Designing a Financial Calendar: Part 1

May 3, 2020

When I was in 6th grade my math teacher assigned an interesting class project. Each student was asked to choose an occupation, a city to live in, and a car to drive. Although there may have been more to it, unfortunately, I have forgotten. Looking up our chosen occupation in a large book and finding a city close to the one we chose, our yearly salaries and housing expenses were determined. Lastly, we got to choose a car to drive which determined our car payment. Each student was given a checkbook, and each month we had to make out checks for our expenses, keeping the checkbook balanced.

Over the years I have remembered some key parts of those lessons, like the careful balance between money in and money out, maintaining an understanding of expected expenses, and how to make out a check. I also learned that as a pilot living in Annapolis, Maryland I might want to keep my Dodge Viper as a poster and put something more reasonable in the driveway. While I might not have appreciated it at the time, this project was one of the more memorable and potentially useful. It also started my dislike of keeping a traditional checkbook. 

As a teenager, I had a checking account with a debit card and very little money in the account. Teaching swimming lessons is apparently not the road to riches. Fortunately, at that I age I did not have many expenses besides paying for gas to get to those swimming lessons. Through college, as both my income and expenses went up, online banking came to my rescue and I was able to keep a careful eye on money in versus money out. With a diploma in hand, it was time to look for a real job. I sat down with an excel spreadsheet and broke down what my expected monthly expenses would be, then worked that out to a yearly figure so I would know what the minimum salary would have to be for me to move back to New Jersey and be able to afford rent, food, and transportation. Fortunately, a few months out of college I got an offer that met my requirements and I joined the workforce.

As anyone who has moved to start a new job can probably tell you: things need to be paid for, even if you're not making money yet. There's the moving truck, the first month's rent and security deposit, groceries, furniture, and all sorts of small out of pocket expenses. This meant that for the first couple of paychecks I was spending money soon after earning it, just trying to catch up. I followed all of my banking balances online and was careful not to overspend with my credit card, but I felt like I was having trouble visualizing when things were coming in and going out. One day I was trying to think of a good way to organize my information and I remembered some work I had done on generating a calendar view based on the PHP date() function.

The idea was simple, rather than looking at my transactions in a list, I wanted to be able to view them on a calendar. Seeing them in a calendar grid made distinctions of days, weeks, and months much easier to visualize. I could start to put expenses on the calendar as soon as I knew they were coming. I could plan for car insurance payments, rent, utilities, and perhaps most importantly, paycheck deposits. Tracking things in this way never made me money, but it started to give me a much clearer understanding of my entire financial situation. Not only could I tell how I was doing at the moment, but I could start to plan for the future.

This post is going to be a bit long, so I will break out the discussion about specific features into Part 2.

Categories: Programming  Finances