The Best Personal Finance App Isn’t an App

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The best personal finance app isn’t an app. And it isn’t a desktop computer program.

The best personal finance app is a spreadsheet. Specifically, a modern, cloud-based spreadsheet like Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel.

That’s partly because modern spreadsheets actually have a lot in common with apps. For example, they have automatic backups and beautiful visualizations. You can access them anywhere you get online. They even have their own native smartphone apps.

But spreadsheets also combine many powerful features not found in any single app. They’re are designed to bring order to messy, complicated numbers coming in from many different sources. Like your various bank accounts, investments, and loans. They make it easy to see where your money is coming and going.

Perhaps that’s why spreadsheets continue to be most popular and trusted.

recent survey found that 24 million Americans use spreadsheets as their primary personal finance tool. People who use spreadsheets rate them very highly. An Inc. Magazine survey found:

Most Trusted Personal Finance Tool
  • 89% say spreadsheets give them more control over how they track their finances
  • 83% think spreadsheets are easier and simpler to use than the app they tried
  • 81% say spreadsheets have better reporting options than apps they’ve tried
  • Also, spreadsheets are the most trusted personal finance tool.

Additionally, a recent survey finds spreadsheets are the most trusted tool for tracking money, beating other leading apps and software programs.

8 reasons spreadsheets excel (sorry) for personal finance

1 – Ultimate flexibility for tracking your financial life your way

“I value flexibility first, which is why Google Sheets has been my personal finance GOAT (greatest of all time).”

– Alex Cohen, Google Sheets, the Personal Finance GOAT

The top reason spreadsheets are the ultimate lifetime tool for personal finance is flexibility. With spreadsheets, you can customize everything from transaction categories to budget periods, to templates and workflows, to charts and graphs, even your fonts and colors. No other tool gives you greater control and more options for customization.

In contrasat, personal finance apps are inflexible by design. They want you to track your money their way. They force you to use irrelevant transaction categories. They limit how you see your data. And they can’t keep up with your ever-changing financial journey.

(That’s partly why personal finance apps have such massive churn: just 3.4% are still being used 90 days after they were downloaded.)

  • Spreadsheets are simply the most flexible tool for tracking your financial life.

2 – Track all your financial goals in one place with one tool

You probably have several big financial goals, obligations, and desires. When we asked over 500 people about their biggest financial goals, the top five answers were:

  1. Spend less money
  2. Pay Down Debt
  3. Save More and Make a Budget
  4. Create an Additional Income Stream
  5. Get Financially in Sync With Your Spouse or Partner

You can easily track all of these goals at the same time in a single spreadsheet. You can also track multiple budgets all with custom time periods.

Need a monthly budget and a yearly budget in one place? No problem. Want to add a simple 50/30/20 tracker? Here you go. Do you earn “lumpy” freelance income? Great. Spreadsheets are truly the most flexible tool for budgeting.

Here’s a page with links for tracking the most popular goals in a spreadsheet, complete with easy templates to get you started. No other tool is more precise for tracking your net worth, making a budget, and targeting ways to payoff debt.

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3 – Secure, real-time collaboration

Share Your Google Sheet

Seeing our discretionary spending — things like travel and eating out for example — helps us understand our spending habits and find ways to save more money in a healthy way. – How we manage our family finances with Google Sheets, Ben Collins

Spreadsheets are by far the most collaborative tool for tracking finances with your spouse or financial planner. Real-time collaboration is one of Google Sheets’ most powerful and popular features.

There are many ways to share and collaborate in your spreadsheets with your spouse, bookkeeper, or financial planner. Read some tips on sharing your spreadsheets here.

4 – Upgrade your spreadsheet with hundreds of free templates and add-ons

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“Budgeting is hundreds of years old, so why try and reinvent it? It’s much easier to use a Google Sheets budget template.” – Your Money Geek  

Modern spreadsheets are more extensible than any other personal finance tool. You can easily upgrade your spreadsheet with free add-ons, scripts, formulas, and automation tools. You can even use Google Apps Script to create your own custom features.

You can also use with thousands of innovative, free spreadsheet templates to get a jumpstart on tracking any kind of financial task. And once you find a template you like, you can easily modify it.

5 – Flexibility to visualize your finances exactly as you want

Google Sheets Charts

What you see is what you get with the charts included with personal finance apps. You can’t modify their appearance, and you can’t build custom reports.

Spreadsheets, however, offer hundreds of ways to report and visualize data.

From pivot tables to pie charts to waterfall charts and beyond, there’s always a new way to see your financial trends in a spreadsheet.

Your charts and reports automatically update as new transactions enter your spreadsheet. And you can easily embed them in other docs, or export your reports for safekeeping.

  • Bonus: Check out Tiller Money Labs for free personal finance reports for Google Sheets

6 – You own your data and can export it anytime

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With a spreadsheet, you own your data and can easily export it anytime. Your data is never trapped in an app you no longer use, or some proprietary or obsolete data format. You even have your choice of universal formats for exporting and archiving your financial data, such as CSV, XLXS, PDF, even HTML.

7 – Privacy, with no annoying ads or partner offers

Many apps monetize through ads targeted to your financial profile. They send you “partner offers” from credit cards, loans, and insurance companies. They may even call you to sign up for premium services.

You won’t see ads in Google Docs or Sheets. Google’s CEO has explicitly said the company will “never sell any personal information to third parties.” And for its ad network, Google “does not include the personal data in apps such as Docs.”

Bonus: Spreadsheets are free!

Google Sheets is completely free for personal use. Most add-ons and templates are also free. For example, Tiller Money Labs is a free add-on with dozens of free templates and personal finance tools.

Here’s a workflow with a free template to help you see your financial picture when you’re dealing with high money stress.

Spreadsheets are a lifetime financial tool

The road to financial fitness is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s important that you have tools that will help you along that personal journey.

Unfortunately, because of the churn mentioned above, personal finance apps shut down all the time. But spreadsheets have been around since the 1970s, and they are here to stay.

It’s annoying when you take the time (and headaches) of setting up a personal finance app, only to outgrow it.

In contrast, you can use a spreadsheet for years, through every stage of your financial journey, even as your life and goals grow and change.

Some people even have spreadsheets with over 20 years of financial data!

About Tiller Money

Tiller Money automatically updates your Google spreadsheets with daily finances from all your accounts, including banks, credit cards, brokerages, and loans.

By eliminating manual data entry, multiple account logins, or CSV files, Tiller Money Feeds makes personal finance spreadsheets 10x faster.

Finding a tool that suits your needs is a great step to better financial management, particularly in helping you create awareness. If you want more flexibility and control than you’ve found with other apps, then try Tiller Money.

The road to financial fitness is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s important that you have tools that will help you along that personal journey.

Using a spreadsheet for budgeting doesn’t have to be the cumbersome experience of the past. Tiller Money provides data feeds, templates, and customer support to make it easy. Now more than ever, the best budgeting “app” isn’t an app.

Manage Your Money in Google Sheets 10x Faster

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