If you are even halfway serious about trying to get out of debt or simply want to spend $100 less a month, one of the first steps you need to take is monitoring your monthly spending. Before you think that the only way to track how much you spend is to pay for a monthly app– so you go further into debt before getting out of debt– think again! There several options available that help you monitor your finances for free.
Pen and Paper
The “old-fashioned” way might be the best way to track your spending. All you need is a piece of paper and your favorite pen or pencil. At the end of each day, write down every purchase you made from the $1 coffee on the drive to work to the $100 electric bill you pay once a month.
After tracking your spending for 30 days, you should have an accurate estimate on how much you spend in a regular month. Take a few minutes to categorize your spending so you know how much you will spend for your utilities, cell phone, cable tv, savings, and dining. You might even catch yourself asking, “We spend that much?”
If you want to upgrade to the 21st century, you can also make a free spreadsheet with Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. Both programs also offer premade templates that are free to use and are already built to track your spending. All you must do is choose the style you like best.
Google Sheets might be the better option for making your own spreadsheet because it’s free, and you can update date with any device that has an internet connection. Microsoft Excel has more capabilities but, you must have Microsoft Office installed to use Excel which can cost $70 a year to install on one device.
Personal Capital is probably the most user-friendly app when it comes to tracking your spending and calculating your net worth. In a matter of seconds, you can connect your bank and investment accounts. You can also manually input information including the value of your house, cars, and any cash spending you do on a monthly basis.
After linking your accounts, Personal Capital will track your spending and income in real-time. They present all their information in easy-to-read graphs, will send email weekly spending reports, and, you can even create savings goals to calculate how much money you need to set aside every month to accomplish your financial dreams.
Another reason I like Personal Capital is that they don’t make their money from credit card, bank account, or loan applications. Yes, you can pay Personal Capital to invest for retirement, but, this service is optional and their financial monitoring tools are completely free!
Another popular free financial program is Mint. It’s produced by Intuit, the developers of the premium Quicken budgeting software. If you want to use a program that can also double as a tool to make a monthly budget because you don’t even know where to cut your spending (even if you already track your spending), Mint is probably your best option. Also, you can use Mint for free monthly bill pay.
To use Mint, the app must be able to connect to your bank account or investment account. You cannot manually input any information as you can with Personal Capital.
Exact Finance is a brand-new free money management tool that will be launching in the very near future. You can expect Exact to be a mixture between Personal Capital and Mint in terms of capability. Your transactions from your linked financial accounts will upload to Exact and you will be able to access reports that track your spending and saving history.
The real value in Exact can be the ability to project your future spending and saving trends. If you want to get out of debt and want a plan, Exact makes it possible to exactly predict how soon you will repay a specific loan (or all your loans) based on your current financial habits. Exact also lets you enter hypothetical variables to see how an increased savings rate or salary increase, as two examples, can affect your debt payoff plans.
Wally is a 100% mobile-based app and is only accessible through your iOS or Android cell phone or tablet. Since more households are increasingly ditching their desktops and laptops, the mobile device requirement might not be a restriction. Here are four reasons you might choose Wally:
- Compare your income to expenses
- Create spending and savings goals
- Snap pictures of receipts to remember “why” you made a purchase
- No in-app advertisements
Wally is potentially the most comprehensive app available if you want the “complete picture” of how you spend your money. The ability to take pictures of your receipts is also a nice touch as we have all had to scratch our head from time-to-time after looking at our credit card or debit card statement a month later and trying to remember what we purchased.
One of the best paid budgeting programs is You Need A Budget (YNAB), and, it’s free for college students. You read that right! Students can enjoy YNAB for free for their first 12 months. After that, they receive a one-time 10% coupon and then pay the regular subscription price ($50 annually) for subsequent years.
Even if you are not a student, you can get a full-access 34-day free trial to YNAB. This can be enough time to help you make some basic adjustments to your spending and to determine if you can monitor your finances with a free app or need the extra assistance of a premium program like YNAB. Even if you do decide to go with YNAB for even your first year and can gradually transition to a free app like Personal Capital once you get a handle on managing your money, that’s great too as you now have more control over your money.
To improve your financial quality of life, you might not know how to take the first step. Tracking your spending is an excellent starting place, and several excellent programs let you begin your journey to financial freedom FOR FREE! Since there are several free apps to choose from, you should have no problem finding one that makes improving your financial situation enjoyable and possible.
Not Sure How to Start Investing?
I opened up my first investment account back in 2012 after paying off a lot of debt. That account was with Betterment. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I love the simplicity and ease of use they provide. I think their system is good for any type of investor. If you want to get into investing, check out Betterment.