Friday, August 10, 2007

The wonders of modern technology

So I have recently discovered the beauty of using spreadsheets to keep track of things in your personal life instead of just at work. To that end, I have recently developed two spreadsheets:

1) A wedding budget spreadsheet. This includes lists of all the different things we expect to have at the wedding that will cost us money, such as flowers, a caterer, an officiant, etc. For those vendors we've already selected and gotten estimates from, I've filled in the name of the vendor and the projected cost. Then there's a column for the amount required as a deposit, the balance due, and whether those payments have been made, as well as a notes column for anything extra (like noting how many guests are included in the catering estimate, so that I will know to expect a different cost if the final numbers are different). I even used formulas! They tell me how much everything adds up to! They update automatically when I add new costs! It's a miracle!

Ahem. Anyway.

2) A household bills spreadsheet. I have always been good at managing my finances and am organized and punctual, whereas Torsten can be forgetful and do things like go three months without paying his credit card even though he has more than enough in the bank to cover it, just because he forgot it existed. I suppose this is a slightly unfair characterization--he's not THAT absentminded. Rather, the American system is very different from the German system. The German system basically does not allow for debt, as German credit cards are really more like debit cards. Apparently, they are directly connected to the holder's bank account, and the payments are automatically deducted from the account once a month (and this is not like auto bill pay options in the US). So he can be sort of forgiven for not paying much attention to his bills here.

Anyway, the point is that since he isn't good at/used to the bill payment system that we have here, and I am, it has naturally fallen to me to manage our finances. One of the things that Torsten did not understand about American credit cards is that in order to build a credit rating, you need to have credit cards or loans, and pay them punctually. He had only one credit card when we met, with a very low limit, which is normal since he is a foreign national and therefore probably considered somewhat of a flight risk by credit card companies, particularly with no credit history whatsoever. So one of the first things I did when I started managing our finances was to apply for two joint credit cards in both of our names, and make sure to pay them off in full, on time, every month. This strategy has been working very well, as his credit has steadily been improving (as evidenced by his steadily rising credit limits) since then.

The other discovery that I've made is that if you open credit cards at certain stores, like Macy's and Old Navy (thanks, Swistle!), you can get really good deals on their merchandise. I've tried to limit how often I do this, because applying for more credit negatively affects your credit rating temporarily, but every now and then the savings are worth it. At Macy's, when I applied for a credit card, I wound up with a Macy's Visa card that has two separate credit lines--one an in-store, Macy's-only line that is not connected with Visa, and the other a standard Visa credit line that can be used anywhere. So it's really like two credit cards in one.

Plus I'm in charge of paying our joint cell phone bill, our internet bill, and our cable bill (luckily, all other utilities are included in our rent).

The point here is really that since meeting Torsten, I've gone from having four monthly bills (phone, internet, cable, and one credit card) to being in charge of something in the range of ten bills a month. So it's at the point now where I have trouble keeping track of all the balances and due dates in my head, and end up panicking that I've forgotten to pay a bill, which leads to me obsessively checking all the online bill-pay websites to make sure that everything has been paid.

I was temporarily getting around this problem by putting reminders to pay the various bills on my Outlook calendar at work, but that still wasn't comforting enough, and now that I'm changing jobs, I'm going to lose my Outlook calendar. Hence, the spreadsheet. And is it ever gorgeous. It has a row for every card, with the balance due, the date it's due, whether or not it's been paid (with the "No" in bold, red font), and the next closing date of the statement. When the next statement comes, I replace the data from the previous month with the new information. I even froze the top row (with the headers) and sorted it by due date so I can easily see which bills will be due next. This thing is a masterpiece, people.

Okay, so that turned into a really long and boring explanation of household bills. My god, I've become so mundanely domestic. But here's the part where the title of this post comes into play (if you were thinking that I consider Excel spreadsheets to be the pinnacle of modern technology, you're wrong).

The problem I was having was that I usually do this stuff at work (on my lunch hour, of course), during business hours, when I can call customer service if I'm having issues and I'm alert enough to understand what's going on. But sometimes I do manage my bills from home, and in any case I'm about to change jobs, so anything that I do on this computer will not be accessible to me after August 17. So my conundrum was how to create one document that I could refer to at home or at work without having to save it on a USB key that I carry with me at all times.

And then I found Google Documents. And all was right with the world.


  1. I highly recommend google calendars too! I use mine through my gmail account, so I'm not sure if you need one to have access to their calendars, but it basically works the same way as outlook does in that you can put in appointments, reminders, etc. I like it because then I have access to my calendar even when I'm not at work, without having to log into my work stuff!

  2. Wow, what a clever idea! What with this stuff and Gchat, Google will have taken over my life pretty soon. Except I use Flickr for photos instead of Picasa.

  3. I discovered your blog today. I loved your post so much that I started from your very first post and have read every single one of them up to this point (in case you look at your stats and are wondering who is stalking you).

    I think this might be my favorite blog ever. Your writing is brilliant and inspiring and amazing.

    So anyway, I just wanted to post a comment to delurk and say a huge thank you for informing me of Google Documents. I have been trying to figure out how to make my budget spreadsheet accessible at home, and this is the answer! You have made me so happy.

  4. How did you come up with this wedding budget spreadsheet? Where can I find one?