We generally have the following expenses one needs to plan for:
- Monthly regular expenses (rent/mortgage, phone, internet, groceries, etc)
- semi-annual or annual expenses (insurance, property taxes, some subscriptions, etc)
- Planned irregular expenses (new car, maintenance(house or car), vacation, etc)
- Unplanned irregular expenses (lost job, emergency room visits, etc)
- long term (retirement) savings.
And the tenants for budgeting well:
- Live within your means - spend less than you make(save 50% and can retire in about 15 years)
- Have an emergency fund (1 month's expenses minimum, recommend 3-6 months)
- Pay yourself first. Save as much as you can afford in tax protected, retirement plans (401k, 457, 403b). Maximize any matching funds, then aim for > 15%.
- Pay off credit cards every month.
- Loans/debt in general is terrible. Mortgages are okay, but spend less than you are approved for a mortgage. see Money
- Drive an appropriately priced car, the longer you keep it the better
- Have appropriate insurance: health, long-term disability, auto. Add term life once you have dependents.
For every $5 you spend today, that's $10-15 dollars every 15 years and 4x the amount in 30 years (at 5% annual interest).
Run through this fidelity financial checkup https://digital.fidelity.com/prgw/digital/financial-checkup/survey/1 or follow this flowchart https://yuma.ca/PersonalIncomeSpendingFlowchart.png
My recommendation(or what I personally do):
If you have $50-100 to spend on getting your financial life in order: select one of the software packages on the list below that seems to fit your personal goals, and use that for the first year.
If you don't have any money to spend(or don't want to spend), then start with Personal Capital for the first year.
After the first year, you probably don't need a tool anymore, as your spending will be under control, and you can just monitor your CC/bank statements every month for unexpected things. Not use any software or tools, except what your bank/brokerage provides, except the occasional spreadsheet when you want to do some quick math. I.e after the first year, you will know your expenses are X dollars a month, and as long as y our statements keep showing right around $x/month you are within budget and doing great, no need to in-detail keep track. However, if you want to keep using a tool, don't let me stop you.
I do recommend you download the statements and transactions from your bank & brokerage every 6 months or so and save them either with fidsafe(see ToolsResources) or just locally to your computer. That way if you ever need to go back and look something up, say for taxes, you can. Banks tend to not make that information available after 6months or a year, so just download it and keep it around.
Budget Tool options.
The bare minimum here is just read through your statements from your CC, checking, savings, etc every month and get a feel for your spending and also make sure nobody is taking your money without your consent.
You probably want more than that. From simple to complex one might make a list like so:
- Paper or envelopes(pay using cash, each envelope is a bill you have to pay, fill it with money) Great for a very cash centric lifestyle.
- A simple spreadsheet, there are some to download free, you would probably be better served just making one yourself using LibreOffice
- Personal Financial Websites(see dedicated section below)
- Personal Financial Software(see dedicated section below)
A quick note about spreadsheets: The problem with all the spreadsheets out there to download or use with Google Docs are the instructions are usually pretty bad, and are hard to understand/use. If you built it yourself, then you definitely understand it. Plus for a budget all you really need are 4 columns: Date, Who you payed, The Amount you paid, a Category or what you bought. Then you just want to total the amounts by category. Also, if you use Google Docs, then Google absolutely looks at your spreadsheet information and uses it to build better ads for you. If you like the idea of Google knowing even more about you, go for it, but I don't recommend it.
Another option is just bulk expense tracking, sometimes called the 60% solution, more information(https://www.thepennyhoarder.com/budgeting/simple-budget/) here. Basically you keep all your needed expenses including taxes to 60% and the other 40% to saving: 10% to retirement savings, 10% to long-term savings 10% to short-term savings and 10% to fun money. If it works for you, I have no complaints.
Personal Financial Websites
Mint is owned by Intuit and will do a lot to monetize you, so your privacy is missing using mint.com. It works fine if privacy isn't an issue for you. They have ads.
Personal Capital is owned by an investment company, and they want to sell you their investment services, but they are pretty low-effort in trying to sell you said services. I have no experience with their paid for investment services, and since they are actively managed. But their personal finance tools are pretty great!
The 3rd is Fidelity Full View
Personal Financial Software
In no particular order.
- YNAB $'s If you like the idea of YNAB(giving every dollar a job), then it's probably worth the money.
- Banktivity $'s MacOS only application works fine, boring and stable. The iOS app is fine. The iPad $20 app is not worth the money.
- Quicken $'s Used to be owned by Intuit(terrible) Now owned by themselves. Supports Mac and Windows and Mobile. Worth checking out.
- GnuCash Free and open source. Double entry accounting. if you can handle it's complexity, and you can make it run, it's great.
- Plain text accounting Free and open source. If you can handle it's complexity, it's awesome. If you can't, don't bother.
- Others I have either no experience with, or think they are terrible and not worth your time. Probably mostly not worth your time.
Differences between website and software
The websites are easier to get started, but your financial data is on some remote server somewhere, un-encrypted, and in the case of Mint likely harvested for data. The software tools cost $'s, but are a lot more privacy respecting. Some software will sync your data to mobile, but will encrypt it and not share it with anyone else.
So basically you trade privacy for cost.