My husband and I have used many budgeting tools over the years, including Mint and YNAB. We still use (and love!) YNAB, but it left a hole for us: cash flow planning.
Unfortunately, we’re still not accustomed to YNAB’s month-ahead spending goal. And that means that at some points in the month, our checking account ebbs and we need to be more careful. This is especially true because some bills get paid with my freelancing income, which can come in at unpredictable times.
For the past several years, this has often caused us some real problems. Like, “We don’t get paid until Friday and we have $11 to last the entire week”-type of problems. If you’ve ever been there, I have a possible solution for you: Google Calendar.
After messing with several different potential solutions, we’ve finally found one that works well for us. If cash flow is your major budgeting issue, here’s a step-by-step guide for using Google Calendar to easily track your monthly cash flow.
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1. Set up a calendar just for your budget
If you don’t already have one, you’ll need to sign up for a Google account. You’ll have access to Google’s calendars as soon as you have your Gmail address. To find it, just go to calendar.google.com.
Even if you’ve never used Google Calendar before, you’ll have one that automatically populates based on your email address. This is your default calendar. It shows up on the left-hand side of your calendar display.
To create a new calendar for your budget, click the arrow to the right of “My Calendars,” and then click “Create new calendar.” Just fill in the blanks with a name for your calendar, time zone, etc. You don’t have to fill in all the blanks if you don’t want to.
Since this calendar will include some personal financial information, you probably don’t want to make it public. But you may want to share it with your spouse or partner, if you’re on a shared budget. We’ll talk about that in the next step.
2. Share with your spouse, if necessary
My husband has access to this calendar, and I would suggest making it available to your spouse or partner if you’re on a shared income. To share a calendar with someone else, go to the “Share with specific people” section at the bottom of the calendar creation menu.
Type in your spouse’s email address, and then decide what permission settings to use. If you want your spouse to be able to add to the calendar or change event colors (which will be important later on), choose “Make changes to events.” Then click, “Add person.” Once this goes through, click “Create calendar” to begin using your calendar.
This will shoot you back to the main calendar screen, and your calendar will default to show up.
Of course, you have to actually enter some events for anything to show up on the calendar interface. Here’s how to do that.
3. Enter your steady paychecks on repeat
Let’s start with the positive. Begin by entering your paychecks as a repeating event, depending on how you get paid. I’ll show you a couple of examples here that are similar to how my husband’s and my calendar work (with hypothetical numbers, of course!).
First, click on the date of your next paycheck. Let’s say I get paid once a month, on the 15th. I’ll double-click into the 15th of the month, which will open a new event to edit. I title my budget calendar events with the name of the income or bill and the amount like so:
You may come up with a different naming pattern. But whatever you do, be sure you stick to your pattern so that this doesn’t get unnecessarily confusing.
I typically save budget events as all-day events because they show up better on the calendar interface. And since there’s probably no particular time associated with budget due dates, you don’t need to worry about assigning them an hour deadline.
Next, you’ll want to set up the event as repeating, assuming you get paid on a regular schedule. To do this, check the box next to “Repeat.” Then, set up your repeating parameters. In this case, we’re saying I get paid monthly on the 15th of the month.
Just click “Done” when your parameters are correct. Then, click “Save.”
Now in our imaginary calendar, we’re going to follow these same steps to include an every-other-Friday paycheck for my husband. For an every-other-week paycheck, your repeat parameters will look like this:
As you can see, this parameter makes the event automatically show up on the calendar multiple times in a month:
Now you’ve got your paychecks entered. In just a bit, I’ll give some tips below for entering variable income or paychecks that aren’t always the same.
4. Enter your bills on repeat
Now, let’s get to the yucky stuff: bills. This is the main purpose of my budget calendar, so I don’t include variable budget items like groceries or gas here. You could if you wanted to, though, especially if you operate on a weekly or bi-weekly budget for items like these.
Create your first bill on its recurring due date just like you created your paycheck events. When I enter bills, I name them in one of two ways. I have some that are auto-debited from my account and they look like this:
Then there are bills that I have to do something to pay, either by paying online, writing a check, or paying over the phone. These look like this:
Note that on both styles, the dollar amount is negative. It’s obvious from the DUE and AUTO indicators, of course, that this is money going out rather than coming in. But this feels more accurate to me.
As you’re entering these bills, be sure that you get the repeat dates correct. I’m going to go ahead and fill out my calendar with a few bills, just so you can get a feel for what this all looks like. Here’s a relatively filled-out calendar:
5. Use color-coding for at-a-glance understanding
As you can see from my sample calendar, it’s kind of hard to tell what’s what because it’s all the same color. (And just as a note, your calendar’s default color may be different.) Also, I’m just a huge fan of color-coding, so I like to do this with my calendar. It’s really easy.
First, open up a paycheck event, and then switch the color on that event to green. (Really, any color you prefer. Green just seems intuitive to me.)
When you click “Save,” the calendar will ask you if you want to edit all the recurring events, or just this one. Click “All Events.” This will change all those paycheck events to green.
As you can see, this will change all those paycheck events to green:
Now, you can color-code your other events as you like. In my calendar, DUE events are red, and AUTO events are yellow, while all income events are green.
Again, color code in whatever way works for you. Just remember that if your goal is to code all the events in a series as you’re setting up your calendar, you’ll need to apply your color-coding to all events in that series.
6. Use your calendar to track what’s been paid
You may just choose to stop here and use this as an at-a-glance way to track due dates and such. I go a step further and use color-coding to track what payments have been made or at least scheduled. I’ll often schedule out payments ahead of their due date, and I want to be able to see when I’ve done that so that I don’t accidentally double pay.
To do this, I’ll set an event color to gray each time I schedule a payment, or when an auto payment hits my bank account. Changing the color is the same. Just click on the event and select the color you want to use.
However, you’ll want to apply this new color to only that event, rather than to all events following. Otherwise, it’ll look like you already paid your electric bill for months out.
Just click the “Only this event” button when you save with your new color.
7. Check in on your calendar weekly
I make a habit of checking in on this Google Calendar at least once a week, and sometimes more, depending on the circumstances. The huge advantage is that I can see which bills need to come out of which paychecks, and I can schedule bills to be paid ahead of time when that’s an option.
Like all budgeting tools, this one is worthless if you don’t make a habit of using it regularly. So be sure you get into the swing of checking in on your calendar frequently if you decide to use this option.
A Few Additional Things to Note
I promised I’d talk about some tips to handle variable income, and I’ve got a few other items of note you should consider, as well.
Variable income: What if you don’t know when your paychecks will hit? Or you know when they’ll hit but not exactly how much you’ll get paid?
In the first case, I’d just make a habit of tracking bills and then putting in paychecks as soon as you get them. At least you can see which bills are coming up when that paycheck finally does come in.
The second case applies to people who work for commissions and such. In this case, just record the date of your paycheck in this slot, without an amount. Then, you’ll at least remember that the check is coming, and you may be able to gauge approximately how much it’ll be as the date gets closer. If you have a base pay, record your paycheck income as your minimum base pay, so you’ll know at least how much you’ll make for that check.
These aren’t perfect solutions, but they can be a start as you figure out how to customize Google Calendar for your situation.
Personal information: Some of you may balk at the idea of storing personal financial information on a Google platform. And you’re not entirely wrong. While Google is great, it may not be the most secure option in the world.
However, I for one don’t have a huge problem with people knowing how much my bills are and how much my income is. There’s not much you can do with this information, especially since I round up to the nearest dollar and don’t even use the exact amount.
I wouldn’t, however, recommend storing any bank account or even customer account information in your budget calendar. Keep that somewhere else that’s much more secure, or you risk becoming a victim of identity theft or having your accounts hacked.
A note on notes: With that said, it could be helpful to store additional information in your budget calendar. For instance, I have to make our car payment over the phone each month, and I have the darndest time keeping track of the number I’m supposed to call.
So, I added that into the description note on our car payment event in the budget calendar. As with color changes, you can choose to apply descriptions to just one event or to all the following events. This could be a helpful place to record websites and phone numbers used to make your payments. Just steer clear of storing any personal information here, such as account numbers.
Ending your payments: What if you know you only have five months’ worth of car payments left? In this case, when you set up a recurring event, you can set it to end after a certain number of recurrences. So your car payment would drop off your calendar after five months’ worth of recurrences.
If you use this technique, I’d recommend toggling through your calendar to find the last payment you’ll make. Make a note in that event’s title to check that your installment loan is fully paid off. Your last payment amount may be slightly below or even above what you’d normally pay, so you want to be sure that’s paid off before it drops off your calendar and out of mind!
This technique may not work well for your family. But if you sometimes struggle to keep track of due dates and auto payments, it’s a helpful, free option worth trying.