The Best Budgeting Tools
The rise of e-commerce sites and smartphone shopping apps has arguably made it easier than ever to make impulse buys, but these same technologies also provide a number of fantastic tools to help consumers keep their budget in line.
There are dozens of websites and apps dedicated to helping consumers monitor their spending habits, set budgeting goals and in some cases, even use peer pressure to prod the user into getting his fiscal house in order.
We’ve rounded up seven of the best ones out there. These tools may not be able to stop you from opening up your wallet (although some new technology can), but they can at least make you more aware of your own spending, and in the process coax you into becoming a more cost-conscious consumer.
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Few online budgeting tools are as effective – or for that matter, as addictive – as Mint.com. The site monitors your monthly spending (which it compiles from bank and credit card statements you link to your Mint.com account) and compares that to the money you deposit into your bank accounts. Mint also lets you track your spending habits by category, whether it be how much you spend each month on coffee or gas. Users can set up goals for each of these categories and use Mint’s data as a yardstick to help bring costs in line. What’s more, Mint will send notifications by email or through a smartphone app (available for free on iPhone and Android phones) any time users exceed their normal spending habits, or to alert users when they have incurred an unnecessary fee, like being charged to take money out of an ATM outside of a user’s network. In this way, users are reminded each time they overspend.
Photo Credit: Mint.com
Bundle.com takes the idea of visualizing spending habits by category and adds a novel twist. The site lets users track their own spending in categories like shopping, food and drink and compare it to the average spending habits of consumers in their region, based on data Bundle aggregates from Citibank customers around the country. Bundle will filter this data by zip code, as well as income level and household status to compare your spending with consumers of roughly the same lifestyle as you in your area. If your spending proves to be well above average, this tool may just shame you into being a bit more frugal.
Photo Credit: Bundle.com
If Bundle isn’t enough peer pressure to get you to spend well, then perhaps you should try Getupp, an app that launched earlier this month and is available for free on the iPhone. Getupp lets users submit spending or lifestyle commitments and uses the phone’s GPS to track whether users have followed through on these promises. So, for example, if you commit to going to the gym three nights a week, Getupp can track how often you check into the gym and use this to determine whether you’re keeping your promise. And to add a further incentive, Getupp offers the option to link to your Facebook account so that all your friends will find out whether you’re keeping your promises, too.
While the app isn’t specifically intended for budgeting, it could still prove to be a good tool for anyone with a minor shopping addition. For example, your goal could be to do all your clothing shopping at a discount retailer, or to eat more meals at home. Should you break one of these commitments by checking into the wrong place on Getupp, you won’t be the only one who’s disappointed by your spending habits.
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While each of the previous sites lets users determine their spending goals, Thrive opts to take charge by setting fiscal goals for you based on your current finances and priorities. If you tell Thrive that you spend too much, it will order you to make fewer ATM withdrawals and spend less on snacks or other splurges. If you complain about having too much debt, Thrive will set a target amount for you to pay down each month based on your previous payments and bank account information. The site will even determine target goals for how much to save each month to make your dream purchases, whether it be buying an iPad or an apartment. And if you fall behind, well, Thrive won’t be shy about letting you know.
Photo Credit: JustThrive.com
As with Bundle, NetworthIQ plays up our natural curiosity about other people’s finances to help us fix our own. On the surface, the site may seem like any other social network. Users create a semi-anonymous profile (using a screen name rather than one’s actual name), and enter in their age, occupation and where they’re from. But the meat and bones of the site is not to meet people, but rather to focus on your financial status. Users enter in their financial assets, from cash and stocks to personal property, and pair this with all their debt, from credit cards to student loans. The site then calculates each user’s total net worth.
For those with a low or negative net worth, having this data in bold print can trigger you to start making big changes to your financial habits, and the fact that the net worth number is publicized for all other users to see adds an air of competitiveness to it that only enhances the desire to improve your finances.
Photo Credit: NetworthIQ.com
If these sites aren’t enough to stop you from making the occasional impulse buy, then consider DaystoPay.com your last resort. This site reveals the information that every consumer should know but no consumer actually wants to find out: how long you have to work to pay off that next purchase. All you have to do is enter in your salary information (the site automatically deducts Federal taxes from this) and any monthly expenses you have, along with the cost of the item you’d like to buy, and DaystoPay will calculate how many hours you’ll have to work to pay it off. It’s enough to make even the best deals seem like a waste of money, and more importantly, time.
Photo Credit: DaystoPay.com
To their credit, most banks have recognized the average consumer’s desire to budget better and usually offer tips on their websites to do just that. But Chase has gone above and beyond this with its smartphone app (available for free on the iPhone and Android phones.) The Chase app notifies customers when their bank balance dips below a preset level. So if you’re trying to stick to a tight budget each month, this feature will warn you when it’s time to rein in spending.
Photo Credit: Apple.com
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