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Benjamin Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” It’s true, too—although we are not too concerned with pennies these days, each dollar, or ten dollars, or fifty dollars that you save is just like having that much more in your paycheck. I’m not talking about the kind of saving that results from denying yourself the pleasures or even some necessities of life. No, what this book is about is the savings you can realize by taking charge of your finances.

People start working with personal finance at an early age. You might start with just an allowance and then maybe in high school move onto a part-time job and a small savings account. Eventually you find yourself on your own with a job, a checking account, and maybe a family to help support. Car loans, credit cards, and a mortgage come soon enough for many of us. All these aspects of personal finance seem to be an unavoidable part of modern life.

How you approach your personal finances can have a big impact on your life. Some people seem to just muddle through from week to week while others make an effort to learn the ins and outs of personal finance so they can take charge of their own situation. Is it worth the effort? You bet it is! Let me explain.

First of all, when you don’t master your own finances, you are almost sure to be paying out a lot in unnecessary fees and interest. I am always amazed to hear how much profit banks and credit card companies make from overdraft and late fees, interest, and other avoidable charges to the consumer. This money is coming out of your pocket! When you take charge of your finances, you can eliminate or at least greatly reduce these unnecessary payments. That means more money in your pocket to spend or save as you see fit.

Second, many of life’s major goals require some financial planning. Buying your first house, saving for Junior’s college education, affording that fishing boat you have always wanted, looking forward to a secure retirement—these are some of the more important examples. Without planning, such goals might remain forever beyond your grasp.

My goal in writing this book is to provide you with the information and tools you need to take charge of your finances. It’s not always the easiest thing to do—after all, bad financial habits can die hard—but it is very worthwhile.

Why Excel?

Why did I focus this book on using the Excel spreadsheet program? Aren’t there some specialized personal finance programs available? Please let me explain.

There are several sophisticated personal finance programs on the market, the best known being Quicken and Microsoft Money. They are excellent programs, but—and this is a big but—they try to provide every possible feature any user could conceivably want. As a result, these programs are unavoidably complex. And—unavoidably as well—you must buy them.

Excel, in contrast, is a general purpose data manipulation program that includes many tools for working with finances. Most importantly, it is already installed on millions of computers. Chances are that when you bought your computer, it had Excel already installed as a free extra. Or you might have installed Excel yourself for your personal or business use. Either way, there are millions of people around the world who can use the Excel templates provided with this book without any additional expense.

Who This Book Is For

The people who want to take charge of their finances come from all walks of life, and not all of them are computer experts. That’s why I wrote this book to be understandable and usable by almost anyone. As long as you know the basics of using your computer and Excel, you will do just fine.

The only requirement is that you have Excel installed on your computer. The templates that come with this book work with any of the recent versions of Excel, including Excel 2000, Excel XP, and Excel 2003.

Each workbook is provided in two versions. The one with Example in the name (for example, Check Register Example.xls) contains sample data that you can use to experiment with and see how the workbook functions. The one without Example in the name (for example, Check Register.xls) is empty and ready for you to start entering your own data.

More Information and Updates

The publisher maintains a website for this book at http://www.quepublishing.com/title/0789734281. You can visit this site for more information about the book, to place orders, and to find links to Que’s other publications. I maintain my own site for this book at http://www.pgacon.com/Books/ManageMoneyExcel.htm. Visit my site if you want to send me a comment and to check for corrections in the text and templates. Please note that even though I love to hear from readers, I can respond only to matters that are directly related to the book.

Peter Aitken
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
April 2005

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