Feature Spotlight: Projections & Accounts
BudgetForLife's primary tool for forward-looking income and expense planning.
Why use Projections
Tired of just tracking what you've already spent, and ready to get ahead of the game by looking at what's to come? Use the Projections feature to map out your future incomes and expenses as well as set spending limits for yourself within each Cash Out category.
We don't have to be surprised anymore when irregular expenses like Christmas shopping, vacations, or tuition payments come around. And we can have a game plan ready for the next time we receive a bonus or have a month where we get paid three times instead of two! Projections allows us to plan for all of life's known but inconsistent financial events. And when we have a plan for where we want to go, we're far more likely to get there!
How to use Projections
Aesthetically, Projections looks a lot like the Timeline tab, but functionally, it's quite different. Timeline depicts what actually happens with our money, while Projections is our best guess of what we think will happen in the future. To use Projections, manually edit the cells highlighted in sticky-note yellow according to your expected monthly incomes and expenses in each category. (You can also edit the column highlighted gray; the difference in background is simply to make the current month stand out.)
Many BFL users use the Cash Out Projections as spending limits or "allowances"--particularly in fun money categories like travel, shopping, and eating out. This use of Projections works best coupled with the Accounts feature.
BudgetForLife's answer to the question, "How much do I have left to spend?"
Why use Accounts
Finding that life can be unpredictable, making it unfeasible to spend exactly what you projected in every category every month? The Accounts page is your solution. Traditional budgets are good at telling us how much we've already spent, but unless we adopt the impossible cash-only system, they don't give much insight on how much we have left to spend.
Enter the Accounts feature. This sheet carries forward a balance from month to month, giving users the flexibility needed to accommodate life's day-to-day realities, and ultimately closing the gap between expected and actual expenses.
For example, say you are giving yourself a $400/month eating out allowance. Instead of concerning yourself with spending less than $400 every month, Accounts focuses on the big picture by illustrating what you're spending in total month over month compared to what you budgeted for. You can spend $450 one month and make up for it the next month by staying under $350. This meets the same exact goal of $400/month, yet is far more doable than a rigid "$400 or less, no matter what." After all, how can we possibly predict what any given 30 day period might hold? Accounts puts the power of budgeting into your hands!
How to use Accounts
Accounts displays the real-time difference between your projected expenses and your actual expenses. Users set their own anticipated expenses in the Projections tab, while real expenses are aggregated from the Log (and illustrated on the Timeline). On the Accounts page, view how much you have left to spend for the current month, for the next two months, or for the remainder of the budget. Users can also turn Accounts off for specific categories, which may be ideal for giving or fixed expenses.
To get the most out of Accounts, treat the Cash Out rows in Projections as monthly spending limits/allowances. But remember: you can edit these values at any time! Perhaps you realize after a few months that one of your spending goals is unrealistic, or even better, you get a raise! These are great reasons to increase your allotted spending money.
Here's another example that comes up: birthday money! Some users would rather treat this as extra spending money than put it towards their financial goals. Instead of spending that $100 "under the table" and not accounting for it within BFL, users can report it as Cash In in the Log and simultaneously increase their spending money in Projections by $100. Accounts then accurately illustrates how much is left to spend, and BFL tells the true story behind every dollar.