Thursday, April 9, 2009

Reason #33: Financial Health

If you are like me, you use direct deposit and put your paycheck straight into your checking and savings account. How convenient! In the past, I have allocated approximately 65% percentage of my paycheck to checking and 35% to savings. It seemed like a good plan, however lately with shore house payments, the purchase of a new computer, airfare for trips to both Colorado and South Carolina, and dinners out, I am dipping into my savings account a bit too much. I decided it was about time I got more organized with my finances and more aware of where they money was going - so for the past three months I have been tracking my expenses on an excel spreadsheet. As daunting as it may sound, I take my monthly bank statements and compile a spreadsheet that breaks down my expenses into 15 categories. I then take my monthly income and see how much I have saved OR overspent, and in what areas I am spending smartly or splurging unnecessarily. Turns out, I’m not saving nearly as much as I hoped for, and if there was ever a time for budgeting and saving, now seems to be it!

While I am glad I have started to scrutinize my spending, I have discovered there is a better option to easy money management - WEBSITES! I have discovered the following 3 websites that promise secure tracking of your expenses and are generally free. Hopefully these can be helpful to you to:
Mint promises to make your personal budgeting “ridiculously easy.” It consolidates all of your financial information into one site, which is a nice change from logging into each of your bank and credit card sites separately to get the same information. When you log into Mint, you are taken to an overview screen that lists your financial health on the left (your cash accounts vs. your debt accounts) with alerts, spending trends, and ways to save on the right side. The site categorizes your expenses (groceries, gas, entertainment, mortgages, credit cards, student loans) into a graph so you can see how your money gets spent. It also aggregates your historical spending pattern to help you make realistic budget decisions. Mint also offers the “Ways to Save” option which directs savers to credit cards that offer lower interest rates, displays investment performance, and allows users to compare their portfolio to market benchmarks to learn whether their investment growth is meeting their goals. I have used this site in the past, and it is very user friendly and my favorite of the bunch– I recommend.
Whether you are planning a wedding, saving up for a trip, or saving up for those Louboutins, this 21st-century version of a piggy bank makes saving easier. The site lets the user know exactly how much he or she needs to save over the allotted time in order to reach his/her goal. Additionally, it makes it simple for family members and friends to contribute (think birthday gift!). Basically, the site is a savings account with a competitive annual percentage yield (site’s banking partner is West Bank of Des Moines), to which you must set up regular, automatic monthly transfers from an existing bank account. Once you reach your goal, the money can be withdrawn!
Wesabe, like Mint, links to your credit cards and bank accounts to track your spending. It also lets a user set savings and spending goals, and tells you if you are on track. The competitive advantage of this site is members provide practical advice on how to cut your costs. For instance, "Switch from Cingular to T-Mobile" advises one member, another suggests a different retailer for coffee when it sees a $5 Starbucks expense, another suggests signing up for a free web-based service that notifies you when prices drop on an item you’re tracking.
Other popular sites include (ideal for those who have roommates, traveling companions, or a large group looking for a simple way to monitor who owes what to whom) and (allows you mobile access to monitor your budget and balances).

Favorite Quote of the Week: "Until the financial crisis, I thought a 401(k) was an unusually long marathon. I couldn't understand why my coworkers kept signing up. To me, it was just a way to mess up a Sunday.".......Claudia Cogan


  1. BOHR! I love it. I've been tracking our spending on spreadsheets for the last few months to track what we're doing. So sick of doing it manually...definitly checking out these sites.

  2. (This is from my dad)
    Gillian - I am so, so proud! Your organization and your vision are inspiring. The planning you're doing now will pay off in spades over time with great success. Never forget the value of compounding!