How I handle my Finances (including Template)

DISCLAIMER:
I am not a professional financial advisor. I just describe what I do and how I do it. Do your own due diligence and learn about finance topics yourself before throwing around money blindly.

Also I am writing from a Swiss perspective, so the amounts are in Swiss Francs (CHF/Fr.) and I tried to explain all Switzerland specific concepts or offer an international alternative.

Why knowing your finances is important

TL;DR: control over your finances = better sleep and more money, figure it out early as you will deal with it for all your life

When I applied for university to go and study computer science part-time, I had already moved out of my parent’s place and had to pay for everything myself. I also had a job but there I was reducing my workload to 60% to be able to study part-time.

I didn’t really have a grasp of how much money I was spending each month and if I could get through the four years of studying with the reduced income and the amount that I have saved up until this point.

That’s when I first started to get into all these finance topics and I first started with a small overview:
I listed all my incomes and savings, and then figured out where my money is going and which different expenses I actually have. This way I could “plan” my finances for the next four years and knew which adjustments I needed to make to get through university without having a headache about money stuff. I could easily identify where I needed to tone the spendings down a bit and that I can save a good amount of money by cancelling unnecessary subscriptions.

All this tracking and planning kickstarted my interest in finance and I started to read books and blogs about this topic. Once I figured out that I actually have enough money for these four years and even have a surplus, I was ready to invest my money in a good manner and could live in peace, knowing that I controlled my finances – and not vice versa.

Money is a topic that you will have to deal with for your whole life, so I wanted to “get it” and implement a system for how I deal with money as early as possible. You can see it as a kind of investment, where for each year that you have figured out your finances, you are less stressed and can focus on more important things for the rest of your life.

Step 1: tracking your daily expenses

In the excellent book Your Money or Your Life, the author suggests to track all your expenses every day for a month. I have done this “challenge” and it was a bit tedious to track every little item I bought, but at the end I liked it so much that it became a habit and I am still tracking all my expenses four years later (I’m a nerd and like stats, so “number-goes-up” is a fun moment for me every month now).

Tracking where your money goes is the base layer of a healthy finance life and you need the low-level data to properly analyse your spendings and to get some insight about your finances.

How you track your expenses is not so important, as long as you have the individual purchases tracked when the month finishes. You can use an app to track manually or you can just go through your eBanking/credit card bill at the end of the month (which probably also could be automated). Find out what works best for you and how you have the best overview over your spendings.

Start with detailed tracking, then move to efficient tracking once it becomes a habit

When I was doing the 30 days of very detailed, single item tracking it really helped me to actually know what individual items are worth (especially in the groceries category). Before the tracking, I more or less knew how much a normal week of food would cost me, but I didn’t really get how cheap or expensive some foods are (I found out that cheese is kinda expensive unfortunately).

I would suggest to track your expenses very detailed for a few weeks and then switch to a more efficient, purchase-tracking habit. So you go to the store and at the end you enter the total amount of the bill into your tracking system. Or you have a night out with friends in multiple bars/restaurants/clubs and then you just enter the summarised amount of what you paid (by looking into your eBanking for example).

The tracking app I use

Personally I use the App “Money Manager Expense & Budget” (Android, iOS), which does not really have an exciting name, but it does the trick for me and I have been using it daily for five years.

There are tons of budget/tracking apps so just pick one you like and one that makes it really easy and fast to add a purchase (it takes me about 15-30s to add a purchase).

Step 2: documenting your finances monthly

My process of filling in the data each month

On the first day of the month, I boot up my computer, navigate to my finances-file and let the numbers flow:

  1. I go into my tracking app and enter the monthly sums of each category into my Spendings-sheet
  2. I control the values I entered and if all is good, I copy the whole column for the month and paste it on the same cell with Ctrl+Shift+V, which overwrites all formulas with its calculated values. This “locks” the data and if you make any changes by mistake, it won’t recalculate different wrong numbers – the totals stay how they should be. Then I tick off the “Locked” box at the bottom of the column.
  3. I go into my various bank accounts, investement portfolios, count my cash, calculate the price of my gold etc. and enter all the values into the Networth-sheet. I also enter my debts if I have any (for example if you have outstanding credit card payments).
  4. Same as point 2 but for the Networth-sheet: copy-paste the numbers and then tick off the “Locked” box.
  5. If needed: add new categories, adapt Config/Income/Cost/Salary Progression
  6. Being happy and content that I am the master over my finances πŸ˜‰.

Spendings example

Here you have an example of the Spendings-sheet with some pre-filled data. You see the last three months of the year, the yearly summary, and an empty column for the next month where you will enter data once the month is over.

On the left you have a fixed column with different categories:

  • Income: all your income streams (this needs to be tracked as well!)
  • Fix costs: costs that have a fixed amount that you know in advance (altough you don’t necessarily know on which date the cost occurs)
  • Variable costs: costs that vary from month to month
  • Evaluation: Totals for the month, unspent money, savings rate (how much you saved in relation to how much you earned), delta-values comparing the current month to the last month

Whenever you add a new category, you also need to adapt the SUM/AVG-formulas to include your new category (in the bold and grey header-cells).

Example of the Spendings-sheet

Networth example

The Networth-sheet is very similar to the Spendings-sheet but a bit simpler. You have your various financial assets (green plus) and your debts (red minus). Then again you have evaluations and comparisons against the last month.

Example of the Networth-sheet

Step 3: reviewing your costs from time to time

Adapt the values in the Costs-sheet with the averages you got by tracking your spendings.

In the Costs-sheet, the categories are the same as in the Spendings-sheet. For each category you fill in the monthly cost (blue cell) and then calculations are made to show you how much you pay for this daily/monthly/weekly. If you have done your configurations in the Config-sheet, you will also find in the last three columns how much you work for each category (hours per month/days per month/days per year).

Check how you feel about the amount you spend on each category and if you are okay with working as long as you actually work to finance your expenses.

Make appropriate adjustments if needed (for example by cancelling a subscription you no longer use but where you are still spending money each month).

Example of the Costs-sheet

Step 4: investing surplus money

Order of importance as to where your money goes

If I have some money left at the end of the month, I use it in this order:

  1. Paying off debt
    • Debt is negative wealth and it should be your first priority to pay it off to not get overwhelmed by recurring interest charges.
  2. Building up your emergency fund
    • You want to have an emergeny fund for unexpected payments, if you suddenly lose your job or you get ill etc.. The amount in this account should make you sleep comfortably knowing that you have a backup in case something goes wrong. Normally people speak about 3-12 times your monthly costs. So if you spend 4000 CHF each month and feel comfortable with a money cushion of 4 months, your emergency fund would be 16’000 CHF. You never touch this money if it’s not an emergency!
  3. Saving x% of your income for bigger expenses
    • Once your emergency fund is established, you can start to pay yourself monthly. You do this by transferring x% of your paycheck to your savings account as soon as your paycheck arrives. For example maybe you save 10% each month automatically because you want to go travelling next year. Or you save 20% each month because you want to buy a new car.
  4. Investing into your Pillar 3a (Switzerland), 401k (US) or another tax-advantaged account.
    • If you still have money left, now it’s time to invest it. In a lot of countries there’s a system for paying into a tax-advantaged account to save up for your retirement. In Switzerland, this is called Pillar 3a (US equivalent would be 401k) and the money that you pay into this account can be deducted from your taxes, which can lead to some big tax savings. The other great thing about this account is that the money from that account can be invested. Since this money is left untouched until retirement (under normal circumstances), we have a long time horizon for our investments and therefore want to invest as much as possible (if you are closer to retirement you want to go down with your investments, but if you are young – go high). For example I invest 99% of my Pillar 3a into ETFs (no fancy strategies, just what my Pillar 3a offers). The amount of money you can pay into this account is limited per year, if you have more money to invest, go to point 5.
  5. Investing the surplus into a broad, low cost ETF
    • If you STILL have money left, congrats to you, you’ve come a long way and have a good and thriving finance life. Now you need to invest the money on your own. This is a very very very big topic and there are different philosophies as how to invest. I would really advise you to inform yourself and learn a thing or two about how the stock market works.
      For more info about what I do, read the paragraph below.

Investing the surplus into a diversified, low-cost World ETF

For me, after reading a ton of stuff, I found out that the general consensus at this time (2020s) for Swiss normies is to invest the money into a low-cost, broadly diversified World ETF and to just let the money sit there for a long time.

No crazy stock picking portfolios, or P2P credits, or real estate, or crypto scams etc.

I won’t go into too much detail about why this approach seems best for now and what an ETF is (this is homework for you πŸ€“), but if you want to let your money sit for a long time, you have to know that costs and fees are absolutely crucial for your long-term success. Play around with this great fee calculator, or have a look at these examples:

  1. For 30 years, we anually invest 10’000 CHF into an ETF with expected 6% returns per year and 2.00% fees.
    After 30 years, we will have 583’283 CHF in our account and we will have paid a whopping 30.4% or 254’733 CHF just for fees!
  2. For 30 years, we anually invest 10’000 CHF into an ETF with expected 6% returns per year and 0.30% fees.
    After 30 years, we will have 792’811 CHF in our account and we will have paid “only” 5.39% or 45’206 CHF for fees.

I personally invest into the Vanguard VT Vanguard Total World Stock ETF which has costs and fees of only 0.07% and covers most of the world (and is therefore broadly diversified and lower risk). I invest via Interactive Brokers, a very professional and cheap online broker.

Templates

I created a Google Sheets template for you to copy or to use for inspiration.

The template is pre-filled with one year worth of data for you to see how it works (the numbers are not real but serve as an example).

How to use the template is described in the first sheet but I think it’s pretty easy to understand once you have looked at it all (it’s all simple Excel stuff, no complicated magic formulas).

External resources I used to further dive into the topic

πŸ‡¨πŸ‡­ Switzerland

πŸ—ΊοΈ International

  • Mr Money Mustache (Blog) – OG frugalist and financial independence topics
  • LivingaFI (Blog) – Psychological, day-to-day side to being financially independent

πŸ“– Books I’ve read and would recommend

3 Comments

Luca 29. February 2024 Reply

From your Excel spreadsheet, it looks like you pay annual fees like Serafe once and don’t set aside a monthly budget for it. Wouldn’t it make sense to divide the annual cost by 12 and put that amount into a special savings account?

rouven 29. February 2024 Reply

Hi Luca, this reserves account you describe is actually a great idea to not get surprised by big annual payments. I know some people who do it but I have never done that until now (no particular reason) and maybe start doing this.
Thanks

Alain 1. March 2024 Reply

Surprisingly interesting and actions i want to take in the future. Especially the books you have linked in the end.

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