Cashflow on the left columns, to the categorical groupings we call the Budget side on the right, divided by the Annual Summary Projections as they continuously update in our middle columns E and F, to the Month and Year Summary calculations of gain or loss at each page bottom right.

We could add that a good home budget might also need to provide visual appeal and an instant sense of one's percentages of income and expense categories, a snapshot of everything that's going on, with possible graphs or pie charts, perhaps even in color, added to the mix.  Pagemonth Home Budgets do not use graphics or colors to accomplish  these goals.  However, the Excel and MSWorks programs our budgets use do make these features available, if users want them.  It is very easy to graph or piechart any group of amounts by highlighting them and using the program menus.

We chose from the beginning to focus Pagemonth Budgets on numbers rather than on graphics, because numbers are necessary and graphics are for all their visual appeal really not necessary.  We believe we created a better home budget without them..

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Pagemonth Files Reusability

One of our Pagemonth Budgets and Templates' most valuable features is the fact that one can reuse them year after year without expense.

As a spreadsheet author I note what visitors use for search keywords, and many are seeking home budgets for 2014. as if they were looking for a new car model.

Making a 2013 Pagemonth Budget a 2014 Pagemonth Budget is as simple as changing cell O1 from 2013 to 2014 and saving it as the correct year, then saving it to a safe location not on the desktop.  2014 will be automatically copied to each page and the summary.

But that is only half of the task.  The other half is renaming the file Budget14.(xls or xlr) and saving it as Budget14.(xls or ,xlr)  Because so far you now have a 2014 budget named Budget13.(xls or xlr).

When you rename any of our files be sure to designate the year correctly within the filename before you save it, and we further recommend you keep all of our budgets and templates except the current files you are working with off of the desktop and safely saved in My Documents or other safe locations. 

The correct year's filename protects it from being confused with any other.  So if you type the right year into cell O1, then name it Budget(year).xls or xlr before saving it, it should always be the file you expect when you click its icon.

And that procedure makes all our files reusable at no further cost for as many years as you care to use them.  I have mine dating back to 2008 and still refer to them regularly.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Playing Hide and Goto...

The internet is a virtual necessity, but it has some strange navigational challenges.

One is the stubborn persistence of whatever one creates on it versus the vexing disappearance of whatever one changes.

Example:  We used to be, but changed to this year and dropped the middle "a", yet search engines still list our former pageamonth pages.

Now I notice Google still lists a former Download page for pagemonth, (our new, correct site) which  claims we have free budgets.  We do not have free budgets.  We used to have free budgets, but we changed to paid budgets this year.  We tried to get Google to acknowledge that change, but to no avail.  So we navigated to the old Download page and informed freebie seekers  of the change ourselves, including a link to our homepage bottom "Buy Now" Paypal button.  Clicking on it opens our Paypal purchasing page.  Completing the $9,95 one-time price opens our present download page where all our budgets and templates may be downloaded repeatedly at no further cost till the buyer leaves the page.

It amazes me how difficult technical people have made getting around on the internet, with their maze of passwords, gates, redirects, automatic do-not-reply emails, faceless support tickets, electronic politeness, and general lack of human contact.

They say it is all necessary to block malware-planters, thieves and hackers, who have become increasingly adept at what they do.  I feel like we nontechnical users (how many usernames do you have to manage?) are caught in the middle of a no-man;s-land technical war we can't understand, attacked by both sides. 

Still, the net may be more user-friendly with all its vexations than the electronic phone trees of any major business.  Don't even get me started on those.