Make Your Own Free Mobile Expense Tracking App in 30 Minutes

Hate to break it to you, but this isn’t going to be one of those light-hearted posts about life, love, waffles or beer or anything else fun we’ve become known for.  (The Mrs has been slammed with work and should be back next week for that stuff).  But, it’s something that was brought up a couple of times at FinCon and also a couple of times with some other folks that we have discussed finances with.

I’m basically going to walk you through how to build a super simple FREE mobile app to track expenses on your phone and drop them directly into a spreadsheet.  Granted my instructions are good enough, you should be able to do this is about 30 minutes.  From there you can fully customize it to your liking, once you get the hang of the basics.

Background

When we started Mrs. Wow’s company we had to start tracking all of her expenses.  Like most people we started shoving all her receipts into an envelope and then at the end of the month, we pulled them all out and started inputting them into a spreadsheet.  It was miserable and took up about half a day on a weekend when we had multiple other things we would rather do with our time.

I decided to make it something that we could input the information throughout the month, opposed to all at once.  I wanted to make it so both of us could input expenses into it from our phones at any time, and have it go to the same place.  I’m also not (well, wasn’t at that time) a programmer so had to be simple to handle & build.  It also, most importantly, needed to be free.

So, yeah, I built myself a little mobile app that would allow us to put in gas expenses, while pumping gas.  Put in shopping expenses, while walking back to our car.  Basically we could put in the expense, then and there, while we were thinking about it, opposed to having to track down everything when ever we got around to it.

That being said, let’s walk through how to build it:

Instructions

Step 1: Get/Log Into Gmail

Sign up for a Gmail account, if you don’t have one already.  If you don’t have one, shame on you (not really, I still use Hotmail! Hey, it’s almost retro cool at this point!)  Go here and sign up, if you don’t have an account: https://mail.google.com

Step 2: Create a Form

Let’s make a Google Form!!!

Go to Google Drive upper right hand corner, click on the box of nine little dots.

Find Google Drive on the Right Hand Side

Now, Create a new Form in the upper left hand corner: New -> Go to More -> Google Forms

Create a New Google Form

Change the file name to what you want it named

Change the Untitled To what ever. Be sure to Click on the upper Left Corner as well.

Now we’re ready to get started… Let’s add a date Field so that we can see what date the expense was on.   Click into the Untitled Question.  Change the name and click the Dropdown on the right side to select a “date” entry type.

Create a Input Date Field

Now let’s create a drop down for Expense Categories.  Click the (+) on the right side for a new Question.  Then you’ll select “DropDown” From the Data Entry Type.

Make the Drop Down and Give it Options.

To make options in the drop down, you simply click on them and type in what ever options you want to have for your expense categories.  What we ended up doing was using the expense Categories that are directly on the Schedule C, so they coordinate come tax time and we didn’t have to figure out what was what.

Next we’re going to make a field that you can type in where ever you spent the money.  So let’s add a new question, click the (+) and name it Vendor.  Then select the “Short Answer” data type.  This allows you to type any text into it.

Create a Vendor Input

So, now we know when we spent, what we spent on and who we spent with.  We just need to know how much.  So create a new field, make it “Short answer” again.  And this time name it “Amount”.  Google is pretty smart, they will make it default to only allow numbers into this field.  If not, you can click on the lower right hand corner.  There are some dots, and you select “Response Validation”.  It will add some fields at the bottom, select “Number” in the first one, then select “Is Number” in the second field.

Allow Only Numbers in the Amount Field.

 

Amounts can Only be Numbers!

This is where you are defining what input you want in your expense App.  You can add as many or as few questions as you like.  You can also make drop-downs, multiple choice, grids, really what ever else your heart desires.

For example:

  • You could make a drop down that would be Income/Expenses so that you can see those broken out, just input Income as + and Expenses as -.
  • You could build a Payment Type question, so that you can see how you paid for everything: Cash, Check or which Credit Card.
  • Got 15 Rental Properties?  Add a drop down for “Property” then make every option in the list an address.  Then you can break out the expenses by property.

Step 3: Create a Spreadsheet to Capture the Responses

We now have created our Google Form.  Now we need to capture the responses in a way that will allow us to see them and manipulate them.  Let’s capture them in a spreadsheet.  Click the “Responses” tab at the top next to the “Questions” tab.  Then click on the little green cross looking thing. It should say “Create Spreadsheet” when your mouse goes over it.

On Responses, Click create SpreadSheet

When it asks, select create a new spreadsheet.  Now this form is going to dump everything into a spreadsheet for you.

Step 4: Email it to yourself

We have a form, and we have a spreadsheet that is going to gather all the expenses you put into it. But you need to be able to put stuff into it.  So, hit the “Send” button in the upper right hand corner and email it to yourself.

Send your New Fancy Form to yourself.

Step 5: Open the form on your Phone and Save it

This part might get a little tricky, but here we go.  This is how we make it a mobile App.  You’ve just emailed your form to yourself.  Open up that email on your phone, and click on the link.  It should open your form in a new browser on your phone.

What you need to do is save a link to that page to your phone’s Home screen.  I’m not privy to all the different phones out there.  And there are a million different phones and a million different ways to accomplish this so, I’m not going to tell you how, but I think I might know someone that can: www.google.com.  Just be sure to save the link to the URL on your home screen.

See a Nice “App” Right on Your Home Screen!!

Step 6: Test it out

Now, you should have a little icon on the home screen of your phone, name it what ever you wish.  You can use this like any other app on your phone.  You click it and it opens up a browser and you have a form to fill out to input your expenses. So, go ahead try it out…  Expense yourself a beer… you know you want to, you deserve it after all this hard work 😉

Step 7: Create a Pivot Table of the Data Input

Well, now that we have input our first expense, let’s go ahead and make ourselves a little expense report in a readable format.

Go back to your computer.  Open up your Gmail, and your Google drive again, Just like in Step 1 & 2a.  But this time you should see not only your form, but also a Google Sheet named something similar to your form, the one with the green box on it.

See now there’s a Form and a Sheet.

Open up that sheet.  You should see the beer your just bought yourself.  I had a burger, fries and shake at In-N-Out, but you know… to each his own.

MMMMM… In-N-Out

Now we are going to create a Pivot Table from the data in your expense sheet.  Go to Data > Pivot table… in the menu.

Get yo’ pivot on!

It’s gonna generate a new tab in your worksheet with some blank boxes and a menu on the right hand side of the screen.  You’ll see something that says “Edit range…” at the top of the bar on the right hand side of the screen.  Click on it.

Make sure to select all the data in your response tab.

When the little box pops up and asks you what data, click on the tab at the bottom of the screen that is called something like “Form Responses”.  Then, once that’s open, Click on the “A” at the top of the screen, press & hold the shift key and then click on the “E” (or the last column with data in it, if you added more inputs to the form).

Now, you can click on the “Add Field” link next to Rows on the right hand side.  This is what you want to be the row headers for your report.  In our example case it’s going to be the Category, so click Category in the Drop down.  Then click “Add Field” again, and in the drop down select vendor, so we can see all the places we spend money, under the different categories.  Next, you can click the “Add Field” next to the Columns and click “Date”, this will be what is across the columns.  **Word to the wise: TimeStamp is the time you put in the expense, if you are lazy like me you don’t tend to put them in immediately this is not the date of the expense.  So, use the date column that we created as input, not the default timestamp.***

One More Thing: Next to the Values, hit “Add Field” and select “Amount”.  This is what’s going to show up in the report.

Voila!!!! You have an Expense Report!!

And BOOM!! You just built yourself a little expense app. Who says programming is hard?

Additional Things:

  • The Minus/Plus (-/+) next to the Category in your expense report pivot table will collapse and expand the vendors so you can see them aggregated or expanded to see the details you want.
  • It’s a little trickier to make it Monthly since Google Sheets doesn’t roll up dates properly.  If you want to see that, just let me know in the comments, or you can simply add a Year/Month Input to the Form, and you’ll have it.
  • If there are two (or more, who am I to judge?) of you that need to input the expenses, just email the link to them and save it to their Home Screen on their phone (Steps 4 & 5).  Anyone that inputs data into that form will drop data directly into the same sheet.
  • No, this doesn’t connect with your bank account and all your credit cards.  And Yes, this does require you to manually input expenses, etc.  Don’t ask if I can make this thing read your 401k Balance… Use Mint or Personal Capital for that.
  • If you’re really a spreadsheet nerd, you can download this data as a .xlsx or .csv file and do with it as you please.  Just go to File -> Export and pick your poison.  The point is to get the data into a spreadsheet in the simplest way possible.

Conclusion

That’s really it.  We used this for 2 years to track our expenses for our company.  It worked surprisingly well.  We were able to just take this spreadsheet and give it to our accountant with everything properly categorized and laid out monthly, etc.  And, having it available on your phone makes it about 100x easier to input expenses as they happen, while you’re thinking about it.  It eliminates this mess:

Congrats! You just fixed this Fiasco!!

We’ve since out-grown this and moved on to a more robust accounting software, but for those of you just starting out your side hustles that don’t want (or need) to fork over the money for a more complicated system, this works perfectly.

I hope this was helpful.  If you have any further questions, let me know.  Really there’s a part to this about simply not being afraid to take things apart and see how they work.

Good Luck and Happy Expense Reporting!!!!

If you want to see the sample that I was working with you can look here:

Here’s the form: Data Input Form (you can open this on your phone to see how it looks/works)

Here’s the spreadsheet: Expenses Spreadsheet

**** Please don’t use these samples for putting in anything other than trial stuff.  Otherwise everyone is going to see what you’re spending.****

27 Comments

  • Mr. SSC November 15, 2017 at 6:39 am

    Nice detail explanation of setting up an expense tracker! I suck at manually inputting things, so it might not work so great for me, but who knows. I know my allowance got blown up this month between FinCon, beers/food there, next FinCon, and more, so maybe I could try it with my allowance purchases only and keep a better eye on them as I go. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    Now, if only my work internet didn’t block google forms I could try it out now. Yes, slow day here, and more frustratingly yes, they really do block any and all google forms. Wtf, O&G company, wtf?! 🙂
    Mr. SSC recently posted…Guest Post: “Harnessing the Power of Comparison” from Changing Our DefaultMy Profile

    Reply
    • Mr WoW November 15, 2017 at 7:42 am

      Yeah, this was really primarily to separate out business vs personal when they were all intertwined. We also needed a way to get our accountant everything categorized by Schedule C expense categories, so it would take him less time, and it would cost us less money. We couldn’t just hand him every credit card statement, he’d still be working on our taxes.

      Hmmm… Bad MegaCorp!!! Maybe try turning off the WiFi on your phone and using your mobile network? Why Google Forms? That’s weird, of all the things to block…

      Reply
  • Miss Mazuma November 15, 2017 at 6:48 am

    Damn this seems complicated (to a non engineer type mind 😉 )! That being said, I use Google Sheets for my spending/assets spreadsheet. I have it on my phone but I don’t track expenses by day, only month (it helps that I am solo in my spending – as a couple your way works better). Either way, tracking is the best habit to get into if you want to become FI. To know where your money is going and how much calculated monthly/yearly is fascinating to see!
    Miss Mazuma recently posted…Forget the Fluffy Recap, Here’s the Real Dirt on FinCon17…My Profile

    Reply
    • Mr WoW November 15, 2017 at 7:39 am

      Oh it’s not that tough… and if you have something that works for you, go for it. We just needed a simple way to filter the business expenses out of our personal stuff. This made it so we could have a place to see those only without filtering through all of them, since everything is inter-mingled as we use what ever card to get us the best bonuses.

      Yes, tracking is really the key. It doesn’t matter how or what you use, just track it.

      I had multiple people ask about how I did it, so I figured I’d write this to point them at it. 🙂

      Reply
  • wishicouldsurf November 15, 2017 at 9:46 am

    That’s super tricky and would have really saved me some time when I was still working and my company got rid of Concur and went to just a simple spreadsheet. My expense report became more laborious after that and I always seemed to lose the receipts. I used my personal credit card for my company expenses to get additional travel miles so something like this would have been just perfect.

    Reply
    • Mr WoW November 15, 2017 at 10:40 am

      This is the exact reason this thing came to be. We were mingling everything and needed a simple way to separate them. It made expense reporting so much easier, because we couldn’t just log into Mint or what ever and see everything since everything was over lapping.

      It was easier just to keep it immediately when you’re thinking about it.

      Reply
  • J. Money November 15, 2017 at 10:39 am

    Clever, mang! I like it!

    Reply
    • Mr WoW November 15, 2017 at 11:23 am

      Thanks man! Just made it so much easier for us to use which ever credit card got the best rewards and also maintain which expenses were business vs personal. And both of us could input them straight into the same sheet straight from our phone. Got asked about it enough figured it was time to have something to point folks at that explained it.

      Reply
  • Chris @ Keep Thrifty November 15, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Love the concept! I’m a big fan of manual tracking and tracking as a couple on the go can be hard because of the logistics. I really like how you guys solved this!

    Reply
    • Mr WoW November 15, 2017 at 2:45 pm

      This was exactly why we did it this way, mobile and multiple entry points to consolidate into one spot.

      There are limitations to it, but it works fairly well for a free 30 minute job.

      Reply
  • Mrs. BITA November 15, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    I am totally going to whip up something like this for our upcoming trip abroad. I always want to record our expenses in the local currency so that later on when the credit card expenses post to Mint in dollars I can compare the data. It will also be useful for all those dang places in Europe that don’t take CCs and I don’t want to look up the rate and convert to dollars right then (which is what I need to do to make use of Mint).
    Mrs. BITA recently posted…If I Can Do It, So Can You: A Financial Full MontyMy Profile

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    • Mr WoW November 15, 2017 at 2:43 pm

      Awesome… I’m glad this was helpful. It’s super easy to do, and so long as your phone works, you can track what ever you want, and have multiple people input etc.

      For you, I’m sure you can come up with something more robust, but it was a good win for my feeble brain.

      Reply
  • Alex November 19, 2017 at 9:58 am

    This is a “wow” easy step by step instructions to create our own expense app. I mostly use manual register to keep recording my daily expenses and its really time consuming and difficult to manage. This little app will really help me. BTW..you have made us an app creator without having knowledge of programming 🙂 I am going to create one for my household expenses and one for my office expenses.
    Alex recently posted…We are Coming SoonMy Profile

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    • Mr WoW November 19, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      That’s awesome! I’m so glad this is helpful for you!! It was extremely helpful for us especially just starting out. Easy, customizable, and free! Best of luck!

      Reply
  • Mr. Need2save November 19, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Nice and simple, the way all programs should strive to be. I’ve used Google Sheets a bit, but haven’t played around with the Forms yet.

    Although I loathe PowerPoint/Presentations, I will miss pivot tables (a little) when my working days are over.
    Mr. Need2save recently posted…Taking A Day Off WorkMy Profile

    Reply
    • Mr WoW November 19, 2017 at 8:25 pm

      Forms is surprisingly easy to use. Whether or not it was intended for this, I don’t know. But, it certainly works for this purpose. Give it a shot.

      Pivot Tables are definitely something I could do without in my life.

      Reply
  • Mr. Groovy November 20, 2017 at 3:09 am

    Very ingenious, my friend. Setting it up this week on my phone. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Mr WoW November 20, 2017 at 8:01 am

      Glad to see you’ll use this. It’s easy enough to build and super easy to use. Plus you can customize it to what ever you want.

      Reply
  • [HCF] November 20, 2017 at 5:20 am

    I am totally impressed, never thought of this solution, very clever.

    PS: (insert Angry Walter meme here ) am I the only one around here who was brave enough to type in something or Mr.Wow clears the spreadsheet periodically?

    [HCF] recently posted…Funny Friday – Black Friday Edition
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    • Mr WoW November 20, 2017 at 8:00 am

      Thanks. It was really helpful when we were trying to keep business and personal expenses separated. And yes, you were the first to test it out… And thanks for that! I’ll clear it out eventually. I was curious to see what folks put in there.

      Reply
  • Erik November 20, 2017 at 6:53 am

    This is awesome. I have a similar spreadsheet and it’s very helpful. Congrats on the Rockstar fame!
    Erik recently posted…Better Later than Too LateMy Profile

    Reply
    • Mr WoW November 20, 2017 at 7:52 am

      Thanks. Hopefully it’s helpful.

      Reply
  • Make a smartphone expense-tracking app (even if you're NOT a nerd) November 20, 2017 at 8:42 am

    […] one of these nerdy industrious folks, check out how the anonymous bloggers at Waffles on Wednesday made their own free mobile expense tracking app — without […]

    Reply
  • Becky November 20, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    I’ve been reading personal finance blogs for three years but never commented and now will change that. This is literally the coolest thing ever! YNAB hasn’t worked well for me bc what I really want to do is track, not do a zero based budget. But I also don’t want to connect it to my back accounts or credit cards. So very amazing and am going to try to create it over Thanksgiving. Thanks for sharing!!

    Reply
    • Mr WoW November 20, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      I’m so happy that this will help you out. It really is simple and if you have any further question just hit me up.

      If you can even get a little bit through excel, you can make this happen. Get it! And let me know how it goes.

      Reply
  • Alice November 22, 2017 at 7:14 am

    This is exactly what I did for my investments since Google Finance is discontinuing their portfolio tracker. I can put in my Buy / Sell investments with date, fees and costs.

    It does take a long time to setup the spreadsheet though since it has to filter everything and I have a lot of formulas for cost basis and values. Once all is setup then I’m good to go until google decides to discontinue their forms or their googlesheets.

    Reply
    • Mr WoW November 22, 2017 at 8:29 am

      That’s great! Good idea to use it to track investments as well. Depending on how complex you want your sheet, you can spend a lot time messing with it. But that’s the beauty. You can make it as complex or simple as you want.

      Reply

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