Believe it: technology has finally made it to the point where free, robust and secure software is available to help guide you through your budget challenges. Whether you want to know immediately whether you can afford a big purchase or simply keep an eye on things on a semi-regular basis, there are tools available and some very robust options are absolutely free.
There are quite a few different programs on the market but we are only going to review two: Mint.com and Yodlee. You may also want to visit your bank’s website to see if they offer any online budgeting tools.
Based on many reviews and testimonials, the number one free budgeting tool is Mint. Owned by Intuit, the maker of Quicken, this online money management tool allows you to securely consolidate all of your financial information into the system, including multiple accounts from multiple banks, credit cards, investments and more. Mint is set up to work with over 7,500 financial institutions in North America and has an app for most mobile device operating systems.
Reassuringly, Mint offers bank-level security with 128-bit data encryption that keeps your financial information private. In fact, because Mint is a “read-only” service, it’s impossible to do anything but analyze your finances and see your transactions. You cannot move funds between or out of any accounts using Mint. You can’t even use the program to access the original account information without your bank’s passwords, and none of it is stored on any device. So, if your phone happens is lost or happens to disappear and the “finder” happens to crack the password to see your Mint console, all they are going to see is that you are better off and smarter than they are.
On the downside, Mint does not allow you to convert multiple currencies, so if you are a regular cross-border shopper with both Canadian and American accounts you may find this a little frustrating.
“The grandpappy of online money management,” according to Get Rich Slowly, one of Time’s “Best Blogs of 2011” winners. This is the platform on which many different money management programs were based on, Mint included. While most of the others are relatively new to the game (2009), Yodlee has been around for a decade.
Yodlee also offers the ability to integrate with a number of financial institutions and has the same account-tracking ability as many other options. They even have a new iPhone app. Yodlee offers the ability to pay bills online through the account as well as set up saving goals and monitor your progress.
It also offers the advice of actual account managers and financial advisers through their MoneyCenter program, though this option is not free. It is, however, useful if you are looking for something you can keep on your home computer to manage your money smartly, effectively and consistently.
On the downside, Yodlee isn’t as well designed as Mint, and it can take a little while to figure out all the ins and outs. Plus, the mobile application isn’t quite as sophisticated as Mint.
Both of these options have proven themselves to be well worth looking into, but remember, these are just tools that will help you build on the smart decisions you have already made (or need to start making!). Find your budget, define your goals and use the tools available to stay within it.