I have a bachelor's in finance. I am a stay-at-home mom, but my husband likes to call me the CFO (chief financial officer) of our household.
Stay on Top of Your Finances!
By using Mint, Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets, Complete ID, and setting all of my bills up for automatic payments, I can stay on top of my finances.
- Mint gives me a snapshot of all of my accounts,
- Excel gives me a snapshot of all my bills,
- Complete ID watches my credit for identity theft and gives me my credit score and
- online automatic bill pay gets my bills out on time without thinking about it.
Finding Financial Tools That Work for You
I have tried many programs and apps to manage our finances. Some have worked, and some did not work so well. I am going to cover what worked well for us. Each app and the financial program is either free or nearly free, highly rated with excellent reviews, and has been tested by me personally. Each financial app or program that I suggest is easy to use, or I would not use it. The complicated apps and programs get deleted, and I will not list them here.
Mint: A Free Personal Finance App and Website
My personal favorite, not only because it is free, but because it is so simple to use, is Mint. It is a website, but it also has an app for your smartphone. I use my Mint app daily to watch what money is coming in and how much is going out. I check my Mint website once a month to get a bigger view of my finances.
The Mint app gives a snapshot of all of your accounts.
To set Mint up on your phone and computer, you will go to the app or website and set up a free account. It is easy to add your financial accounts. You just click on "add account," pick your financial institution, and input the information for each account. Mint pulls the information from each institution's website and gives you the balance (and transactions) for each account at that institution.
Mint divides your accounts into savings and checking, loans, credit cards, and investments. It will also let you know how much your total assets and debts are.
One thing I really like about Mint is that you can set up budgets for different categories. Once you start getting close to that limit, Mint will alert you.
Another thing I really like about Mint is that if it detects unusual activity, it will alert you.
Here are a few other things Mint can do for you:
- Create budgets that make sense today and set you up for success tomorrow.
- Receive alerts for unusual account charges, and get custom tips for reducing fees and saving money.
- Get your free credit score and learn how you can improve it now to get the things you want later.
If you do not like giving out your personal financial information, then Microsoft Excel is a great financial program for you. It is also a great way to get a snapshot of all your bills and income.
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Paycheck and Bills Page
I like to start off by making a column for each pay period. Let's say you get paid on the 1st and the 15th of the month. You would make two columns: One for the first through the 14th of the month and the second column would be for the 15th through the end of the month (I put the 15th–31st for this column to make it easy even though some months don't have 31 days).
Now list all of your bills that you pay during the first half of the month under the 1st-14th column. Next, list all of your bills that you pay during the second half of the month under the 15th–31st column. Now you can see when each bill needs to be paid! You can use the SUM command to add all your bills up under each column to see how much is going out each pay period.
Next, get your paychecks and put that under each column and label it "Money In" or "Paycheck". You can now compare how much money is going out to how much money is coming in.
Is more money going out than is coming in during one of those pay periods? If so, you will need to save money from the pay period that you have money left over for the pay period where you have no money left over to pay those bills.
Back when I first bought a house, I knew that one paycheck would not cover my mortgage. I had to keep $200 in my savings account from my first paycheck until the second half of the month so I could add it to my second paycheck just to pay my mortgage. It took discipline, but it worked out.
If you have money left over at the end of each month, put half of it into savings and the other half into paying your loans or credit cards down faster. I would always put my extra money on whichever loan or credit card had the highest interest rate so I could get rid of that debt first.
On the next Excel page, make a column for each of your debts and how much you owe on each debt that month. I like to also add the interest rate for each debt with its description. Type the year and months down the left-hand side of the page. Now you can keep track of how you are progressing each month with paying off your debt.
On the first of each month, I look at my Mint app and type how much I owe for that month on each of my debts into my Excel Spreadsheet on my debts page. You will see how you are progressing each month.
If you have investments (401Ks, stocks, bonds, etc.), you can make an investments page. Do the same as the Debts page, but instead, list your investments, amounts, and interest rates (if any).
Check in with each page at least once a month. Have any of the bills changed, or did you get a raise? Change them on your Excel spreadsheet. Each month, also update your investment and debt pages.
Microsoft Excel Finance Spreadsheet Example
Complete ID watches your credit and offers identity protection if someone tries to steal your identity.
I pay $8 per month for Complete ID through Costco as an Executive member. We recently refinanced a loan and Complete ID picked up on the new accounts made attached to my social security number. They alerted me right away and let me know which institution the new loan was going through with contact information.
They also list all three credit score ratings so you can keep on top of them.
Automatic Bill Payments
You could either set up automatic bill payments through the billing company or you could set them up through your bank.
Here is how I decide which way to set them up:
- If your bill for something is the same each month, you could set it up through either the bank or the company (if the company offers automatic bill pay). Set it up to pay regularly (usually monthly) and forget it! Examples of bills that stay the same each month are loan payments, daycare payments, or gym membership payments.
- If the bill amount changes each month, I would set it up through the company, not your bank. Examples of bills that change each month are utility bills. They will pull the correct amount out of your bank account each month. Just make sure you have enough money in your bank account.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2016 Melanie Casey