Tiller connects banks directly to Google Sheets and Excel with an automatic feed of daily transactions and balances.
But our team didn’t set out to automate spreadsheets; originally we planned to build a powerful new personal finance app. We weren’t satisfied with the available financial apps and figured others felt the same.
But as we researched the market and interviewed potential customers, we learned there was already one tool people were very satisfied with: spreadsheets.
And the people who used spreadsheets were also the most financially engaged and the most confident about their financial future (regardless of net worth).
→ Download this post as a free ebook: 18 Reasons Spreadsheets Are Uniquely Best for Managing Money eBook PDF
Maybe this shouldn’t have surprised us.
After all, we used spreadsheets for our personal finances and to run our businesses. We actually loved spreadsheets. We just didn’t know so many others felt the same:
- 92% of spreadsheet users are more aware of their financial habits as a result of using spreadsheets versus apps.
- 89% said spreadsheets gave them more control over how they track their finances.
- 83% think spreadsheets are easier and simpler to use than the app/s they tried.
- 81% said spreadsheets have better reporting options than they app/s they tried.
With so many financial apps available, why are spreadsheets seen as uniquely beneficial for managing money?
TLDR; The greatest advantage of spreadsheets for personal finance is that they fully empower you to see and manage your money your way, even as your financial goals and situation naturally evolve over time.
- Spreadsheets are simple and accessible;
- Adaptable to your situation
- Customizable templates for every task (or build your own)
- Effortlessly collaborative and easy to share
- Visual, with powerful reports, charts, and tables
- Vibrant help and problem-solving communities
- Private, with no ads
- Extensible with add-ins, templates, and upgrades
- Smart, with built-in calculations, formulas, and functions
- Powerful, with advanced data manipulation and options for AI
- Accessible from almost any connected device
“In a spreadsheet, you can pretty much create anything.” – Donnie Buchanan, Why accountants LOVE spreadsheets
Why Manage Your Money With a Spreadsheet?
1: Spreadsheets are as simple or complex as needed.
“I just wanted something simple and decided on using a spreadsheet as the best method to do things the way I wanted.” – would_like_to_fire on Reddit, “How do you actually track your monthly expenses?”
Simplicity is one of the most compelling reasons to use spreadsheets to manage your financial life.
You’re more likely to gain insight from a simple tool. You’re also more likely to stick with a simple tool – important because your financial journey is life-long.
Starting with a free template (or even from scratch), a spreadsheet beginner can make a useful budget, money tracker, or other custom tools in less than an hour.
You can get 85% of the benefit of a personal finance spreadsheet without knowing any complicated functions, formulas, or scripts.
“I have my own special unique, one of a kind way of doing things. The new thing I’m excited about is I just made my own spreadsheet. My own way. No template. And it’s filled with pretty colors. A rainbow I enjoy coming back to.” – Lisa Sanchez talking about her Tiller-powered Google Spreadsheet on the podcast episode “Should We: Invest”
When we ask our customers what they like about spreadsheets, their #1 answer is “customization.”
Spreadsheets are the most customizable digital tool for managing money.
In a spreadsheet, you can modify almost everything. That’s important because everyone has their own unique way of thinking about money. Everyone has unique financial goals. Those goals change over time. And only spreadsheets are customizable enough to evolve with them.
Goals change over time; only spreadsheets are customizable enough to evolve with them.
A spreadsheet can be as colorful or bland, as simple or complicated as you personally desire. You can choose your own categories, tags, and reports. You decide what you want to track, measure, and model.
You can mix all your account and investment data, or keep everything separate sheet by sheet. Or both.
You can decide what you want your spreadsheet to look like, and what charts, pivot tables, and graphs will help you visualize progress. Use emoji, checkboxes, and custom forms.
“Spending categories are far easier to add, edit, and remove, which allows me to more easily track what’s important to me vs. what Intuit thinks I should feel is important.” – sol1, Replacing Mint with Tiller – Ultimate budget automation
You can extend your spreadsheet with thousands of add-ons, scripts, formulas, and automation tools – more on these below.
“Honestly a custom made spreadsheet is the way to go. I looked at many templates and examples of other people’s spreadsheets but none of them exactly fit my needs. At the end of each month, we update the spreadsheet to manually track how much of our income is going into retirement, and how much of it is going into expenses, broken down by category.” – beargelica, How Do You Actually Track Your Monthly Expenses
Flexibility and Experimenting With Workflows
Similar to customization, “flexibility” ranks high for why Tiller customers use Google Sheets and Excel.
It’s trivial to copy a spreadsheet and experiment with it. You can easily add more sheets, or import or export data as your financial situation evolves.
Unlike many apps, spreadsheets don’t force you into a prescribed path. You make your spreadsheet work according to how you think about money.
“When I started on my journey, I often found combined budget sheets that did both planning and tracking very overwhelming and would never even start it. What helped me a lot was to do a month or so of tracking and categorizing and use that as a basis for my planning.” – Crespire in Personal Finance/Budgeting Spreadsheet
There are hundreds of free and premium spreadsheet templates available for nearly any financial task.
Many people prefer getting started this way. For example, in talking about why she uses a Tiller-powered spreadsheet template, co-host of the Should We podcast Diana Kimball Berlin says “for me it more about the templates.”
There are so many spreadsheet template options out there that you’re nearly guaranteed to find one suited to your needs.
Maybe you want a one-sheet, displaying all of your expenses, income, and investments in one fell swoop. Or maybe you want to take a more granular look at each aspect of your financial situation, charting your spending on one sheet while monitoring your income on another.
Whatever your preferences, you’ll be able to get it done without a headache thanks to a variety of spreadsheet template choices. With apps, you don’t typically have this same freedom as you must use the template built into the program.
- The Best Free Google Sheets Budget Templates
- Best Free Excel Budget Templates
- Google Sheet Templates Powered by Tiller
Using a spreadsheet gives you the flexibility to manage joint accounts and successfully reach money goals with a spouse or other partner.
Few apps allow you to share a budget with your partner or another party. This is annoying when you’re managing a joint bank account or working together with your spouse on a big money goal.
Cloud-based spreadsheets ameliorate that issue. You can open your budget spreadsheet anywhere, and invite your partner to do the same. No other financial tool provides easier sharing and collaboration than modern cloud-based spreadsheets.
Example of how you can use it: If you have a purchase you need to communicate about, Google Sheets allows you to tag the other person via email, alerting them to the need for further communication.
- How To Use A Spreadsheet To Manage Shared Expenses
- The Best Budgeting App Isn’t an App
- Collaborative Financial Worksheets: Sharing your Tiller Sheet
When you start your financial journey, you’re probably most interested in strategies to track spending, pay off debt, or manage your household budget.
As you progress, you’ll likely accumulate investments and liabilities, provide for children, own a home, and plan for retirement – even while continuing to monitor income and expenses.
As your financial strategy evolves with your goals, circumstances and net worth, your financial spreadsheets can grow with you. (Some dedicated users have spreadsheets that began back in the early 2000s.)
When you’re ready, you can even easily share your spreadsheets with a financial advisor to help guide you on your way.
If you can’t figure out how to solve a problem in your sheet, chances are someone else can. Both Google Sheets and Excel have huge active online forums and communities where people ask and answer questions, solve problems, and share workflows.
There are also many online courses if you want to take your spreadsheet skills to the next level. For example, to quickly get the basics of Google Sheets, we highly recommend the blog and courses from Ben Collins: How to use Google Sheets: A Beginner’s Guide
Both Google Sheets and Excel have active Reddit communities:
6: Compatible with every other financial tool.
If you have one app to track spending and another to keep an eye on your investment data, you can gather it all in one place using your spreadsheet.
Many Tiller customers also use Mint, Personal Capital, and other platforms along with their spreadsheets.
For example, they might use Mint as their to-go dashboard, or to monitor their credit score, but rely on Tiller as their command system for forecasting, reporting, and customized budgeting.
It’s also common for people to export data from their financial apps into a spreadsheet for detailed analysis and backup.
That means if you have one app to track spending and another to keep an eye on your investment data, you can gather it all in one place using your spreadsheet.
It also means you can import purchases from certain retailers. For example, if you make a purchase at Amazon, you can break down each line item—much like splitting your receipt in the example above.
“I would be lost without my spreadsheet. A lot of time and effort tweaking and adding tools to analyze and measure the data but it categorizes forecasts and tracks all my income expenses and investments. Completely satisfied.” – mining rock on Reddit
Some of us learn best from reading and analyzing numbers, while others learn best from visuals like charts and graphs.
While many apps offer charts and graphs, they are not nearly as customizable as the ones you can create in a spreadsheet. Within a spreadsheet, you have the ability to compare and contrast any data set, allowing visual learners to get the most out of their budgeting efforts.
The truth is modern spreadsheets offer unrivaled tools for visualizing personal finance data. With minimal effort, you can produce rich, beautiful charts, reports, and graphs in Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel.
And you can choose exactly how you want to see that data: in a pie chart, bar chart, sparkline, pivot table, 2D and 3D view, even mixed charts. along with easy tools to customize colors and fonts.
When you use a spreadsheet, you’re able to quickly and easily create a visual to help you realize just how big of a toll all that money you’re spending on concert tickets is taking on your budget, or how incredibly important it is for you to not put off saving for your child’s 2019/2020 private school tuition.
The ability to mix different types of visualizations along with raw data make spreadsheets the perfect tool for building a custom finance dashboard.
Unlike many apps and dedicated financial tools, you control and own your data when it’s stored in a spreadsheet. Want to change platforms, or back up your data offline? No problem – you can easily export your data in several formats.
- Take your data with you if you choose to stop using Google Drive.
You don’t see ads or need to click through special offers when you work in a spreadsheet. You don’t get emails with promotions based on your financial data.
For example, Tiller offers the AutoCat add-on that automatically categorizes transactions based on your rules, along with the Tiller Splitter to split transactions for easy financial tracking.
Add-ons give your spreadsheets superpowers with just a few clicks. Very few financial apps have anything like this.
- Google Sheets Add-Ons via Google (passes through Google Sheets)
- 50 Google Sheets Add-Ons to Supercharge Your Spreadsheets via Zapier
- 3 New Google Sheets Add-ons for Your Personal Finances via TillerHQ.com
10: Best forecasting & planning tools.
One of the best features of spreadsheets is their “what if” superpowers.
In business settings, spreadsheets are used for financial forecasting and planning as much as for tracking expenses or even budgeting.
These same tools are helpful for personal finance.
“I’ve been a long-time budgeter. I’d be lost without mine. It’s one big excel spreadsheet (numerous tabs) and I’ve found it to be awesome for both expense tracking and expense planning – more so for PLANNING.”
In a spreadsheet, you can easily plan how much money to pay on each debt, experiment with putting money into different types of savings accounts, run monthly cash flow projections, see how various interest rates and stock market returns impact net worth, and much more.
“Mint is great for transaction tracking, but that’s about it. My spreadsheet is for forecasting and monthly expenditures. I can tell you with some level of certainty how much money will be in my checking in a month. Excel has suited my needs for a decade.” Reddit, “Does anyone here use an Excel spreadsheet?”
11: Tools to track and model investments.
Spreadsheets make it easy to track the deposits, growth, and fees of your 401k, IRA, brokerage accounts over time.
You can track stocks, funds, and accounts right next to your budget, net worth tracker, and spending ledger. You can even track your cryptocurrency valuations.
“I can build scripts in Google Sheets that allow me to trigger alerts to myself when specific things happen. Using scripts, I can detect when my credit card balances reach 75% of my next deposit and send my wife and I an email to let us know we need to take it easy on the spending for a week or two.”
Because you can write your own formulas for a spreadsheet, the ways in which you can analyze your data are limitless.
You can get totals per category, project future spending, translate foreign languages and add images to your sheet all with a few keystrokes. In financial apps, you do not have this same flexibility.
A spreadsheet function is a predefined calculation like SUM or AVERAGE. A formula combines functions for more complex calculations.
You don’t need to learn these to benefit from a spreadsheet, but the basics are easy and unlock a lot of power.
With a handful of formulas, you can analyze your finances like a pro.
Write your own spreadsheet scripts
Both let you create new and cool things in your spreadsheet, like custom menus, macros, dialogs, sidebars and more. They also let you write custom functions and integrate your spreadsheets with other services.
Google Spreadsheet guru Ben Collins has a great (and free) course for learning Google Apps Script.
- Google Sheets function list via Google
- Excel functions (alphabetical) via Office.com
- 5 Essential Google Sheets Formulas for Budgeting and Personal Finance via TillerHQ.com
13: Powerful automation tools.
But there are many other ways to automate your spreadsheets. You can use macros to automate repetitive tasks. You can get auto-emails when things change in your spreadsheet.
When looking at your finances, sometimes you want to grab a bunch of numbers and sum, divide or otherwise crunch them. (For example, the total spent on coffee in the past month, or interest remaining on a loan.)
It’s trivial to do this directly in your spreadsheet, without opening a calculator or other tool.
It’s also routine to create and analyze statistical values such as percentages, ranks, averages and variances of a range of numbers in Excel and Google Sheets.
Of course, spreadsheets are also capable of advanced analysis and complex formulas. But people who need that level of mathematical insight to manage their personal finances already know that.
15: Powerful sorting and filtering.
Spreadsheets provide vastly more sophisticated sorting and filtering than apps.
Filter views let you quickly name, save and share different views of your financial data.
This is useful if you’re trying to spend less money and want to track how much you spent on dining out last month, spreadsheets allow you to filter out all other expenditures. Once you see how much you spent last month, you can now set a realistic goal to improve upon in this category moving forward.
You can also sort your transactions, allowing you to visualize how many times you made a purchase at an individual store or within a specific category without losing sight of your spending in other areas.
Filters are also helpful when you’re collaborating, so you can sort a spreadsheet without affecting how others see it.
16: Crosslink dashboards, reports, sheets and data
Within a single spreadsheet, you can replicate data and copy it from one sheet to another. You can also combine data from multiple sources into one big sheet.
You might create a tab for your investments, one for your transactions, and other for your Personal Finance Statement or Net Worth dashboard.
For example, answering the question “where do you keep track of your personal finances?” Reddit user swapetf says:
“Spreadsheet with the following tabs:
- Summary of all accounts
- Cash flow until the end of 2019
- Annual lump sum contributions (RRSP, TFSA, RESP, mortgage prepayment)
- Investment portfolio for my wife and I
- Investment portfolio for my daughter
- Prices, MERs, dividend frequency for investments (all ETFs)
This works for me. I don’t really budget on a micro level so I don’t need a tab for that.”
Google is adding new machine learning and AI tools to its Sheets app that aim to simplify the way users work with large data sets in spreadsheets.
As explained in the official Google blog, explore in Sheets, powered by machine learning, helps teams gain insights from data, instantly. Simply ask questions—in words, not formulas—to quickly analyze your data. For example, you can ask “what is the distribution of products sold?” or “what are average sales on Sundays?” and Explore will help you find the answers.
Microsoft is also adding new AI and machine learning features to make Excel smarter and easier to use.
Both Excel and Google Sheets have ample tablet and mobile options. Both offer native mobile apps. Google Sheets works with Google Forms for input on the go. And with your spreadsheets stored in the cloud, you can easily access them from almost any connected device, anywhere in the world.
“I love Google sheets, my husband and I both use the iOS app on our phones, so we can quickly add or adjust an expense on the go when needed.” – Ginabena79, Reddit, “Budgeting Spreadsheet maybe it can help someone?”
Bringing it All Together With Tiller
“Tiller links to your bank accounts and automatically transfers your money transactions to a Google Sheet(and Excel workbook). It does all the data entry for you. You can use spreadsheet templates that Tiller provides, or you can customize your own. Tiller updates every day, so your spreadsheet will always have the most up-to-date information about your finances.” – Investor Junkie
Managing finances with the power of a spreadsheet is 10X faster and easier with Tiller’s exclusive automatic daily feed of transactions and balances into Google Sheets and Excel.
Tiller brings all your financial transactions together in one spreadsheet, with innovative templates for budgeting, tracking spending, getting out of debt, growing net worth, running a business, and managing money with the greatest control.
Tiller is headquartered in Seattle Washington, with a nine-person distributed team driven by the belief that money matters because life matters more.
“Tiller is the best budgeting program I’ve used EVER…I am a big spreadsheet guy and I cannot rave enough about how great Tiller is.”- “Stephen Cowan
Note: this is an updated version of our post “5 Reasons to Use a Spreadsheet to Manage Your Money and 3 Reasons Not To,” with additional benefits of a spreadsheet vs an app.