Where is your money going? How much money was spent on fast food last month? How much are you saving? If you can't answer these questions, you may not be managing your money as well as you should and even worse, you may be throwing money away and not even know it. Budgeting software can help you keep track of where your money is going. Gone are the days when financial software took more time to use than conventional paper checkbook registers. Here are a few good options.
TUTORIAL: Setting Up A Budget
Although you may not know how to pronounce the title, YNAB is short for "You Need a Budget" and it's a classic David and Goliath story. YNAB got its start as an excel spreadsheet by developer Jesse Mecham. YNAB 3 has grown exponentially since then. Now available as a stand-alone application for your computer, YNAB 3 was named the best Windows personal finance software for 2011 in an Ask.com poll.
Although this product may not be as feature-packed as some of the larger software packages, for many, that's ok. If your finances are far less than complex, YNAB 3 might be the perfect package for you. Not to say that it isn't full of features, though. The development team of YNAB continues to evolve the product and with its free online classes, you're sure to make quick work of the learning curve that often accompanies software packages. (Make it to the end of the month, before you run out of money. For more, see The Beauty Of Budgeting.)
If YNAB is the David of budgeting software, Quicken is the Goliath. Quicken is developed by Intuit, a large company with the resources to lead the way in financial software. Small and medium-sized businesses all over the world use Quickbooks, one of the most popular accounting software packages on the market for its ease of use. Quicken is the personal finance version. You'll like the easy to figure out interface, the automatic download of you bank information, and all of the other tools alongside of the budgeting features. Intuit offers various levels of Quicken with Quicken Deluxe being the most popular. (For related reading, see 6 Steps To A Better Business Budget.)
Mint was one of those small internet ventures created by one person looking for a better way to manage his finances. Aaron Patzer created Mint in 2005 and just four years later, he was able to sell it for $170 million. Mint.com, recently acquired by Intuit, allows users to track their finances, receive offers from companies who may be able to offer better loan or savings rates, and receive e-mail and text alerts if they go over budget or have questionable transactions associated with them. The best part about Mint.com is that it's absolutely free. It doesn't have all of the features of quicken or YNAB but it is still a valuable tool and, with the acquisition by Intuit, it continues to grow in to a powerful budgeting tool. (For more, see Top 5 Budgeting Questions Answered.)
TUTORIAL: Maintaining Your Budget
Budget Tracker not only allows you to keep all of your finances in one place, you can create budgets, track cooking recipes, contacts, shopping lists, garage sales and just about anything else that is difficult to manage in your daily life. This online tool also allows you to forecast your income as well as perform activities for your business including invoices, inventory management, income statements and balance sheets. For the person who is looking for a basic financial package capable of doing a lot of different tasks in one place, Budget Tracker is work a look - and it's free. (Stick to your budget every day with these 15 simple tips. For more, see Squeeze A Greenback Out Of Your Latte.)
If you have ever used programs like Firefox or Linux, you may have heard of open source software. Open source software is often free to the public and is developed by a team of volunteer programmers who have an interest in evolving the program. Some of these programs later go on to become actual companies, but just because open source software doesn't come with a mega advertising budget doesn't mean that it isn't worth a try. DSBudget is an open source package that is designed to be simple. You assign all of your expenses to categories and the program shows you where your money is going using text-based reports and graphs. It's easy to install on your computer, it's a small program so it won't run slowly on older computers - and it's free. (For more, see Budgeting When You're Broke.)
The Bottom Line
We should all have a blueprint for our money, and financial software makes it easy to do so. Luckily, there are numerous options on the market that work well. (Not everyone is cut out for online or heavily-involved budgeting. For more, see 3 Alternative Budgeting Styles.)