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Queen of free: Tools of the budget trade


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Everyone has their budgeting tool of preference.

Some of us choose the pencil and paper method, handwriting in each expense and income. Others choose software programs such as Microsoft Money or Quicken to balance the books. As we become more mobile-driven, companies are adjusting to capitalize on their users’ online nature to help consumers succeed with money.

If you’re new to the budgeting app world, I’d like to share a few of my favorite tools, along with their strengths and weaknesses.mint.com

You might have already heard of this popular online tool, useful in helping you track and categorize your spending. Mint’s handy charts and graphs can be accessed via your laptop, tablet and even mobile phone — for both Android and iOS users. You can easily connect all of your accounts — checking, investments, mortgage, credit cards and other loans to see just how much you owe to whom. Your accounts sync each time you sign into your account.

You can also set budgets and savings goals. mint even makes suggestions on areas where you can save money. It’s absolutely free and very simple to both set up and navigate.

The drawbacks of mint include the fact that it doesn’t always correctly identify your spending (i.e. a trip to Walmart could be groceries or it could be household items or it could even be automobile maintenance). You’ll need to keep a close eye on the automatic updates and reassign expenditures when necessary. There’s also no way to forecast income or irregular expenses with mint like you could Quicken or more traditional budgeting software.

And since its price is good (remember, it’s free), you’ll also have to look beyond mint’s occasional ads and offers for credit cards (just say no!) or switching banks. If you are leery of connecting your accounts to an app, this might not be the choice for you, either.

Overall, mint is a reliable app, especially if you’ve never tracked your spending before.

Goodbudget

Yet another free tool, Goodbudget (formerly known as Easy Envelope Budget Aid), brings your old-fashioned envelope system into the next century. You can designate up to 20 envelopes for both your regular and irregular spending and totals that you choose. More than two devices can be synced to the app, meaning that other members of your family can check the totals left available before making a purchase.

Goodbudget does not sync to any accounts, so purchases must be regularly logged into the app. However, you avoid the potential for identity theft issues. Using the web interface, you can schedule future and recurring transactions. Plus, the app allows you to split transactions, so that if you spend in more than one category in a single purchase then you can designate specific amounts and which envelope the money is to be “drawn” from.

Goodbudget is not your best bet if you don’t regularly look at your spending and have the discipline to pull out your phone and enter a purchase immediately after it’s made. Since it doesn’t sync to a bank account, it will require a bit more legwork (or fingerwork) on your part. It is simple to navigate and fairly straightforward, though. Goodbudget is available on both Android and iOS.

You Need a Budget (YNAB)

We all need a budget, and YNAB provides the tools to get your budget off the ground. Featuring a well-thought-out platform, cloud sync to record transactions immediately and the ability to track spending and schedule future bills. YNAB claims that after one month of using their software you’ll increase your net worth by approximately $200. That being said, you’ll need some of that money to pay for YNAB’s one-time download fee of $60.

If you choose to sync the account with your phone or tablet, the app is free on iOS and Android; however, the $60 account is required first. If you’d like to try out You Need a Budget before you purchase, there is a one-time 34-day full-featured demo available to users.

Level Money

Level helps you answer the question, “Do I have enough money to buy it?” with a simple circle. Tracking your spending intuitively, Level classifies your spending and automatically deducts that amount from your spendable cash. The app also will automatically detect your income and fixed spending to help give a complete picture of your finances.

Level is available for free on iOS and Android, with an optimized interface for tablet users. The biggest strength of Level is its straightforward, visual appeal, indicating how much money you have left to spend. It might take some time for Level to recognize regular expenses not paid on a monthly basis (car insurance or school tuition).

Level is best suited for those who do not want to manually enter their transactions but still be sure they are spending less than they make. Best of all, Level is also free and user friendly.

Not having a plan for your money is still a plan.

Investigate the tools that will best fit your lifestyle and personality to determine which to download and begin using. Take into consideration your preferences for linking your accounts online, realistic ability to log expenses on a regular basis, and your use of technology.

With so many free tools at your fingertips, there’s no excuse for being overbudget anymore.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net

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