Budgeting isn’t the most engaging topic in finance, but it’s crucial if you want to take back control of your money. An individual’s income is often blamed for a lack of financial freedom, but what many Americans don’t realize is that budgeting can drastically change your financial status regardless of income level. The money is in the details — did you know that you can save more than $100,000 throughout your lifetime by simply bringing a packed lunch to work everyday. Subtleties like this can be taken advantage of through proper budgeting.
Over the past few years several comprehensive budgeting tools have emerged on the market. This article will outline three of the most popular budgeting tools available to help provide you with some stepping stones to creating the perfect budget today!
Mint is an online financial management service that is operated by Intuit — the same company that brought you TurboTax and Quicken. If you are someone with a broad range of financial commitments (credit cards, mortgage, car loan, etc.) Mint simplifies your financial dashboard by allowing you to directly connect your accounts with financial institutions to their interface.
You can set savings goals and budgeting information that will then automatically calculate how and where you can save money going forward. You can also structure alerts that help remind you of your budget or spending habits automatically. The service is available through both a web browser platform and an fully functioning app.
One of Mint’s major benefits is that it has such a large technology company behind it, it’s interfaces and usability are unbeatable. The service is completely free for users, instead of charging monthly fees it generates revenue through credit card affiliations and several other promotional endeavors.
Mint also acts as an automated financial advisor — it makes various financial suggestions depending on the account information you have linked to the site. In addition, Mint offers you a free service that constantly monitors your credit score. Careful management of your credit score has a net positive effect on your income — individuals with good credit scores can access credit more freely and at reduced interest rates.
YNAB is one of the other major budgeting software products on the market — it too offers both desktop and app based platforms. The service has recently introduced linking capabilities to your bank accounts, but you are still able to enter your financial details manually if this is something you may prefer.
YNAB focuses more on your raw budget than many other budgeting service. It’s primary attributes include setting savings and payment goals, as well as displaying comprehensive break-downs of your spending habits. YNAB is perfect for someone who doesn’t have an overly complicated financial portfolio but wants to have an in depth look at their expenditure and how they can minimize waste to meet long-term savings goals.
It is the only paid subscription service in this piece, and although you may not want to spend money on organizing your budget, if YNAB helps you do it efficiently it’s well worth the small monthly cost. If you want to give the service a try, a free trial is available through their site.
Pen and Paper – Google Sheets
Budgeting is all about organization and discipline. The two tools we’ve mentioned thus far help individuals stay organized and on track with their budget. If you are someone who already has rigid organizational skills then you may find technology based budgets unnecessary. Many people still budget successfully by using self-designed budget systems laid out with pen and paper.
Or, alternatively, grab a Google sheet or an excel file and start using that.
If you want to get the most out of your budget you should develop or borrow a system that keeps your expenses organized in an easy-to-read and accessible way. You may find it useful to print out a budget template that reduces the complexity of budgets.
In addition, consider making a map key with different symbols for different types of expenses or income. This can help you better organize various types of expenses and assess them at a moment’s glance. Some people also prefer to color code different aspects of their budget. Remember, using a physical budget is only advisable for someone who has no difficulty staying organized and consistent.
The More You Wait, The Less You’ll Save
The three tools we outlined in this article all have their unique advantages and will each appeal to different individuals depending on a range of factors. If you don’t have much time on your hands, Mint is probably the perfect budgeting tool for you. Once you have your accounts linked and settings organized it can send you alerts or periodical summaries that ensure you don’t have to always be on top of your budget. And remember, Mint’s ability to link to your account is extremely convenient, but if you’re someone who doesn’t like sharing official financial data their platform may not be right for you.
If you don’t have a complex financial portfolio, Mint may have too many features for you to truly benefit from. If you want to focus on the simple ins-and-outs of your cash flow, YNAB or a pen and paper budget may be more suited to your needs.
Both platforms take considerable discipline but let you focus on the true details of your basic cash flow and spending habits. Investing money makes money — the more of it you have on hand in the short-term, the more you’ll be able to take advantage of long term investment strategies and wealth building techniques.