Several Funds, One Account: How To Manage Them

Over the past several months, I’ve suggested that people break up their savings into several smaller funds for various purposes: a home maintenance fund, an emergency fund, an automobile fund, and so on. Some readers have asked whether or not I use several accounts to manage this cash – the truth is that I use just one savings account to manage all of my funds.

Why? The biggest reasons for doing it this way all revolve around privacy. With only one account to manage, there’s less threat from identity theft and fewer passwords to remember (and potentially spill the beans about).

How do you do it? Each week, I make a standard deposit into the account, a percentage of which is intended for each of several different funds (two auto funds, a home improvement fund, an emergency fund, and a splurge fund).

In Excel, I have a six-tabbed spreadsheet that keeps track of these funds separately. There’s one “master” tab that keeps a running total of the account, and five separate tabs, one for each fund. I make sure that the summed total of all five funds match the balance in the account. Then, when I make a withdrawal from any of the funds, I just mark it on the balance sheet for that fund – the total for that fund is lowered and then the sum of all five fund balances again matches the total in the account.

What about interest? Each month, interest is deposited into the account. I usually “give” that interest to whichever fund can use it the most. Lately, it’s been going primarily into one of the auto funds.

An example Let’s say each week I want to contribute $200 to be split up evenly among five funds.

Weekly deposit I set up an automatic deposit into my savings account of $200 each week. In Excel, I mark that as a contribution of $40 to each fund every week. So, after four weeks, each of the funds has $160 in it, and the total account has $800 in it.

Monthly interest At the end of the month, the account earns $1.23 in interest. I decide to include that in fund #1. So, I go into Excel and add $1.23 to fund #1, leaving it with a balance of $161.23 and the other funds with $160. The total account balance is $801.23, which is the sum total of $161.23 plus four separate amounts of $160 each.

Withdrawals I then decide to take $50 out of fund #2 to buy a new Wii game. That brings the account balance down to $751.23, with fund #1 having a balance of $161.23, fund #2 with a balance of $110, and funds #3-#5 having a balance of $160.

Isn’t this confusing? Not really. If you’re diligent in keeping track of things with Excel, it’s actually very easy – and also rather fluid, because you can effortlessly “borrow” money from one fund for another fund if you need to. I find it very, very convenient, actually.

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26 thoughts on “Several Funds, One Account: How To Manage Them

  1. Josh Samarin says:

    Great post, Trent.

    Have you considered making the excel spreadsheet you use downloadable on your site? (minus your personal data, of course!) My excel skills are pretty weak atm, but I do find using spreadsheets that others have built and customized quite useful.

  2. Amy says:

    “If you’re diligent in keeping track of things with Excel, it’s actually very easy – and also rather fluid, because you can effortlessly “borrow” money from one fund for another fund if you need to.”

    This is a bug, rather than a feature for me.

    ING allows you to create many different “accounts” under a single umbrella account…one of the reasons they get my business.

  3. plonkee says:

    “If you’re diligent…”

    That’s me out straight away, then.

  4. Great post. I’m working on getting my accounts simplified in much the same way.

    One of the things I love about ING Direct is how you can effortlessly create additional accounts online. I currently have three accounts with ING:

    - Emergency Fund
    - Freedom Account
    - Short-Term Savings

    Within the Freedom Account, I maintain an Excel summary of the balance in each category (eg. Auto Service, Gifts, etc.), similar to what you described. It’s not as elegant as your one-account setup, but it’s a lot less complicated than it could be.

  5. Steven says:

    What about something like Yodlee or EverBank where you can manage all financial accounts in one place (credit cards, bank accounts, 401k, etc.)?

  6. I am with Amy, creating an unlimited number of different savings accounts/budget bins is awesome. You get physical divisions in your money rather than conceptual. Each month or week I make a payment to the Christmas gift account, the auto insurance account, vacation, etc.

    Transferring is instant between Electric Orange and Savings account too.

    Just my thoughts.

  7. Quicken Nazi says:

    For anyone using Quicken, the Savings Goals functionality will allow for this also and allow you to save money from different accounts towards a goal.

    For example, I have two savings goals, Baby Emergency Fund and Income Tax (self-employed husband). I contribute to the Baby Emergency Fund from my one savings account. The Income Tax goal is contributed from both that savings account and a CD in a different bank.

  8. Trent says:

    Places that allow you to view many accounts at once raise serious privacy concerns for me. You’re trusting your account information to another entity, and for me, the fewer entities that have my information, the better.

  9. crazypumpkin says:

    Glad to see that others have bought up INGs features already. I do this too, as I have a general fund (within it there is a doctor’s visit fund), car fund, and travel/grad school fund. One login, one password, does what your excel spread sheet does pretty much, but I don’t have to be “diligent”. Because lets face it, I’m not, at least not like that.

  10. I’m also wary of third-party account aggregators.

    ING showing me all my ING holdings = Happy customer.

    Startup company showing me all my holdings period = Nervous customer.

  11. Christine says:

    I really should consolidate my stuff; I have 4 different accounts with 3 different instutions! It may soon become 5 accounts with 4 institutions, if I get around to setting up an online account.

    … but it works for me :p

  12. David says:

    Quicken allows you to set up “virtual accounts” like this, however I can’t recall what they call them at the moment.

  13. Jess says:

    We similarly track our “savings buckets” in excel – but I don’t have a separate tab for each account. It is all on the same workshet with three separate sections. The top section is the aggregate (which is locked) – the center is the additions, and the bottom is subtractions. The aggregate is basically the additions minus the subtractions – and the total equals the savings account balance. We currently have 16 different categories we disburse money into. We like to specifically save toward shorter term purchasing goals (like a new mountain bike for my husband) as well as longer term goals (car) and our emergency fund. About once a month we sit down together and allocate all the savings into the different buckets – it is fun to see positive progress toward your goals. We also have “goal” column, and the amount left to reach the goal – so we can tangibly see progress as we are allocating. Once the money hits the goal, we know there is enough money to make that purchase without dipping into any other buckets.

  14. Amanda says:

    First, I really enjoy this site. It helps keep me motivated on my financial transformation from broke to wealthy (someday!). I find just being “mindful” of these issues on a daily basis keeps me on track.

    My question is: Does anyone use Emigrant Direct? I have nothing but good things to say about them & their APY, but I experience quite a lag time between transferring funds from Checking (non-Emigrant) to Savings (Emigrant). Sometimes up to four days!
    Any opinions? Does this happen with ING? Perhaps I’m expecting too much.
    Keep up the fabulous work.

  15. Matt says:

    ING doesn’t allow you to view many accounts at once like places such as Yodlee allow. Instead it splits it up much the way you split your account up with a spreadsheet. I have ONE savings account with ING but that account is “split” into 3 subaccounts that I’ve labeled with my savings goals. Very much the same as using a spreadsheet except minus the work of updating a spreadsheet.

    I used to have 4 different online savings accounts each for a different purpose. Until I discovered this feature of ING and then I moved them all to ING.

  16. Matt says:

    Amanda, usually it takes 2-3 days to transfer money to online savings accounts.

    I used to use HSBC as my main checking account and my paycheck was direct deposited into there and I could transfer money instantly to my HSBC Direct account 5.05%. Many other companies off this such as Citibank, Chase and ING to name a few.

    There aren’t any HSBC branches where I live now so i use citibank. I just need to get a paycheck so that I can put it there…

  17. Woody says:

    One major concern I would have over this is the flip side of what you mention when it comes to security. Sure, having all your eggs in one basket means you only have to protect the one basket. But if something goes wrong and you lose that you’re SOL, since it’s all in one place.

    Personally, I like having my finances split up a little. If one account gets compromised, I can back off and manage the financial recovery while having the other ones to get cash or pay bills with.

    It’s also a VERY good idea for your spouse or partner to have a separate account, as in the event of your death most banks freeze joint account for a couple weeks. Having a separate side account with some emergency funds in it can be a huge blessing when you’re already dealing with the death of a loved one.

  18. kris says:

    Since I am excel clueless, I went with this program here to manage various sub-accounts in my HSBC:
    http://www.mdmproofing.com/iym/reviews/fa/freedom_spreadsheet01.php

    Its been an excelent investment.

  19. Justin says:

    @ everyone talking about ING:
    I recently opened an ING savings account and I would love to split it into to buckets for different savings funds, how is this done, I do not see it?

  20. Bill says:

    I don’t believe this is true for financial accounts, though it is often true of a joint safe deposit box.

    Joint (with right of survivorship) financial accounts shouldn’t require anything more than a copy of the death certificate (available within a few days) in order to remove the deceased from the account.

    >as in the event of your death most banks freeze joint account for a couple weeks

  21. Sarah says:

    @Justin:
    ING lets you open different savings accounts under one customer account. We also scratched our heads when we heard people talking about “subaccounts”, but it’s really a different account.

  22. Jason V. says:

    Yodlee has been around for serveral years (not a start-up). They sell their aggregation software to big banks (Bank of America, for instance).

    Jason

  23. David Syzdek says:

    As a Quicken user, I was wondering about using an “Investment” account for tracking my savings. Then you could track various categories by setting up different securities for each category. Set the share price to $1 per share and you can see the number of shares and money towards your goals in the investment screen. Anyone try this method?

  24. John says:

    Have you considered expanding your excel tutorials showing how to reference multiple spreadsheets in a master one?

  25. Natan says:

    Anyone who wants an ING referral for the $25 bonus can email me here:

    tron2253@gmail.com

  26. Smarty Pig is similar to ING (as I understand it) and pays a good interest rate. I’ve been using Smarty Pig for almost a year now for my various savings goals. I also track all my financial accounts in Quicken (mortgage, credit cards, checking accounts, savings accounts, HSA, etc). Yes you can do it in Excel (or the OpenOffice equivalent), but Quicken is easier (and it was free, unlike Excel with my MacMini I bought in ’05).

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