basic level

  • Ditch Paycheck-to-Paycheck Overwhelm

    Stop the Madness! Ditch Paycheck-to-Paycheck Overwhelm

    This post is going to usher in a new era for posts to TSA.

    No more in-depth tutorials (mostly), unless you specifically request them.

    Instead, I’m going to focus on how you can use spreadsheets to help you manage some area of your life.

    Today, let’s talk about paycheck-to-paycheck budgeting, a topic that’s very close to my…pocketbook.

    As an economist by education, I’m supposed to act intelligently with my finances because, for starters, I know how compounding works.

    As a present-moment-embracing gal, however, I must admit that I’ve failed miserably in this area.

    While I’m working hard to change this with side hustling and habit-changing, I’m now bearing the fruits of both my old behaviors and some unfortunate new circumstances.

    Friends, I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck.

    While I’m fabulous when it comes to crunching numbers and creating wicked spreadsheets, I don’t always apply this fabulousness to my own life.

    But there are times when I create spreadsheets for myself, tweak them over the months as my needs evolve, and come to rely on them wholeheartedly.

    That is the case with a spreadsheet I’ve taken to calling Stop the Madness! (STM for short).

    If you want to buy it, you are awesome and I hope that you love it as much as I do. But if you just want to understand the gist of how it works so that you can create something similar, read on! This post is for you.

    Let’s talk about the challenges of paycheck-to-paycheck budgeting.

    First, I’m an economist by education and not a finance guru. Please do not construe anything in this post as being financial advice. I’m going to share with you only what I do to manage my own finances using spreadsheets. And, when I say “manage”, what I really mean is to make sure that I can always pay my bills without resorting to weird shenanigans that my former self has been known to do, e.g., using credit and juggling bills.

    Second, If you’d like to read about paycheck-to-paycheck budgeting from an actual financial blogger who is seriously amazing, go to The Budget Mom. I promise you that Kumiko’s posts won’t disappoint!

    Disclaimers and suggestions aside, let’s talk about the challenges of paycheck-to-paycheck budgeting. Ready?

    The challenge of paycheck-to-paycheck budgeting is that you must plan ahead. It’s as simple as that.

    Seriously.

    It’s not rocket science, but it can become complex when you are:

    • An under-earner
    • Someone who lives beyond her/his means
    • A compulsive spender
    • A snob when it comes to brands, stores, second-hand purchases, etc.
    • A person with a high discount rate (econ jargon for someone who greatly prefers spending money today over saving for tomorrow)

    Consider the following scenario:

    You get paid bi-weekly, which means two months out of the year you receive three paychecks. This month happens to be one of them. After barely scraping together rent that was due on the 1st (and living on the dried rice and beans in the back of your pantry because you couldn’t afford to go grocery shopping), you got paid on the 2nd. Yay! Now you are loaded. Your rent is paid, most of your bills aren’t due until mid-month – after you receive your 2nd of three paychecks – and you basically have $1,500 to spend on whatever.

    Maybe you consider renewing your website hosting three months early since you’ll be struggling to find $350 when it’s due, but then you don’t. Same with your vehicle registration renewal, Christmas shopping, and the emergency car repairs you sense are lurking in the shadows.

    So then you think about all of the things you’ve been absolutely needing to buy but have been too broke to get. You know, that new Erin Condren planner, Lucky handbag, and a replacement bottle of something or other from Sephora. It’s also been a while since you’ve swung by Starbucks, snagged a $15 bottle of wine (hey, that boxed stuff isn’t so bad…), or bought the $35 shampoo your stylist recommends instead of the cheap 365 stuff.

    And what happens next?

    That extra paycheck disappears, and you are in the same bind – if not worse – as you were in before. Except that now your hair smells divine (thanks, Aveda!).

    Your end-of-month paycheck covers next month’s rent, but you have a couple of bills due before your first paycheck hits on the 12th. And then you’ll need to buy groceries. Oh wait – rent is $1,300! That means that only $200 remains to pay $350 worth of bills AND buy groceries.

    Fuck.

    So, you evaluate your bills to determine which you’re going to have to pay late. Again. You live on beans and rice for five days straight as you tell your daughter that no, you can’t swing by the grocery store to buy bananas until Friday. And you feel like the biggest loser.

    Not that I would know…

    Are you ready to try something different? Good.

    Here’s how you can create your own stop-the-madness! paycheck-to-paycheck system.

    Step 1: Find out how much money you actually have available (hint: you must do more than check your balance online).

    This is both an extremely important and yet an often overlooked step. YOU. MUST. RECONCILE. YOUR. ACCOUNTS.

    Doing so will allow you to know exactly to the penny how much money you actually have…after the check you wrote to your kiddo’s school three months ago clears, the power bill hits, etc. Old-schoolers like me will remember cross-checking their checkbook registers against their bank statements each month. Seriously.

    These days, you can track all of your transactions in a simple spreadsheet. STM has a snazzy way of simplifying the process, but all you really need to do is:

    1. Enter down your starting balance; then
    2. Enter every transaction you’ve made that is not accounted for in this starting balance. This should be a small list if you use your debit card for everything. Also from here on out, record every transaction you ever make; then
    3. Make a note when your transactions clear your account; and
    4. Subtract your cleared transactions from your starting balance to get your available balance. This should match your bank account’s available balance; then
    5. Subtract ALL of your transactions – cleared or not – from your starting balance to find out how much money you have left over.

    If you don’t like using spreadsheets or are feeling overwhelmed, guess what? There’s an app for that! My favorites are YNAB (software that includes an app) and Balance My Checkbook (iOS only).

    While I’ve used both and love them each for their own reasons, they fall short for paycheck-to-paycheck money management because they can only show you your present day balances. They cannot show you how much money you will have available in your account on a future date. When it comes to paycheck-to-paycheck budgeting, knowing how much money remains available after future transactions clear the bank is crucial!

    Step 2: Put your economist hat on and forecast next month’s financial snapshot…by date!

    “Normal”, e.g., monthly budgets are great for showing you how much net income you’ll have to play with during any given month.

    But, as paycheck-to-paycheck budgeters know all too well if you don’t have a reserve to hold you over and your bills are due before payday, you can’t pay them. So, you do what I used to do – you do the time-consuming and tedious math on scrap pieces of paper to see how much money you can/can’t spend on necessities in order to make your bill payments. Maybe you even map out several different scenarios when you can’t get the numbers to work…yep, I’ve been guilty of doing this.

    Step 2 makes it easier for you to figure out how much of your current spending money you’ll need to not spend so that you can pay your bills and budget for necessities as far out into the future as you like. No paper involved. Note that manually forecasting your expenses this way can get very time-consuming. Sorry, but I need to plug STM one more time, as it does this heavy-lifting for you.

    Here is how to forecast your future financial snapshot:

    1. Make sure that you’ve completed Step 1; then
    2. Enter all of your expenses – bills, groceries, etc. – for the next full month; then
    3. Enter all of your expected income for the next full month; then
    4. Sort your entries by date; then
    5. Subtract the first expense from the starting balance to get your new balance…then subtract the second expense from the first’s balance…rinse and repeat, but make sure you add (don’t subtract!) your income; then
    6. Evaluate this column. Are any of these balances negative? If so, you don’t have enough money to meet your needs and will have to get creative, e.g., spend less than you planned or bring in additional income.

    That’s it! Of course, it would behoove you to build up a reserve so that you can escape this paycheck-to-paycheck mentality. So, view this only as a Band-Aid sort of fix to the troubles inherent when funds are tight.

    Final thoughts

    Are you a paycheck-to-paycheck budgeter? Do you have an alternative system or app recommendation that works well for you? If you’ve escaped this style of budgeting or continue to use it despite growing an ample reserve, I’d love to hear from you!

    Also, if you would like to become an affiliate for The Spreadsheet Alchemist, I’d love to have you on board! Please create a Gumroad account (it’s free, and if you’ve bought any of my spreadsheets, you probably already have one) and then drop me a line. Also, make sure to tell me what email address you used to sign up with Gumroad. Thanks!

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  • Organize Your Instagram Hashtags to Help Drive Traffic to Your Site (FREE DOWNLOAD)

    Organize your Instagram hashtags with spreadsheets and download my free hashtag spreadsheet while you're at it.You use Instagram to promote your biz, right?

    Do you have a system for organizing your hashtags?

    If  you don’t (or if your current system leaves much to be desired), you’re in luck, because I wrote today’s post just for you.

    Why should you bother organizing your hashtags?

    Well, if you are trying to capitalize on your blog and are hoping to draw traffic to it through Instagram, you MUST have a system in place.

    My system was handed down to me through an awesome friend and strategist (more on this later). The takeaway is that in order to create the optimal combination of hashtags you ought to use for any given post, you need to have available some information about your pool of potential hashtags.

    So for now, we’re going to create a spreadsheet that organizes this information.

    Here’s how to create a spreadsheet to organize your hashtags:

    We are going to use Google Sheets to create today’s Instagram #hashtag spreadsheet. That’s because Instagram requires you post from a mobile device, and Google Sheets is inherently more mobile-friendly than Excel.

    If you dig Excel and want to replicate these steps in that program, by all means please do!

    All steps except for the final sorting step will be identical or nearly identical.

    A final note: we won’t be making our spreadsheet pink. If you need help making your spreadsheet pretty, check out this post (specifically for Excel users) and/or my FREE From Spreadsheet Virgin to Goddess in 30 Minutes. Or, just download mine here (no email required). The added benefit of downloading mine is that you’ll get my list of 46 hashtags in an already-organized format.

    Step 1: Create a new spreadsheet and add your headers.

    1. Open Google Sheets (or Excel) and create a new workbook.
    2. Add these column headers in cells A1 through E1:
      • Hashtag
      • Category
      • # of Posts…
      • …on this Date
      • CommentsStep 2: Format your spreadsheet.
    1. Select row 1 => click the ‘B’ icon to bold it.
    2. Freeze frames so that if you scroll down or to the right, you will always see column A and row 1:
      • Click ‘View’ in the menu => ‘Freeze’ => 1 row; AND
      • Click ‘View’ again => ‘Freeze’ => 1 column.

    Here is what this all looks like:

    Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free!

    Step 3: Enter your hashtags and their relevant info*:

    1. Type each hashtag exactly like this: #hashtag (replace ‘hashtag’ with the actual hashtag name) – one hashtag per row, and all in column A.
    2. Now, go to Instagram and in the search bar, enter the hashtag you entered in A2 => click on the correct hashtag from the selection that you are presented. Then,
      1. Determine the most appropriate category you would place this hashtag in (judging by the images, etc.) and enter this category name in B2;
      2. Enter the number of posts in C2;
      3. Enter today’s date in D2; AND
      4. Enter any comments you want about this particular hashtag in E2 (e.g. the nature of the photography, it’s relevance to you, etc.).
    3. Finally, expand your columns so that everything you entered is visible: select/highlight all of your columns => hover at the outer edge of column E until an arrow appears (it may be single or double-ended, depending on whether you are on a pc or Mac) => double-click.

    In case you aren’t already keen on how Instagram works, here are a few screenshots:

    Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free!

    Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free!

    And, here’s a screenshot of the spreadsheet:

    Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free!

    *If you don’t yet know which hashtags you ought to be using, click on images that are related to your niche and see what hashtags your favorite, most relevant images (or posters) are using. You will probably have to go to the image’s first comment to find this list. We’ll delve into hashtag strategy more in a future post.

    Step 4: Sort your hashtag list.

    Now, let’s organize this list of hashtags so that it makes sense to us. Because Excel differs substantially from Google Sheets when it comes to sorting, I’m going to walk you through both.

    For Google Sheets:

    1. Click the arrow to the right of the filter icon => ‘Create new filter view’ => click the drop-down arrow in column C => choose ‘Sort A -> Z’. Then,
    2. Click the drop-down arrow in column B => choose ‘Sort A -> Z’.

    *Note that once you close out of the spreadsheet, your filter view “deactivates”. Next time you open up your spreadsheet, click on the filter icon => click on ‘Filter 1’ (it’s probably the third option from the top). That’s it!

    Here are a few visuals:

    Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free!

    Note how lovely the screen gets when it’s in filter view.

    Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free!

    Sorting A -> Z first by # of posts, and then by category, ensures that your categories remain grouped together.

    Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free!

    For Excel:

    1. Select your whole table (A1:E47 in my case) and in the ‘Data’ tab (for Mac users), click the sort icon => choose ‘Custom Sort…’. Then,
    2. Choose ‘Column B’ from the drop-down list under ‘Column’, and choose ‘Values’ from the drop-down list under ‘Sort On’. Then,
    3. Click the ‘+’ sign, choose ‘Column C’ and then ‘Values’. Then,
    4. Click on the check box at the upper right ‘My list has headers’, and click ‘OK’.

    The following are Excel screenshots of the process:

    Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free! Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free! Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free!

    Now what?

    Now, my friends, it’s time to put this list of organized hashtags to use!

    For you Insta newbies, know that Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags per image (at least without employing workarounds).

    To use this list in a way that will bring traffic to your site, you will want to use a variety of hashtags in the different categories. You will also want to choose hashtags with varying amounts of posts.

    For now, simply select those hashtags you want to use, using the ‘Category’ and ‘# of Posts…’ to assist you => copy => paste into column A in another (blank) spreadsheet. Repeat until you have a list of 30 hashtags.

    You shouldn’t have any blank rows, but if you do, simply delete them.

    Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free!Now, go into your text editor, notepad, or the like:

    • Enter a dot ‘.’ and hit ‘Enter’. Then,
    • Repeat four times. Then,
    • Go back to your spreadsheet and select/highlight your list of 30 hashtags => right-click => copy. Then,
    • Go back to your text editor/notepad and paste into the sixth row.

    Finally, it’s time to post a photo with a caption and your hashtags in Instagram.

    • Prep your photo the way you normally would, including your caption. Do not include hashtags in your caption.
    • Post your image to Instagram. Then,
    • Immediately copy your five dots and 30 hashtags from your text editor/notepad and paste them into the first comment of your new post.

    That’s it!

    If you’d like to download this complete spreadsheet with 46 hashtags that may be relevant to your niche, you can do so by clicking here (no email required).

    [UPDATE: My premium No-Fuss Instagram Hashtag Manager is no longer available for purchase.]


    Before I leave you to your own devices, I have to be honest in that this spreadsheet (and another series of spreadsheets that I cannot wait to share with you!) were inspired by the Instagram strategy with which my friend and strategist Cristy Cates provided me.

    Let me just say that the gal is brilliant, and it would behoove you to sign up at Wildheart Moguls so that you can be notified of her pending launch. Everything you love about Darling Little Spreadsheets first passed through Cristy’s filter and was often the result of our strategy sessions (yep – I told you she was brilliant!), so I really do mean it when I say that you ought to swing by her site.

    Anyhow, I’d love to get your feedback! Do you have a favorite set of hashtags you’d like to share? Did you find this post helpful? Please share in the comments below.

    How to use spreadsheets to organize your Instagram hashtags in order to drive traffic from Instagram to your site.
    Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free!
    Do you have an awesome system for organizing your Instagram hashtags? If not, I've got just the spreadsheet for you - it even comes with my 46 favorite fempreneur hashtags! *Psst - it's free!

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