Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Balancing Your Budget with Online Tools

The following is a guest post by Kevin Fleming. Kevin runs CreditShout, a personal finance blog dedicated to educating people on how to manage their finances and reviewing cash back credit cards.

Tracking finances, budgeting funds, and paying bills is one of the most important jobs you have. With one lost bill or skipped payment, your credit rating can suffer inordinately, so properly budgeting your finances is absolutely essential.

Many people shrink away from financial planning because it seems difficult—and face it, no one really likes the idea of spending hours working out a budget in a ledger book, surrounded by receipts from transactions you can’t even remember.

The solution to the issue may be a free online program, which allows you to monitor your debt, manage your credit cards, and track your spending habits over time. Here are some of the best budgeting tools you’ll find on the internet and how they can help you take care of your finances week by week.

Mvelopes – Mvelopes is an intuitive and award-winning online money managing envelope, and it comes with a free trial. While some online solutions are difficult to use and understand, Mvelopes uses the old-fashioned “envelope” method of saving and budgeting out your money. Most of the payments that you need to make—including payments to credit card debts—can be made automatically through the program as well, resulting in less work on your part to manage your finances. The feature can also help you avoid accidentally making late payments to your credit cards, which could trigger a late charge and a ding on your credit score. Mvelopes can help you use your credit cards wisely in a lot of ways. It even has a credit card spending tracker that sets money from your other spending envelopes aside, allowing you to pay off credit purchases in full every month. Remember, Mvelopes is only free for a limited trial, so if you plan not to continue using it, cancel your membership.

Wesabe – Wesabe has been online longer than many other online budget tools, and still touts itself as the best money management tool and financial issues community online. In fact, Wesabe is particularly attractive, as it touts a user-friendly interface and interactive forums that allow you to get finance tips from people just like you. You can add your credit union, credit cards, and bank accounts to Wesabe for easier money management, and you can tag and track your credit card purchases, along with your other spending, to see where your money is going Wesabe also allows you to check your credit card balances from multiple cards all in one place, facilitating debt repayment.

YNAB – Just like everyone else, you need a budget. YNAB (“You Need a Budget”) is a fantastic tool that uses four unique steps to help you take control of your earnings. It helps you to stop living from one paycheck to the next, to save money for a “rainy day,” and to adjust according to your under- and overspending. You can tailor repayment plans to target and eliminate your credit card debt right within the budgeting tool. The software also contains functions to track credit card payments, calculate debt payoff, and transfer money between accounts. While a one-time purchase of the software costs about $60, you can try it out for free for seven days and decide if you actually like it.

Mint – Like Wesabe, Mint has been a leading money management tool available free to online users since the mid-2000s. It has become so popular that it eclipsed, and ultimately took over, the Quicken budget tool many had become accustomed to using. Mint is extremely easy to use thanks to pages that are short on text and heavy on graphics, allowing for simple debt repayment to get you back to financial stability. If you’re interested in changing credit card companies, tracking credit card interest, comparing your spending habits with others in a similar financial situation, or getting to the bottom of your spending habits, Mint is probably the right tool for you. Best of all, Mint is completely free for users.

Using Online Budgeting Tools

The best way to use these online budgeting tools is to set up a budget and stick to it. Ideally, your budget should involve making aggressive debt payments to get out of credit card debt. While credit cards can be a great tool to earn rewards for spending (with the exception of some horrible store rewards cards like the best buy credit card ), the interest you pay can end up costing you hundreds- if not thousands- of dollars over the course of a year and quickly drain your pocket book.

Set up a plan to get out of debt and use the online budgeting tool of your choice to make that dream a reality. Once you've paid off that last debt payment, make a commitment to use your budget in order to pay off your cards in full each month. Track your credit card spending so you can find problem areas and always make sure you have the cash on hand to pay off your bill in full each month when the credit card statement arrives.


  1. Can't say that I use any of these programs. I just use Excel to trcak everything. Since I use it in my job every day, it's easy for me. It has taken me almost 12 years to get it where it is now. Every now and again, I'll make changes when I want to track something differently or in more detail.

    For anyone not comfortable with Excel. Some kind of program is a must if you want to track your spending and get out of debt.

    Kevin, good reviews.

  2. I use Excel too, but I've heard great things on other pf blogs about all of these tools and loved the reviews. Thanks Kevin!

  3. What about Green Sherpa? It's my personal favorite because it has a lot of features that other online tools don't have (like a cash flow feature, syncing communication with other users, etc) They also have a great blog to go along with their site