One of the essential tasks in being a penny pincher and digging yourself out of debt and financial ruin is budgeting. It seems easy, but it is something I have always dreaded. Finally, I have come up with a system that works for me, and have found the right software and websites to simplify things. The goal: to develop a budget and to find a good money management software package or website.
The main task of budgeting is figuring out how much money will be coming in and deciding where that money will be spent. You want to plan to know where each penny will be going so you have enough money to last you until the next pay cheque, and ideally have some money left over so you can squirrel it away in a saving account.
I used Microsoft Excel to develop a budget. I list all my expenses, then have some rows for revenue and then calculate how much I should have left over at the end of the pay period (salary – expenses). I then keep a running tally to see how much money I should have (this pay period’s surplus/deficit added to the previous tally). I plan for a period four months. This allows me to save some money for large expenses that I will have to pay in the future and to figure out where I can cut my spending to meet all my expenses.
The main challenge I had was keeping the budget up to date. If the Excel file was at home, I could not update it at work or on the road. If I sent myself a copy by e-mail, I would lose track of which copy was the up-to-date copy. Finally, I found a solution: Google Documents. I created a budget in Excel and uploaded it to my google documents. It was a stroke of penny pinching genius. I can now update my budget anywhere and I do not have to worry about having multiple copies of the same file. Plus, it is free.
Having developed a budget, I was ready for the next step: keeping track of my bank accounts and my spending. In the past, I used Quicken, but same problem. I could only access it on one computer. I was going to buy a new version, but then I came across an article in Slate: Show Me My Money. What’s the best software for keeping track of your personal finances?
This article seemed to be written for me. The author,, writes:
This is particularly bad news for me because I am a comically inept manager of my personal finances. It’s not that I don’t try. Over the years I have instituted several budgeting systems, ranging from a simple list of expenses tacked above my desk to an ambitious attempt to track every penny I spent for months. Still, my money disappeared in ways I could neither understand nor predict.
But then I discovered Mint, a two-year-old Web startup that lets you keep track of all your financial accounts in one place for free. It seemed like the perfect way to see where my money was going (and with colorful pie charts, no less) minus the hassle of tracking everything manually and without actually spending money on software. But Mint’s not perfect, and the more I used it, the more I wondered: Would it be worth the upfront cost to purchase more powerful desktop software like Quicken or Microsoft Money? Or would a different free or low-cost Web service be even better? I decided to pull my finances together and find out.
I was fascinated by Mint and the idea of having an online free finance software. I was hooked and I immediately set out to register for an account. One problem: the software asks for an American zip code. I then checked out the other online options reviewed in Slate. Still no luck as they also required a zip code. I then hit Google to see what I could find. Finally, I found an online solution that accepted Canadians: ClearCheckbook.
ClearCheckbook.com is FREE, but they encourage donations. I will certainly be sending them a few of my dollars as it is a great site. Like my old Quicken software, it works like an online checkbook. You create accounts and then you can add entries. Like a checkbook, you can reconcile your accounts. It is also great for a Mac as they have a widget that you can add to your dashboard. The great thing is that as it is on the internet, I can access it everywhere. I can do it from home, I can do it from work, I can do it on the road. In other words, I can keep track of my speding everywhere.
My only real concern was security. Who were these companies? Could I trust the? I did a serch to learn more about ClearCheckbook.com.
I did a Google search and came across a review in the New York Times. Interestingly, the author of “A MapQuest for Our Money” also use Google Documents and they review online money managers such as Mint and ClearCheckbook.
There are some dangers that a hacker could access my data on ClearCheckbook, but nowhere on the site do I actually record the actual account numbers or any personal data. At most, they would have my e-mail and could know my name and where I work. What is the worst they could do? Reveal to the world how much I pay for rent? Given that the risks were minimal given the advantages, I decided to push ahead and use ClearCheckbook.