Most people enjoy budgeting about as much as they do dieting. A budget is often associated with deprivation and tedium. We say no to the things we enjoy so we can make ends meet, all the while enduring the pain of tracking the few pennies we can spend. No wonder so few people use them.
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So what’s the solution? While there is no silver bullet, there are a few budgeting tools that can actually be fun and easy to use. And a few of these tools are even free. The key is to find the one tool that best fits your personality and financial needs. With that in mind, let’s take a look at few budgeting options.
You Need a Budget (YNAB): YNAB is a personal finance software package developed by Jesse Mecham to track his own family’s finances. Frustrated with the options that were available to him, he went out and built his own budgeting tool. Over time his friends and family asked to use it, and YNAB was born.
What sets YNAB apart is that it’s not just a piece of software; it comes with online video tutorials to help you use the tool and to start living below your means. The software is designed to help users live off of last month’s paycheck, so thay can stop living paycheck to paycheck. YNAB is currently in release 3 and includes an active forum of everyday people trying to make the most of their money. You can also download a free trial of YNAB to give it a try.
Mint: Now owned by the makers of Quicken, Mint is a full-featured online money management tool that is totally free. Mint allows you to link your banking, credit card, and investment accounts so that all of your financial information is in one place. Setting up a budget online is easy. And perhaps its best feature is that it will download your banking transactions and automatically categorize them based on the spending categories you create. Mint comes with excellent charts and graphics to better visualize your finances. And you can set up savings goals and easily track expenses throughout the month by category.
Excel Spreadsheets: Sometimes simple is better. With spreadsheets, it’s easy to create budgets and track expenses. Perhaps the one feature missing is the automatic download of information from your back account and credit cards. But if this feature isn’t important to you, a spreadsheet can do wonders for a budget. And the good news is you don’t have to start from scratch. There are a number of budget templates for those that use Excel. You can find free budget templates on Microsoft’s website.
Mvelopes: Before computers, it was common for families to use the envelope system of budgeting. Simply put money for each spending category in a separate envelope, and when the money is gone, you stop spending. Mvelopes has taken this approach and incorporated it into its personal finance software. With Mvelopes you not only can budget your money, but you can also pay bills online and access your information from your cell phone. Mvelopes offers a free trial and unlimited live customer support.