Unexpectedly Intriguing!
05 June 2006

JLP of the AllFinancialMatters blog has just recently begun converting his Excel spreadsheets into web-based tools! Here's a sampling of the tools that he's posted (as stand-alone web pages) to date:

How Much Can You Save in a Lifetime?

Very similar to Political Calculations' own Investing: Future Value tool, JLP's calculator presents its output in a year-by-year spreadsheet type format. Another difference is that JLP's tool provides an entry field to account for employer-matched contributions to a 401(k)-style retirement savings plan.

Tax Bracket History

This tool allows you to estimate how much you've paid in federal income taxes for the years between 2000 and 2006, assuming you've filed "Married: Filing Jointly". For a better estimate of how much you'll pay in taxes (as measured by how much you have withheld from your paychecks), Political Calculations' paycheck withholding tools for 2005 and 2006 are the ones to use to take your filing status into account!

College Tuition Estimator

JLP's best tool to date - very good execution! The Estimator provides the lump sum you would need to have set aside today to pay for your child's education (if you were not to add any more to it), as well as how much if you would have to set aside each month, or just once a year) to cover your child's college costs. The only downside is that the calculator assumes the future college student will only be there for four years! To consider other college durations, try out Political Calculations' own Saving for College tool.

General Comments

The Excel-born tools have one main (and in my view, major) weakness from a user-interface standpoint: you have to click in a data entry field, then outside of it, to be able to generate results using the default data. A "Calculate" button gives the user a lot more control over when they want to run the calculations. In a related issue, the automatic result generation is not a desirable feature for users who may be "tweaking" several input data fields based upon the output from a previous run, since the output fields will automatically be changed every time an individual data entry field is changed. As a work-around, those users might consider printing out their results, but that would not be as desirable as having that "Calculate" button.

On the plus side, the Excel-born tools have the advantages of a spreadsheet - allowing much more output data to be presented (JLP's Lifetime Savings tool provides a good example of this capability.) On the whole, I'm not a huge fan of Excel for generating web-based calculation tools, but there are tools where the spreadsheet heritage makes sense. If Microsoft is listening, how about adding that "Calculate" button?!

About Political Calculations

Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

ironman at politicalcalculations.com

Thanks in advance!

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