To better understand my expense habits and overall spending, I used to track my financial transactions in a mobile application. I would manually put data after each payment. I was doing it for a couple of years until I realized that it didn’t quite help me.
First, since most of my transactions started going via a bank card, entering them in the application became pointless. The bank allowed me to download statements and analyze them in Excel. There’s no point in duplicating the effort.
Second, the app that I used didn’t tell me enough about expense trends. It didn’t show month-to-month comparison and didn’t answer important questions about my financial status:
- How much in average am I spending a month?
- Am I spending less at restaurants over time?
- Am I saving enough?
Other software solutions that I had evaluated didn’t help me answer those questions either. Some of them, in addition, used common but inefficient means like pie charts to show expense breakdown.
After I read the book Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few, I started thinking about building my own dashboard to visualize financial data. The book provided a number of good examples, though I didn’t know where to start the implementation. I needed to accomplish two huge tasks: (a) pull statements from my bank and (b) create a dashboard to show the data.
I started manually downloading transactions from the bank in a CSV form. This was a tedious routine that I quickly fell behind. Fortunately, my bank also provides API to obtain transactions on my cards, so I developed a simple and dirty script1 that is running on a daily basis to download statements and put them into Google Sheets. The script also auto-detects expense categories based on predefined rules. Manual work has significantly decreased.
Here's how the resulting spreadsheet2 looks like:
Then, I came across Google Data Studio (GDS). It turned out to be the missing piece to my solution. GDS eventually helped to build the dashboard I was trying to design.
Here’s the display (the data are fictional):
And this is the link to the GDS dashboard itself.
I believe this is not the final version, as I continue to work on improving it. However, even at this point, I’m totally satisfied with the solution. It helps me on a daily basis to comprehend my expenses and make better decisions regarding my spending. More often than not, it allows me to stay under budget.