Online Software Budgeting Tools
Keeping a budget and tracking your expenses is the best way to manage
your money. If you own a home computer it can make this financial chore
a lot easier. Along with online banking, there are many user-friendly
programs that do all the hard work for you. All you have to do is use
the information to control your spending habits and save.
The two most popular programs are Quicken® and Microsoft Money. Quicken® is available for both Macintosh and PC formats, while Microsoft Money is only available for the PC. Microsoft Money Deluxe 2006 was listed at $59.95 (www.microsoft.com/money). Quicken Deluxe 2006 was listed at $49.99, while the Macintosh version was listed at $59.99 (www.quicken.com). (All prices as of August 25, 2005). Larger versions are available that will track investments and manage small business finances. Shop around, many stores will offer mail-in rebates where you can save a significant amount of money. There are many other programs that are cheaper and do not have as many features, but will help with finances. It is important to shop around and find a program that will meet all your personal needs. Whatever you choose it will help you track expenses and monitor your budget.
These programs have features that show you where your money is going. You can set up categories like entertainment, clothes, food, etc. They have connections with many banks that allow you to bring up your savings, checking, or credit card accounts. It will put your spending information in graphs and compare your averages in each category per month. These easy-to-read graphs will show you if you are reaching your financial goals, or if you are close to exceeding your budget for the month. Many programs also have a tax preparation feature, making it easier to do your own taxes and save money by not having to take them to a professional. You may also be able to find tax breaks and deductions that you qualify for. Another popular feature is online bill paying. The program will remind you of all your bill’s due dates. You can set them up to be paid out of your account automatically or manually and you don’t have to worry about stamps or the time it takes to get there by mail.
Security is also another good reason for keeping track of all your expenses at home. Instead of looking at your statements only once a month, you can now monitor it everyday if you wish. So any suspicious activity will be noticed right away. If you choose to do all you banking online you can eliminate paper statements, which could be used to steal your identity. It is also important that you have a good security program for your computer that includes virus and spy-ware protection.
With a little more work, a spreadsheet program can be used to keep track of your spending. You can set up columns that contain categories (around 20). The first column is for where you spent the money and the second column is for how much. The next columns are the spending categories. This will help you to keep track of everything you have spent and to know where your money is going. Add up your columns to get your totals. Divide each category’s total by the total amount. (In the example below, divide 153.79 by 771.83 to find out that 20% of your budget goes to food). Microsoft Excel is a good spreadsheet to use and they even have a downloadable budget template that makes it easier to use. If you lack a computer you can also use the trusted pencil and paper method, it works just as well.
The point is that when you have a visual perception of where your money is going it will help you to control it. When you see that 5% of your monthly income goes to gas-station coffee, you may decide to start brewing your own at home. I encourage you to explore the opportunities of a personal finance program either through your computer or a notebook.
Pioneer Credit Counseling is a bonded, non-profit credit counseling agency offering debt management programs, financial counseling, bankruptcy counseling and housing counseling nationwide. Call our friendly counselors today at 800-888-1596 or visit www.pioneercredit.com.
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It is our policy at Pioneer Credit Counseling not only to help people get out of debt, but also educate in sound budgeting practices.
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