When I first began conducting personal finance seminars, the standard budgeting tools were a pad, a pencil, and hours of precious time spent trying to make sense of everything. Well, technology has changed all that. Your budget – and your financial goals – don’t have to live on paper anymore; you can use your computer and the power of the internet to create an effective Spending Plan that works for you. There are a number of interactive websites that will help you track your spending, adjust your budget to accomplish specific goals, and best of all, show you how to make your money grow. Let’s take a look a few of these sites and how they can help you master your finances.
The granddaddy of budgeting sites is Mint.com, which is a free website designed to bring your finances into the digital world. Based on the information you provide, Mint will provide you with a number of suggestions appropriate to your situation, showing you how to use your money wisely. One of Mint’s greatest attributes is its ability to calculate your average spending in any category to help you easily create a budget based on historical spending. Mint will also help you plan ahead by showing you how much you’ll save by cutting back in any category. You can even plan for one-time expenses and goals such as homeownership, retirement, or getting out of debt. Simply enter how much you’ll need to meet your goal, your timetable, and the resources you have available and Mint will do the rest. You can check how close you are to your goal anytime via the internet, your Smartphone, or Tablet device. You can even set up monthly e-mails that track your progress, and learn how to reach your goals faster with free advice and customized next-steps.
Planwise.com is another great website, and some of you may find it a little more user-friendly. As opposed to the information that you have to share with Mint, such as your credit card accounts and bank accounts, Planwise lets you establish an anonymous profile. For anyone who’s skeptical about online security, this is a great option. I’ve had a chance to use Planwise and chat with the folks over there, and I was very impressed with their philosophy. The focus of Planwise is to empower users to make good decisions by working with a simple interface, keeping the focus on consumer education and not on the bells and whistles. All of this is evident is the site’s construction.
After you select a goal, Planwise gets to work by offering you ideas and tips to get there based on your personal financial profile. For instance, I decided my goal would be to buy a home in 2015. It took me a few minutes to enter my income and monthly expenses, and, soon after, the site provided a visual plan to help me strategize my spending. Planwise detailed how much I would need to budget to meet my goal within the timeframe indicated – three years in my case. The feedback was insightful and made perfect sense for my financial situation. Even better, Planwise allows me to share this information with the other people in my life who will play a role in helping me realize my goal. You can allow your spouse, partner, family, friends or advisors have safe access to your plans so you can make those big decisions together. When it comes to financial planning, this is a significant advantage. It’s far easier to meet your goals when your team is on-board. If you run into any trouble using the Planwise site, there are tutorials and a learning center that will show you how the site works, helping you plan for a variety of financial objectives.
These are just a few tools that can help you out. There are many websites, Smartphone, and Tablet applications that can help you plan your financial life. Technology has taken the arduous processes of developing a budget and financial plan and made it simple. In 2012, there is no good reason to not have a plan. All it takes is a few minutes of your time, an internet connection, and an idea of where you want to go in life. Best of all, most of these tools are absolutely free. So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself on track for success starting now. Visit Mint.com and Planwise.com to find out which platform works best for you, and then start on the path to meet your goals. Until next time, I’m Thomas Fox for Cambridge Credit Counseling.