Budgets are necessary for practically everyone, but for a family, they’re particularly important. Whether it’s making sure you have enough in the bank to pay for after-school activities or to set money aside for the annual family vacation – along with your regular bills – keeping a keen eye on your finances is vital.
Creating a budget doesn’t have to be hard – you simply identify how you’re spending money now, set goals for your long-term financial objectives, and then track your spending to make sure you can meet those goals. Although it’s a simple concept, using software – whether online or desktop – can save you a lot of grief.
To pick out the right budget tools for yourself and your family, identify the cost and features of each product. From there, you’ll be able to figure out the best option to get your budget on track.
Get your budget off paper and into an easy-to-track finance program.
Did someone say “free”? Quicken’s one of the top names in money management, and its online budget system, Mint.com, will cost you exactly $0 to use to track your finances.
Although Mint.com is less comprehensive than Quicken software – which comes at a cost – it’s enough for a family looking to maintain a budget. It offers an iPhone application so you can track your spending on the go, automatically categorizes all expenses so you can see where you’re spending the most, and consolidates all your accounts into one easy-to-access place.
Tech-savvy families might enjoy Buxfer.com, which allows you to update your accounts via Twitter – of course, you have to understand how Twitter and SMS messaging works to figure out how to do it, which might be a drawback to some people.
Although the service is free, it does limit to you tracking five accounts. An upgrade is only around $4 a month, though, so it might be worth the low cost to some. The service tracks banks, investments, and credit card accounts; creates spending reports; and sends out weekly financial reports via email.
If you’re looking for non-web-based software that has some extra features, head to Quicken. Starting at $30, this software nearly always tops the best-reviewed list.
The latest version of Quicken features improvements to budget functionality, including the ability to plan a full-year budget and visualize actual spending and income against that budget. The program also helps you create a savings plan to set aside money for this like a vacation or college funds.
Also recently added, Quicken has a mobile app, which allows you to review and edit your budget, view top spending categories for the month, and record and edit transactions.
Whether you’re into simple management, technological settings, or full functionality, there’s a personal finance tool out there for you. With a little tracking, you could have that vacation fund saved up in no time.
Kelsey Castle is a freelance writer and editor with a degree in journalism. She focuses on health and fitness, education and small business topics.