We’ve been pre-occupied with all the bailouts so I wanted to go back to basics this week. I’ve found some excellent planned-spending tools that are both online and free! My problem with many of the budgeting tools I’ve seen in the past is that it is only good for tracking and not planning. So you can always see what you spent, but there weren’t many user friendly tools out there to allow you to plan your spending ahead of time and then monitor how you manage your expenses against a set budget. for most, it's pretty pointless to monitor spending that's already gone. You can see that at your typical online bank.
So what I’ve been doing is managing my budget in Excel. It can get a little tedious, plus I have to manually link my accounts in real time to my excel sheet (meaning going online to each account, finding the balances and entering them), and that’s quite taxing. Then this week I came across three nice little secure online spend monitoring programs that do this for you: Buxfer, Mint, and Quicken. Take a look at each one and you can decide which is right for you. All are very user-friendly, they just are tailored to different crowds.
You’ve probably heard of Intuit’s Quicken, but now they offer their online service free of charge. Quicken Online is the only one of the three that has an established brick-and-mortar equivalent out there. It probably has the most bells and whistles. Not only can it follow your expenses, it alerts you of upcoming expenses (bills due, etc.) Quicken will also project your “real” balance up to a month or so in advance (by deducting upcoming bills from upcoming paychecks).
Buxfer is probably best designed for the organization/college crowd (those living with roommates, groups of people sharing expenses). Not only can it link all your bank accounts into one viewing location, but it also has an option where it can track group spending and can break it down to each individual. So for instance, if you’re out with a group It also lets users pay each other in a way similar to PayPal. It also allows mobile alerts when user-set spending thresholds are violated.
I have an account with Mint, which has a nice user interface (but is a bit simplistic). Mint seems to do a better drop categorizing your expenses. Similar the Buxfer, Mint allows mobile alerts and will alert you when you go over pre-set budget amounts. The power of Mint comes in when you start the analysis though. It monitors your spending and determines where you can trim spending and compares your spending (graphically) to those in the US. You can even see average monthly spending data down to the vendor. However, Mint maintains data on their servers, so there is some risk of having your data out there.
My favorite right now is Mint, because it has the cleanest interface and loads faster than Quicken. Quicken is probably the most “powerful” of the three, especially if you own a home and have property to manage. All three are very good online budgeting tools and can help keep your spending in check.