Top 10 Tricks for Building the Perfect Budget

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The number one rule to financial success: spend less than you earn. And the best way to do that is to keep track of what you spend. Here are 10 tricks for crafting the perfect budget (and sticking to it). P

10. Start From Scratch P

If you have a budget that isn’t working from you, wipe the slate clean and start over. If you haven’t really created a successful budget before, start with the basics : how much do you spend on bills every month? How much are you/would you like to invest? How much would you like to save and spend? Once you’ve divided up your money into those basic categories, you have a pretty good foundation to build a more specific budget— even if you don’t have a regular paycheck . Photo by Bradipo . P

Related Adult Budgeting 101: How to Create Your First Budget In the Real World Financial advice isn’t an exact science, so it’s hard to really sift through the cruft and know what you should do with your… Read…

How To Budget When You Don’t Have a Regular Paycheck Successful budgeting tends to depend on two things: careful planning and a steady income. The first, anyone can do. The second isn’t so simple. If… Read…

9. Account for Every Dollar P

Building off #10, make sure that you’ve accounted for every dollar you make . That sounds overly meticulous, but it isn’t: all it means is that you should „spend“ all your money in your budget each month. And that doesn’t necessarily mean spending it on stuff—it could mean saving it or putting it toward your 401(k). Some people do better with reverse budgeting , but for most of us, splitting your pay into categories is the best way to make sure it’s all accounted for. P

Related The Power of a Zero-Sum Budget Among the many articles on budgeting systems and strategies, there has been very little written on using a zero-sum budget (which happens to be the… Read…

Save Money While Spending Freely with Reverse Budgeting Weblog fivecentnickel makes budgeting simple by practicing the art of „reverse budgeting“. The upshot: Rather than setting precise… Read…

8. Focus on What Really Matters P

When most of us think of budgeting, we think of the basics—rent, food, utilities—then go straight to „how much can I spend on the fun stuff?“ But our minds often trick us into prioritizing wants over needs. As you build up the specifics in your budget, think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs : your physiological needs (food, clothing, shelter) are most important, followed by safety (insurance, utilities), and so on, down to the luxeries, which are the least important. Think of it this way: true wealth isn’t about stuff, it’s about having the freedom to do what you want with your life . P

Related Base Your Budget on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs There may be as many ways to set up and stick to a budget as there are types of spenders and savers. Here’s one more. By aligning your budget… Read…

Center Your Budget Around Buying Freedom Instead of Things Most of us tend to think about our budgets in terms of what we can afford. From cars to tablets, we usually see money as a means to an end. Finance… Read…

7. Prioritize Your Debt P S Expand

If you’ve racked up some debt over the years, your budget needs a bit of extra special care. Whether you’re completely broke , living paycheck-to-paycheck , or doing alright, you should prioritize getting out of debt now. Check out this step-by-step guide to getting out of debt for more info. P

Related 4 The Truth About Being Broke It’s been a long time since I’ve been broke, but I can still remember exactly what it felt like. I can picture all the ugly details of the… Read…

How to Break the Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle We talk a lot about personal finance here at Lifehacker. But if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, getting out of debt and starting a… Read…

6. Track Your Budget Using a Strategy That Works for You P 1 S Expand

There are a billion budgeting tools out there, from simple spreadsheets to full-on budgeting apps right down to simple pen and paper. What works for you may be different than what works for others, so think about how you learn and where your weaknesses are to decide on the best strategy for you . Maybe it’s a program like Mint that tracks your spending automatically , maybe it’s creating a spreadsheet, or maybe it’s one of these other popular tools . If you find something isn’t working for you, try something else—but make sure it isn’t your motivation that’s lacking, either. P

Related 4 How to Find Your Best Budget Strategy and Stick With It I used to cringe at the mere mention of budgeting. As far as I knew having a budget meant filling out a spreadsheet–and that was something I’d tried… Read…

How to Create (and Stick to) a Realistic Budget with Mint We’d all like to be more responsible with our money, but budgeting can take a lot of work. Here’s how to create an easy, realistic budget… Read…

5. Use Separate Accounts P

If you have trouble tracking your money when it’s all lumped together, consider putting that money into separate „buckets“ for each category . For example, have a savings account for your savings, one checking account for fixed expenses, and a second checking account for your spending money (which includes anything from groceries to „fun“). That way, you only „see“ the money that you can spend, without having to think about what’s coming up next. This isn’t something everyone has to do, but many of you have noted that it’s helped you out a lot. Photo by gracey . P

Related Use Separate Accounts for Simple Bucket Budgeting The simplest budgeting and personal finance solutions are often the best; they’re easier to stick with. Money Magazine recommends a fast way to… Read…

Separate Fixed and Flexible Spending for Pain-Free Budgeting Trying to budget from one lump sum is difficult. If you want more control over how you budget your set expenses and flexible spending, consider… Read…

4. Give Yourself Some Wiggle Room P

Lest you worry that we’re becoming too hardcore, remember that phrase „everything in moderation.“ If you budget too meticulously, it’s only going to stress you out— and probably fail . Give yourself reasonable expectations, make sure you stash enough away for an emergency , and don’t forget to budget money for fun ! If you’re the type that splurges, maybe you need to create a splurge budget to avoid overspending . Or, only allow yourself to use that money once you’ve accomplished other goals . Whatever you do, don’t neglect the fun—and give yourself some wiggle room for those unexpected expenses. Photo by 401(K) 2012 . P

Related 4 Why Personal Budgets Fail (and What You Should Do Instead) If you are in to budgeting, you must have realized by now that creating budget is the easiest thing to do. The most difficult and tough task is to… Read…

Five Questions You Should Ask When Building an Emergency Fund There are some aspects of personal finance that are dead sexy. Like investing–it’s pretty darn exciting to put a little bit of money into the stock… Read…

3. Know Your Weaknesses P S Expand

We all have weaknesses—after all, materialism is pretty ingrained into our culture and lifestyle . As you create and monitor your budget, give special attention to the areas you know you’re weak—whether it’s eating out, making big impulse purchases, or just addictive shopping. Strengthen your mental fortitude for those bad behaviors to keep them in check. P

Related Why We’re So Materialistic, Even Though It Doesn’t Make Us Happy No matter who you are, it’s easy to get a little caught up in the idea of getting new stuff. Here’s a look at why your brain is so… Read…

The Behaviors that Destroy Your Financial Health (and How to Avoid Them) If you received a raise tomorrow, what would you do with the extra money? Most people would celebrate—maybe with a nice dinner out or a great bottle… Read…

2. Adjust Your Budget as Time Goes On P S Expand

Chances are, you won’t get your budget exactly right the first time. If, after a few months, you find that it needs some tweaking, do it! Furthermore, life changes often mean changes in your budget. Going back to school? Obviously you need to start over to budget money for that. Get a raise (or a pay cut)? You’ll need to adjust accordingly for that too . Everyone’s budget is different, especially depending on your salary. If you need inspiration, check out some of the sample budgets we’ve featured over the years . P

Related 4 How to Change Your Spending Habits when Your Salary Goes Up (or Down) Few people go through their whole life on the same salary. Things change—you get a new job, get married, divorced, or laid off—and when that happens… Read…

Four People, One Salary: How They Spend and Save on $60,000 There’s a reason why guests look in the medicine cabinet. (Not you, of course.) It’s human nature to want to get a peek at how other people … Read…

1. Stick to It P

Lastly—and this is the hardest part for most of us—you have to stick with it. If you put all this work into creating a budget and don’t keep up with it, well, obviously all that work was for naught. Keep track of it every month , wait 48 hours before making any big purchases, and most importantly, accept that every once in awhile, you’ll blow it—and that’s okay. The best way to keep your budget is to have a healthy relationship with money , and not let it stress you out. If you can do that, you’re golden. P

Related How to Master the Mental Game of Sticking to a Budget It’s the end of the month, and you look at the budget you created to help yourself control your spending. Your stomach sinks when you see that you… Read…

How I’m Changing My Relationship with Money As a teenager, I had a part-time job that was already mundane and dreadful enough, but then Kelly P. was hired. For whatever reason, Kelly and I were … Read…

Title image remixed from Natalja Kirvele (Shutterstock) and Bruce Rolff (Shutterstock). P

L Discuss Like 216 K 1 Author is participating @ VPhantom U Whitson Gordon L Out of curiosity, which software or web service is this a screenshot of? Yesterday 5:49am

Whitson Gordon U VPhantom 1 L This is You Need a Budget (YNAB), which is the most popular budgeting tool among our readers. Yesterday 7:12am

grandspartan117 U VPhantom L Yes! YNAB is the best! Helped me get my financial crisis of a life back in order. Today 6:35am

  @ kelseycannici U Whitson Gordon 5 L Really love You Need a Budget. I’m just as bad as the next person with sticking to my budget, but at the very least it acts as one big check register. I put in the month’s bill’s in the register ahead of time, so that not only is that money „spent,“ it’s also being accounted for in my budget as well. I also project out my credit card balances the same way – if I spend $100 on my credit card, I put a $100 „payment“ in my register for the date it will be due. Then I just monitor my working balance number to make sure it stays positive. This way I know all of my bills are covered and at the least I’m not spending what I don’t have and I won’t incur overdraft fees, either. Saturday 10:45am

1 participant @ merigoldsass U Whitson Gordon 1 L More than usual lately I stopped giving a shit about the usual you get „5% rewards blah blah blah here if you use this credit for the next 2 months at this store or this website“ I think in the past those rewards things always (frequently) got me to buy too much shit in general (more things than what I NEED). The attraction of having that extra $18 in Amazon to spend is not that attractive anymore when you realize you had to spend so much more just to get there. Saturday 12:35pm

Racerover U merigoldsass 2 L I’m going through the same mindset change actually. I stopped using my credit cards for anything other than bills. Even in the 2 months since, I’ve noticed a pretty massive drop in spending. It’s definitely a psychological thing, and i’ve stopped buying into it. If I see my checking account dwindling instead of a cc balance rising, it helps keep me in check. Saturday 7:40pm

  @ freetogoodownder U Whitson Gordon L Admit that you have one weakness and give in to it within reason. I love kitchen gadgets of all description. Instead of cutting myself off cold turkey, I allocated a certain dollar sum every month to spend on them. The only restriction was that the purchases had to be used; ie Value Village, Craigslist, garage sale etc. I can’t buy brand new. I found an original package Pampered Chef ice cream sandwich maker for $1. And a brand new wonton press for 50 cents. As a result, I feed my need but at the same time, cut down the amount spent. I also love kitchen porn and a trip to a cooking supply store where I can touch and fondle the $800 Mixmasters helps a lot. Yesterday 5:13am

1 participant @ thegrumpyeric U Whitson Gordon 1 L #5 was a key thing for me and it ensured that I don’t spend my power bill money on drinks at the bar on Friday night. I know that as long as I have $X in my 2nd checking account on the 28th of every month, the bills for the next month will be paid without an issue. It is a bit more complicated but it definitely works for me and I encourage it for others, too. Saturday 10:01am

uhpotter U thegrumpyeric 1 L I definitely thing this idea is a good one as well. It really helps too if that money for separate accounts is put in right out of your paycheck too. No thinking, no second guessing about ‚should I transfer $xx or should I maybe spend that money on something else.

Definitely hepls too with other retirement account stuff. That way, you get a certain amount of money every month, and everything you need in the other accounts goes into them, always and forever. Saturday 11:08am

4 participants @ shawmutt U Whitson Gordon 2 L You Need a Budget (YNAB) was probably the best purchase I’ve made for budgeting. The ability to enter and track items in „real time“ on the app makes it a breeze. Saturday 12:39pm

linzee U shawmutt L If you have to enter each item, how is YNAB any different from keeping a spreadsheet? Yesterday 5:25pm

shawmutt U linzee L The difference is in the amount of users. My wife and I are able to enter and categorize transactions from our separate apps as they happen. Before I was spending hours trying to track receipts and transactions down, and it was the cause of a lot of aggravation. It was fine when I was able to keep up with it daily, but I inevitably fall behind a couple days and then it’s a nightmare to catch up.

Sure, I could make up a spreadsheet, sync it to an online database, and teach my wife how to use all that…not an enjoyable task. Yesterday 7:33pm

linzee   and one other… Submitted discussions can be approved by the author or users followed by this blog. About Help Terms of Use Privacy Advertising Permissions Content Guidelines RSS Jobs
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Tips, tricks, and downloads for getting things done.

APP DIRECTORYDOWNLOADSPRODUCTIVITYDIYMONEYSECURITYLIFEHACKER DEALSNIGHT SCHOOL

Recommended by Whitson Gordon

SExpand

The number one rule to financial success: spend less than you earn. And the best way to do that is to keep track of what you spend. Here are 10 tricks for crafting the perfect budget (and sticking to it).P

10. Start From ScratchP

If you have a budget that isn’t working from you, wipe the slate clean and start over. If you haven’t really created a successful budget before, start with the basics: how much do you spend on bills every month? How much are you/would you like to invest? How much would you like to save and spend? Once you’ve divided up your money into those basic categories, you have a pretty good foundation to build a more specific budget—even if you don’t have a regular paycheck. Photo by Bradipo.P

Related

Adult Budgeting 101: How to Create Your First Budget In the Real World

Financial advice isn’t an exact science, so it’s hard to really sift through the cruft and know what you should do with your… Read…

How To Budget When You Don’t Have a Regular Paycheck

Successful budgeting tends to depend on two things: careful planning and a steady income. The first, anyone can do. The second isn’t so simple. If… Read…

9. Account for Every DollarP

Building off #10, make sure that you’ve accounted for every dollar you make. That sounds overly meticulous, but it isn’t: all it means is that you should „spend“ all your money in your budget each month. And that doesn’t necessarily mean spending it on stuff—it could mean saving it or putting it toward your 401(k). Some people do better with reverse budgeting, but for most of us, splitting your pay into categories is the best way to make sure it’s all accounted for.P

Related

The Power of a Zero-Sum Budget

Among the many articles on budgeting systems and strategies, there has been very little written on using a zero-sum budget (which happens to be the… Read…

Save Money While Spending Freely with Reverse Budgeting

Weblog fivecentnickel makes budgeting simple by practicing the art of „reverse budgeting“. The upshot: Rather than setting precise… Read…

8. Focus on What Really MattersP

When most of us think of budgeting, we think of the basics—rent, food, utilities—then go straight to „how much can I spend on the fun stuff?“ But our minds often trick us into prioritizing wants over needs. As you build up the specifics in your budget, think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: your physiological needs (food, clothing, shelter) are most important, followed by safety (insurance, utilities), and so on, down to the luxeries, which are the least important. Think of it this way: true wealth isn’t about stuff, it’s about having the freedom to do what you want with your life.P

Related

Base Your Budget on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

There may be as many ways to set up and stick to a budget as there are types of spenders and savers. Here’s one more. By aligning your budget… Read…

Center Your Budget Around Buying Freedom Instead of Things

Most of us tend to think about our budgets in terms of what we can afford. From cars to tablets, we usually see money as a means to an end. Finance… Read…

7. Prioritize Your DebtP

SExpand

If you’ve racked up some debt over the years, your budget needs a bit of extra special care. Whether you’re completely broke, living paycheck-to-paycheck, or doing alright, you should prioritize getting out of debt now. Check out this step-by-step guide to getting out of debt for more info.P

Related

The Truth About Being Broke

It’s been a long time since I’ve been broke, but I can still remember exactly what it felt like. I can picture all the ugly details of the… Read…

How to Break the Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle

We talk a lot about personal finance here at Lifehacker. But if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, getting out of debt and starting a… Read…

6. Track Your Budget Using a Strategy That Works for YouP

1SExpand

There are a billion budgeting tools out there, from simple spreadsheets to full-on budgeting apps right down to simple pen and paper. What works for you may be different than what works for others, so think about how you learn and where your weaknesses are to decide on the best strategy for you. Maybe it’s a program like Mint that tracks your spending automatically, maybe it’s creating a spreadsheet, or maybe it’s one of these other popular tools. If you find something isn’t working for you, try something else—but make sure it isn’t your motivation that’s lacking, either.P

Related

How to Find Your Best Budget Strategy and Stick With It

I used to cringe at the mere mention of budgeting. As far as I knew having a budget meant filling out a spreadsheet–and that was something I’d tried… Read…

How to Create (and Stick to) a Realistic Budget with Mint

We’d all like to be more responsible with our money, but budgeting can take a lot of work. Here’s how to create an easy, realistic budget… Read…

5. Use Separate AccountsP

If you have trouble tracking your money when it’s all lumped together, consider putting that money into separate „buckets“ for each category. For example, have a savings account for your savings, one checking account for fixed expenses, and a second checking account for your spending money (which includes anything from groceries to „fun“). That way, you only „see“ the money that you can spend, without having to think about what’s coming up next. This isn’t something everyone has to do, but many of you have noted that it’s helped you out a lot. Photo by gracey.P

Related

Use Separate Accounts for Simple Bucket Budgeting

The simplest budgeting and personal finance solutions are often the best; they’re easier to stick with. Money Magazine recommends a fast way to… Read…

Separate Fixed and Flexible Spending for Pain-Free Budgeting

Trying to budget from one lump sum is difficult. If you want more control over how you budget your set expenses and flexible spending, consider… Read…

4. Give Yourself Some Wiggle RoomP

Lest you worry that we’re becoming too hardcore, remember that phrase „everything in moderation.“ If you budget too meticulously, it’s only going to stress you out—and probably fail. Give yourself reasonable expectations, make sure you stash enough away for an emergency, and don’t forget to budget money for fun! If you’re the type that splurges, maybe you need to create a splurge budget to avoid overspending. Or, only allow yourself to use that money once you’ve accomplished other goals. Whatever you do, don’t neglect the fun—and give yourself some wiggle room for those unexpected expenses. Photo by 401(K) 2012.P

Related

Why Personal Budgets Fail (and What You Should Do Instead)

If you are in to budgeting, you must have realized by now that creating budget is the easiest thing to do. The most difficult and tough task is to… Read…

Five Questions You Should Ask When Building an Emergency Fund

There are some aspects of personal finance that are dead sexy. Like investing–it’s pretty darn exciting to put a little bit of money into the stock… Read…

3. Know Your WeaknessesP

SExpand

We all have weaknesses—after all, materialism is pretty ingrained into our culture and lifestyle. As you create and monitor your budget, give special attention to the areas you know you’re weak—whether it’s eating out, making big impulse purchases, or just addictive shopping. Strengthen your mental fortitude for those bad behaviors to keep them in check.P

Related

Why We’re So Materialistic, Even Though It Doesn’t Make Us Happy

No matter who you are, it’s easy to get a little caught up in the idea of getting new stuff. Here’s a look at why your brain is so… Read…

The Behaviors that Destroy Your Financial Health (and How to Avoid Them)

If you received a raise tomorrow, what would you do with the extra money? Most people would celebrate—maybe with a nice dinner out or a great bottle… Read…

2. Adjust Your Budget as Time Goes OnP

SExpand

Chances are, you won’t get your budget exactly right the first time. If, after a few months, you find that it needs some tweaking, do it! Furthermore, life changes often mean changes in your budget. Going back to school? Obviously you need to start over to budget money for that. Get a raise (or a pay cut)? You’ll need to adjust accordingly for that too. Everyone’s budget is different, especially depending on your salary. If you need inspiration, check out some of the sample budgets we’ve featured over the years.P

Related

How to Change Your Spending Habits when Your Salary Goes Up (or Down)

Few people go through their whole life on the same salary. Things change—you get a new job, get married, divorced, or laid off—and when that happens… Read…

Four People, One Salary: How They Spend and Save on $60,000

There’s a reason why guests look in the medicine cabinet. (Not you, of course.) It’s human nature to want to get a peek at how other people … Read…

1. Stick to ItP

Lastly—and this is the hardest part for most of us—you have to stick with it. If you put all this work into creating a budget and don’t keep up with it, well, obviously all that work was for naught. Keep track of it every month, wait 48 hours before making any big purchases, and most importantly, accept that every once in awhile, you’ll blow it—and that’s okay. The best way to keep your budget is to have a healthy relationship with money, and not let it stress you out. If you can do that, you’re golden.P

Related

How to Master the Mental Game of Sticking to a Budget

It’s the end of the month, and you look at the budget you created to help yourself control your spending. Your stomach sinks when you see that you… Read…

How I’m Changing My Relationship with Money

As a teenager, I had a part-time job that was already mundane and dreadful enough, but then Kelly P. was hired. For whatever reason, Kelly and I were … Read…

Title image remixed from Natalja Kirvele (Shutterstock) and Bruce Rolff (Shutterstock).P

Like

216

K

1Author is participating@

VPhantomUWhitson Gordon

L

Out of curiosity, which software or web service is this a screenshot of? Yesterday 5:49am

Whitson GordonUVPhantom

1

L

This is You Need a Budget (YNAB), which is the most popular budgeting tool among our readers. Yesterday 7:12am

grandspartan117UVPhantom

L

Yes! YNAB is the best! Helped me get my financial crisis of a life back in order. Today 6:35am

 @

kelseycanniciUWhitson Gordon

5

L

Really love You Need a Budget. I’m just as bad as the next person with sticking to my budget, but at the very least it acts as one big check register. I put in the month’s bill’s in the register ahead of time, so that not only is that money „spent,“ it’s also being accounted for in my budget as well. I also project out my credit card balances the same way – if I spend $100 on my credit card, I put a $100 „payment“ in my register for the date it will be due. Then I just monitor my working balance number to make sure it stays positive. This way I know all of my bills are covered and at the least I’m not spending what I don’t have and I won’t incur overdraft fees, either. Saturday 10:45am

1 participant@

merigoldsassUWhitson Gordon

1

L

More than usual lately I stopped giving a shit about the usual you get „5% rewards blah blah blah here if you use this credit for the next 2 months at this store or this website“ I think in the past those rewards things always (frequently) got me to buy too much shit in general (more things than what I NEED). The attraction of having that extra $18 in Amazon to spend is not that attractive anymore when you realize you had to spend so much more just to get there. Saturday 12:35pm

RaceroverUmerigoldsass

2

L

I’m going through the same mindset change actually. I stopped using my credit cards for anything other than bills. Even in the 2 months since, I’ve noticed a pretty massive drop in spending. It’s definitely a psychological thing, and i’ve stopped buying into it. If I see my checking account dwindling instead of a cc balance rising, it helps keep me in check. Saturday 7:40pm

 @

freetogoodownderUWhitson Gordon

L

Admit that you have one weakness and give in to it within reason. I love kitchen gadgets of all description. Instead of cutting myself off cold turkey, I allocated a certain dollar sum every month to spend on them. The only restriction was that the purchases had to be used; ie Value Village, Craigslist, garage sale etc. I can’t buy brand new. I found an original package Pampered Chef ice cream sandwich maker for $1. And a brand new wonton press for 50 cents. As a result, I feed my need but at the same time, cut down the amount spent. I also love kitchen porn and a trip to a cooking supply store where I can touch and fondle the $800 Mixmasters helps a lot. Yesterday 5:13am

1 participant@

thegrumpyericUWhitson Gordon

1

L

#5 was a key thing for me and it ensured that I don’t spend my power bill money on drinks at the bar on Friday night. I know that as long as I have $X in my 2nd checking account on the 28th of every month, the bills for the next month will be paid without an issue. It is a bit more complicated but it definitely works for me and I encourage it for others, too. Saturday 10:01am

uhpotterUthegrumpyeric

1

L

I definitely thing this idea is a good one as well. It really helps too if that money for separate accounts is put in right out of your paycheck too. No thinking, no second guessing about ‚should I transfer $xx or should I maybe spend that money on something else.

Definitely hepls too with other retirement account stuff. That way, you get a certain amount of money every month, and everything you need in the other accounts goes into them, always and forever. Saturday 11:08am

4 participants@

shawmuttUWhitson Gordon

2

L

You Need a Budget (YNAB) was probably the best purchase I’ve made for budgeting. The ability to enter and track items in „real time“ on the app makes it a breeze. Saturday 12:39pm

linzeeUshawmutt

L

If you have to enter each item, how is YNAB any different from keeping a spreadsheet? Yesterday 5:25pm

shawmuttUlinzee

L

The difference is in the amount of users. My wife and I are able to enter and categorize transactions from our separate apps as they happen. Before I was spending hours trying to track receipts and transactions down, and it was the cause of a lot of aggravation. It was fine when I was able to keep up with it daily, but I inevitably fall behind a couple days and then it’s a nightmare to catch up.

Sure, I could make up a spreadsheet, sync it to an online database, and teach my wife how to use all that…not an enjoyable task. Yesterday 7:33pm

Submitted discussions can be approved by the author or users followed by this blog.

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