Thursday, March 6, 2008

Refreshing Personal Finance

I'm going to be looking at a variety of budget tools over the next few days - all the free ones. I see no reason to pay a fee for something when there are great, free alternatives available out there.

Initially, I used Excel to generate my basic budget. I'm fortunate that I have about 9 budget items, and that's it. I suppose I could break things out a little more, and have both a "groceries" and a "dry goods" category, but I really don't care if paper towels and windex live in the grocery line category.

Once I had my budget, I wanted to start tracking. I'm looking at a few different free options, and today's was Total set up time was under an hour (1 Credit Union with checking and savings, 2 credit cards, 1 investment account and 1 paypal account). The transactions all categorized fairly well on their own, and as I went in and assigned things manually the systems seems to learn to look for different key words in the transaction descriptions. For instance, at first both credit card payments were tracked based on the "ACH withdraw card" keywords. When I manually renamed one to "HSBC Payment" all of those transactions started tracking off of "ACH Withdraw HSBC". I'm not certain that it's an adaptive system, but if it proves to be then that will be really nice. does a good job of showing you your spending habits, and tracking where your money is going. It has some nice alert features you can set up to send you e-mails or text messages. The spending trends displays a nice pie chart, showing what you've spent where, and you can get that displayed from one month at a time to, "all time". I like that you can click on each category and "drill down".

A few things I've seen that I already don't like is that I can't manually tell it that I'm not using my E*Trade account as an investment account. There's several years of history in my E*Trade account from when I was using it as my default checking account, so it would have been great to load all that in and see historically how I've spent my money, but Mint refuses to get the transactions from that account. Since NOW I'm using it strictly for investments, it's OK - but if you aren't using a "regular" account for your checking and savings, you might have problems.

*Side note: I liked using my E*Trade brokerage account for day-to-day because it was fee-free. Checks were free, they rebate my ATM fees from other banks, and there was no annual or monthly fees. My current credit union doesn't even give me that good a deal!

I'll also be checking out here in the next few days, to see how it compares.

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