Making your money go “further” with Excel—personal finance tips from the Dostals

excel-tools-fi

Marshall and Megan Dostal are the owners of Further, a forward-thinking company that produces sustainable, luxurious soap. How they get glycerin, a key ingredient, is nothing short of amazing. Marshall picks up depleted cooking oil from restaurants, then converts it into biofuel in the Further warehouse. One of the byproducts of the biofuel distillation is glycerin, which he and Megan use to create their soap. The soap is then packaged and sold to restaurants, hotels and retailers nationwide. Like many small business owners, they’re obsessed with keeping the business running smoothly and don’t have much time to spend on their personal finances. That’s one major reason why they use Excel.

“I haven’t found anything better than Excel for tracking our spending and planning for things like our savings—it’s user friendly and it’s simple. What more could you ask for?” says Megan who takes care of their family budget.

“Generally speaking, from month to month, we are on track. We run a tight ship. Our budget varies depending on how monthly sales are doing.

“A typical Excel session for recording our month-to-month spending is short and sweet. I enter in a few data points and Excel calculates everything for me. I’m not spending a ton of my day on it and that’s what makes it so valuable for me. It frees up time to do other things.

“We run really lean, so any variance is likely because of a big life event, such as a family wedding,” she adds.

To keep on top of their budget, Marshall loads all the numbers into Excel and they divide and conquer from there. “Marshall reviews them for Further and I review them for our home and family,” says Megan. “It’s super easy to download Excel files from our credit card accounts and voila, the expense report is done. No need to manually enter expenses. It’s a real time saver.”

While Megan uses Excel daily to record financial matters, Marshall has also used it to automate his biodiesel production formulae. “Making biodiesel involves a number of different variables, so I have a worksheet that automates the production formula,” he says. “Figuring out the numbers involved without Excel would be a laborious process.”

To keep spending on track and catch things they need to watch out for, Marshall and Megan discuss big purchases in advance and are able to anticipate “big months” and spend accordingly.

“I also find the Sunburst and Treemap charts helpful as something to reference,” she says. “If I look at the first three months in one chart, it’s nice to see how much we spend—for budgeting for the next year—for things like food, expenses and clothing. Of course, things happen that we cannot plan for, but all in all, we just keep open communication about everything.”

What really piqued their interest was the Get & Transform data-gathering feature, which they can use to import information for websites for budgeting their vacations. “Megan does a great job planning trips for us,” says Marshall. “So if we take a spring trip, Get & Transform can be really helpful budgeting for that.”

Another time-saving feature they like is Flash Fill, which fills out data in Excel cells for you and starts working when it recognizes a pattern in the data you’re inputting.

When asked how they thought about savings and planned for major life events, like college for their son and retirement, Megan said they do have an account that they opened at the time they started Further and they add to it as best they can. “When we started the company, we opened the account as our “backup,” money that we would not touch if the company went bust. Today, it serves as a great savings account. As far as college and retirement go—we could be better.”

Office has created special Excel templates specifically for personal finance like Financial Vision and the Budget Wheel at Tools for You. Financial Vision helps you see all your financial goals at a glance and lets you compare your spending, income and savings to see what it will take to get you to your goal.

“We like to plan things out,” adds Megan. “So, if we know now that in March we’re going to spend X amount for a vacation, you fill that into the Financial Vision template and it instantly adjusts for you and you know—well, that’s what we have left.”

“I really like that template because I like bar charts more than pie charts,” says Marshall. “The colors give a better indication of your budget, and break things down better. You can see visually immediately what you’re spending.”

Marshall also likes having the ability to look at percentages in the Budget Wheel and seeing what they have left over each month for savings.

So what does the future hold for these innovative soap makers? Megan says expanding their business into new markets is their primary focus for now. Then they’ll have time to further explore their concept of reusing things that seem like they’re waste, and turning them into products that people can use. “Excel has just been a steady presence in my life. Always there behind the scenes getting the job done,” says Megan.

4 cool Excel personal finance tools

Check out all these great new features in Excel. Even if you don’t run a small business like the Dostals, you’ll find some great tools for helping you understand, keep on track and visualize your own personal finances.

excel-tools-1

excel-tools-2

excel-tools-3

excel-tools-4

 

—The Dostals’ time is valuable, so we’ve compensated them for taking the time to share their story.