Realistic Savings Goals: Holiday Edition

The holidays are approaching quickly, and this means a plethora of parties, presents, and potlucks. Holiday spending can get stressful, but planning appropriately beforehand can lower your stress levels.

Take 15 minutes right now to open up a new Google Spreadsheet, and make a list in the first column of everything that comes to mind that you expect to buy or spend on this season. Or download a pre-made template here: Downloadable Holiday Spending Spreadsheet. To edit, click on File -> Download As or File -> Make a Copy.

Below is a brief holiday spending list for inspiration.


Starter Holiday Spending List

  • Presents for family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors
  • Food for parties, gatherings, and gifted baked goods (including decorations if you are throwing the party)
  • New clothes for holiday events, such as black tie galas, New Year’s Eve celebrations, ugly sweater parties, weddings, or holiday work get-togethers
  • Charitable donations for community organizations, churches, or apartment complex cleaning staff
  • Packaging and postage for out-of-town gifts and cards
  • Travel costs for driving or flying to visit family
  • Dinners with friends and family visiting from out of town

After writing all of your spending categories in column A move to column B and start estimating what you expect to spend in each category. Obviously these will not be accurate numbers, but make your best guess. You can even use column B for the “low estimate” and column C for a “high estimate.”

Finally, at the bottom of the list write “Total” in column A and in column B (and C) add up all the numbers you wrote by using a “sum” formula. Write “=sum(B1:B20)” and it will add up everything between box B1 and B20 (maybe your list ends at B10 or B50, adjust accordingly).

How does your total look? I know the numbers can be intimidating, but let’s discuss ways we can take control of our finances during the upcoming season of spending.

  1. Start Saving Early: Put away money each month, starting in January, to evenly spread the cost of the holiday spending across the full year. A slightly different approach is to start saving weekly, maybe cutting down on going out to eat during the holidays or daily coffee runs. Every little bit helps! If you save $50 for 6 weeks that is $300 you can use for guilt-free holiday spending.
  2. Cut Back: Are there any categories in your holiday budget you can tweak? Maybe you go to a secondhand store to buy your ugly sweater or borrow it from your grandma. Maybe you can DIY crafts as presents for friends and family. Maybe you can make your holiday party a potluck.
  3. Sales: Cyber Monday and Black Friday are coming up. Take advantage of the sales by planning early and creating a list of presents you’ll need. You are already on your way with the holiday spending spreadsheet!
  4. Credit Card Rewards: Many credit cards offer reward points to help you save on clothes, plane tickets, and gift spending. Do some research to see what your card can offer you today!
  5. Update Your List: As you start purchasing gifts and attending parties, keep track of exactly how much you spend. You can create a new column on your spreadsheet for “Actual” amounts. This will help you adjust your numbers in the other categories if you spend more or less than expected, and more importantly, it will give you a better estimate for next holiday season!

In just a few short weeks this holiday season will be over. Time passes quickly when you’re having fun! Take your recorded “Actual” spending amounts from Step 5 and go back to Step 1. It is never too early to start saving for next year’s holiday season, and this time you will be extra prepared by knowing almost exactly what you will need to save. Let’s work together to take the spending stress out of the holiday season!

Follow Sophie Explains on Facebook for weekly updates!

Other Realistic Savings Goals Posts

Google Spreadsheets 101: The Basics

Spreadsheets are one of my favorite organizational tools because they are fun and easy to use! I use Google Spreadsheets to budget, store my favorite recipes, create travel itineraries, make shopping lists, organize potluck dinners with friends, and more. Spreadsheets are a quick and simple way to efficiently store, organize, and share data.

In the new series “Google Spreadsheets 101,” I will share the tips and tricks to make using spreadsheets an effortless part of your everyday life.

The first five tips you see below answer some questions you have asked about customizing the starter budgeting spreadsheet. In the beginning, spreadsheets may seem overwhelming and cumbersome, but they can become a fun part of your budgeting process!

Tip 1: Overview of a Google Spreadsheet

First, let us review the main parts of a spreadsheet using Google Spreadsheets.

  • Name: If you click on this you can edit the name of the spreadsheet directly.
  • Toolbar: You can format the look of the spreadsheet with colors, borders, number formatting, etc.
  • Function Box: This allows you to perform functions such as summing a set of numbers to find a total value. See the complete list of functions here.
  • Column/Rows: These make up the body of the spreadsheet.
  • Tabs: You can create new sheets within one spreadsheet to group relevant data.

Tip 2: Freezing Columns

The first step when starting a new spreadsheet is to determine how you want to use it. Will it be a simple shopping list, an itinerary for your trip, a new budget? This will help you determine which headers you need. Start by filling in the main headers. You can freeze the first column so that whenever you scroll to the right on your spreadsheet, the headers are always showing. You can also freeze the top rows as well.

Tip 3: Adding Columns

If you want to add a new column simply right click on the top of the column (with the letter) then click insert to the left/right depending on where you want to place the new column. If you have a specific formatted set up that you want to implement in your new column (like colored highlights or bolding), you can also right click, copy the appropriate column, and paste it in your new column to duplicate its format. This is also true with rows.

Tip 4: Creating a “Sum” Formula

The most common reason to use a spreadsheet is to take advantage of its handy formulas. For example, if you want to add up all you spent last month, you may use a “sum” formula. In a new box on the spreadsheet, write “=sum(” (without the quotations) and then highlight all the boxes you want to add up. If you want to add the numbers in the boxes in a row or column, just drag your cursor along the row. If you want it to add up boxes that are not connecting, hold the “ctrl” button on your keyboard and click the selection of boxes to add up.

Later on you may need to double check that your formula is adding the correct boxes, especially if you add new rows or columns. Double click on the box that has the “sum” formula. In the function box at the top of the screen you will see which boxes it is adding. It should also highlight those boxes in different colors on the spreadsheet to help you easily identify any boxes missing from the sum formula.

Tip 5: Duplicating a Tab

I prefer to keep my budget spreadsheet organized with a new tab for each month so that I can easily review a year’s expenses. To create a new month’s spreadsheet, right click on the appropriate tab at the bottom of the screen and select duplicate. A “copy” of that tab will appear, and you can double click to update the name of the new tab. Keep in mind that this will duplicate all the information of the previous tab, so I suggest duplicating clean tabs without any of your monthly data before putting in the information.

If you have any other questions about using Google Spreadsheets please contact me through the blog’s Contact page or Facebook page. No question is too small! I will answer the subsequent group of questions in the next installment of the “Google Spreadsheets 101” series. Thank you!

Starter Budgeting Spreadsheet (Part 2)

In our last post we talked about the Starter Budgeting Spreadsheet. Since this may be the first time you are doing any sort of budgeting, I wanted to provide clear and concise steps to get you started! By the end of this post I know you will be much more comfortable and confident with the process!

Goal for this Week: Review September 2017 income and expenses

Resources Needed: Budgeting Spreadsheet and an account with (Sophie’s Top 5 Reasons for Using

Estimated Time: One hour or less

Let’s begin!

  1. Open up your editable copy of the starter budgeting spreadsheet in Google Drive or Excel.
  2. Login to your account. Open the Transactions page and export all transactions via the link at the bottom of the page.
  3. The export comes in .csv format, you can open this with either with Google Spreadsheets or Excel. Then open your starter budgeting spreadsheet in an adjacent window for easy access.
  4. Manually copy and paste each transaction from September to the appropriate section of your spreadsheet. See how to format the spreadsheet in the “Sample Version” tab of the Starter Budgeting Spreadsheet or in the screenshot below.
  5. Finally, spend a few minutes reviewing the end result. The totals in Column C will automatically add up due to embedded formulas, but it is good to double check that all of your entries are being “summed” correctly.
  6. If you have any trouble using the spreadsheet or find the formulas are not working, please feel free to Contact Me! As we talked about last week, remember that it is a work in progress, and I bet you can quickly find ways to update the spreadsheet to make it easier to use. I encourage you to make it your own!

Congratulations! You are done with September’s budgeting spreadsheet!

Look at the totals for each category and your final profit or loss for the month.

Does it surprise you? Were there any categories that you spent more or less than you expected? I am sure right away you can identify some areas that you could save in for next month!

As you get more comfortable reviewing your finances each month, I strongly recommend updating the spreadsheet to fit your lifestyle. For example, it might be helpful to add new categories in Column A such as public transportation costs, student loan repayments, or specific savings goals for travel or weddings.

Later we will learn how to analyze and review the results in detail to help you confidently create a budget that fits your spending habits and savings goals. Please follow Sophie Explains on Facebook for the latest updates!

Note on adding transactions manually: Although it seems tedious to copy and paste each value of every transaction monthly, I find it essential to identify any red flags, such as recurring payments you thought you had cancelled or abnormal credit card purchases.

Keep in mind that manually adding each transaction can lead to error (as we are only human). Use a method that helps you identify which transactions you’ve transferred to your budget. My preferred method is to highlight rows on the exported spreadsheet once I have added them to my budget so I do not miss or duplicate any transactions. Good luck!

Starter Budgeting Spreadsheet (Part 1)

Congratulations on taking the first step towards achieving your financial goals by reading this post! To celebrate, this week we have a two-part series on starting your very own budgeting spreadsheet. If you spend one hour at the end of each month recording and reviewing where you spent your money, you can stay focused on your savings goals.

A budgeting spreadsheet helps you understand where to cut back in spending to make room for what is important to you.

Budgeting is a work in progress, but it can be a fun one! There is no perfect template that will help you start saving money right away, and you might have to adjust the spreadsheet every few months to fit your lifestyle and spending habits. Maybe you enjoy collecting video games or are saving for a wedding or love to pamper your pets! Everyone has different priorities for spending their money that are factors for your spreadsheet.


To get you started I have created a generic Starter Budgeting Spreadsheet based off of my own current spreadsheet:

View the Spreadsheet on Google Drive

To save this spreadsheet in an editable format, go to File in the top left corner of the page, and then Make a Copy. This will create your own private and editable spreadsheet in Google Drive. If you prefer to use Excel, go to File, Download As, Excel.

Later this week we will learn step-by-step how to fill out the spreadsheet. If you haven’t already created a free account with, don’t forget to sign up (it only takes 15 minutes!) and link your accounts so you are ready to go on Thursday!

Note to Readers: I wanted to thank each and every one of you for all of the support I have received since launching the site, you are all amazing! Also, I want to hear from you, what budgeting problems or questions do you have? If you are thinking it, I promise other people are too, so reach out on Facebook or my Contact Page and I will do my best to answer everyone!