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Make Your Checkbook Work for You

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If you're anything like me, you hate balancing your checkbook. Scribbling in figures, double-checking your work with a calculator to make sure you didn't misplace a digit, trying to erase a bad calculation without tearing the paper -- it's all a big hassle. Thankfully, there's an easy solution to your woes.

A simple spreadsheet can take the aggravation out of keeping your checkbook in order. Wait! Don't run away! I know "spreadsheet" can sound mighty scary to many of you who don't crunch numbers for a living. (It certainly used to give me the willies.)

That's why I've done the work for you, creating a blank template for our Foolish checkbook spreadsheet, which you can download from Google Docs and use to your heart's content. You don't need a Google account to view the file; once you see the spreadsheet, select the File menu under the Google Docs logo, then click on "Download as..." and select the format of your choice. Presto! You'll have your very own copy.

Here's how the spreadsheet works. These instructions apply to Excel, but they should work more or less the same in other programs:

  1. Enter your current account balance in cell F1. If you don't trust your paper checkbook for this number, you can easily snag it by accessing your account online via your bank's Web site.
  2. If you're recording a paper check, put its check number under column A.
  3. Record the date of each transaction in column B.
  4. Type a description for each item -- i.e., "paycheck," "ATM," "dinner at Joe's Taco Hovel" -- under column C.
  5. If you take money out of your checking account, enter the withdrawal amount in column D.
  6. If you deposit money, enter that sweet, blessed inflow of cash in column E.
  7. An updated tally of your account balance will appear in column F. Every time you run out of precalculated numbers in column F, just click on the last cell, look for the tiny black square that appears in the cell's lower right-hand corner, and drag it straight down to refill column F for future entries.

Don't have Excel? Other programs, such as Numbers for the Mac, should be able to convert and interpret the file. Don't have any spreadsheet software at all? Our file should work with free options like OpenOffice.org, too -- or, if you use Google Docs, you can upload the file right back to your own account.

Now, if you're feeling bold, you could forget about recording your transactions altogether and rely entirely on your online banking service to monitor your current balance. Me, I'm not quite that daring, and I like a fallback plan just in case. Whether you want to ditch your paper check register entirely, or just get a second opinion on your own scribbly calculations, this automatic checkbook can help keep your finances nice and tidy.

For more on saving and budgeting, check out the Fool's Saving and Spending resources.

Fool online editor Nathan Alderman sadly forgot everything he learned in high school calculus within six months of graduation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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Nathan Alderman
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Nathan Alderman is a longtime Fool who lives in Crozet, Va.

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