Autumn is fast approaching and between work, family time and social engagements it’s hard to imagine summer has come and gone already. When life becomes hectic, it can be hard to find the time to sit down and reassess your financial life, but not carving out time to budget can lead to unnecessary spending, debt and a stunted savings account. So what's a busy person to do? Let someone (or something) else do it for you.
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There are several free personal finance tools that help organize and manage your finances. Most of these applications are accessible online, on tablets and on smartphones-- making it easier to check your progress from anywhere at any time. Here’s where to look:
Financial planning websites
Financial planning websites generally act as a virtual advisor that calculates how much you need to put away each month to reach your goals in a given period of time. Goals can be as grand as buying a house and saving for retirement, to planning a vacation or getting a new wardrobe. These tools will calculate your budget and set strict spending and saving rules based on your financial landscape—all you need to do it adhere to them.
PowerWallet.com is an online tool that evaluates your expenses and creates a budget to fit your needs and plans. It details potential areas of savings and updates your progress to reaching a goal. After identifying users’ habits, the site offers deals to places users already shop or eat in. Users can also link all their online bills and financial accounts into PowerWallet to get a real-time picture of their entire current financial situation with one quick login.
The PowerWallet platform also helps users keep track of their bills and avoid late fees with an easy-to-view monthly bill calendar and bill alert notifications sent out via email.
Online budget spreadsheets
Several money management websites offer budgeting spreadsheets and tools that help track spending. Users can input income, fixed and variable expenses and other monthly expenditures to monitor how funds are being spent.
Most sites will also let you categorize spending to identify where money is being lost—seeing expenditures broken down can help bring awareness to excessive and unnecessary spending.
There are hundreds of mobile apps to help save money. Some are specific to saving money at the grocery or gas station, while others help find travel deals and clothing sales. Shoppers should find deal-seeking apps that cater to their spending habits and use them regularly to slash their bills.
Online tools can be great to enhance savings and budget goals, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the consumer to identify financial goals and stick to what is being recommended. It’s important to identify goals. A trip to Hawaii or a cruise in the Bahamas can serve as an incentive to putting away savings over trivial coffee and entertainment purchases. So, this autumn get tough with your money and figure out what you really want from you financial life.
About: Howard Dvorkin, CPA, is a personal finance expert and consumer advocate who has been helping people for more than 15 years. He is the founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc., and the author of Credit Hell: How to Dig out of Debt.