Last updated in March 2014
Does your family find it difficult to make, or stick to, a budget?
One reliable budget-and-spending strategy is to make a record of every expense, group them into categories (for example, restaurant meals, groceries, utilities), keep running totals, and compare these expenses against your budget for each category. The idea is to see where every penny goes and identify places to rein in spending. Do it for a few months and you’ll be surprised at how much you spend on eating out, gadgets you don’t really use, stuff that was on sale so you saved instead of spent, stuff your spouse bought you didn’t know about, stuff you caved in and bought for your kids after enough whining...you get the idea.
Entering expenses at the end of every day is such an arduous task—especially if you have multiple credit card, bank, and investment accounts, and if more than one person accesses those accounts—that even OCD sufferers probably won’t do it for long.
Fortunately, there are websites that will do almost all the work for you. Our favorite is Mint.com. Getting it up and running takes some work: It’ll take a few hours to link your Mint.com account with your online banking, credit card, and investment accounts, and then categorize past payments that the site doesn’t recognize. But Mint.com does a ton of legwork by determining which past payments went for utilities, for your daily coffee-shop fix, and for restaurants and groceries. When you first start using the site, you’ll have to categorize some of your payments, but from then on it will remember what goes where and you won’t need to do much tinkering.
You can then use Mint.com (or its mobile app) to set budgets and identify exactly where you spend your money. It doesn’t just keep track of how you’re using your money and how much you’re saving; it also will nag...we mean notify...you via email when you’re close to exceeding your budget in a category.
You can also set email and text notifications to remind you when a bill is almost due or alert you to large or unusual transactions.
Mint.com is free to use; it makes its money from finder fees and commissions from financial services it offers users. It also sells aggregate financial data, but promises not to disclose your personally identifiable data.