With the economy sinking to new and chilling lows, creating – and sticking to – a budget is more critical than ever before.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on budgeting software to get started. Several tools on the Web can help you get organized for little or no cost.
Mint.com offers a wealth of free online tools to help you first determine where you’re spending your money, and then determine areas where you can realistically cut back. It also consolidates all of your accounts in one convenient location, making banking that much easier. It will even analyze things like the interest rates you’re paying on your credit cards and suggest cards with lower rates or help you negotiate a lower rate with your current credit card company.
Best of all, since Mint.com is Web-based, you can access it from anywhere, even your Web-enabled phone.
BudgetTracker at budgettracker.com allows you to track your budget, bills and transactions, and ties all these together in a calendar that can send you reminders when bills are due. Basic membership is free. For unlimited use, you’ll pay about $3 a month.
Need to get your debt under control? Go to debtsteps.com. This site will help you determine if you should borrow to consolidate your bills. It will also outline the pros and cons of bankruptcy, credit counseling and settlement. It also provides insight into how creditors operate and just what constitutes harassment.
Clearcheckbook.com is another free online tool to help you manage your money. It acts as an online checkbook register that also creates reports and helps you set budgets and payment reminders. Basic membership is free, but if you need added features – like access to your running balances, transaction histories, etc. – you can upgrade to a premium membership for about $4 per month.
If you prefer trusty old Excel spreadsheets over online tools, you can download free templates that will help you track expenses. Visit office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/CT101172321033.aspx to find templates for everything from tracking event expenses to family budgeting. Go to Mactopia at www.microsoft.com/mac/templates.mspx to find similar templates for Excel on a Mac.
Romi Carrell Wittman is a writer and the communication services director for Trico Electric Cooperative. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.