My first recommendation is boring but SO useful and relevant to “adult land”. Most of us just started getting regular, full-time, grown up paychecks within the last few years and if you’re anything like me, it took you a minute or two to figure out how to manage them responsibly. Or maybe you still don’t quite have it down and that’s ok, you’re not alone. I lived with my parents for four months when I started working and let me tell you, I saved enough so I could move out and get my own place but every other dollar was being spent on clothes, trips, and a whole bunch of garbage I didn’t need. A few months later I was visiting with my older sister and she was showing me her detailed budget for the month, how to keep track of and improve your credit score, and fun ways to save money (which will be discussed in another recommendation yet to come), and the light switched on in my head. “Hello, yeah a BUDGET. One of those things you plan and stick to so you don’t have to panhandle for rent money. Probably think about making one of those.”
I did some searching and tried a couple of online budgeting tools before I found mint.com and I have to say that Mint is hands down my favorite. It is totally free. One more time for the people in the back – FREE. It was created by Intuit, the creator of Turbo Tax and Quick Books, and has all the functionality you would want in a very user friendly interface (both online and the app – even for someone who is nearly computer illiterate like me). You can link all of your bank and credit card accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, and include property and asset values. It calculates your net worth, creates detailed graphs based on spending habits and changes in net worth, and updates accounts automatically upon logging in.
You can create monthly budgets for EVERYTHING you spend your money on. Their list of pre-set categories is pretty comprehensive but you can add your own categories if they don’t have what you need. They don’t take into account Girl Scout cookie season this time of year so you’ll have to create your own custom budget for that. You can add all of your bills and the amount owed each month to receive reminders and automatic updates to budgets. Every transaction is automatically categorized based on the merchant’s name, though be sure to double check these get marked correctly. You can even set financial goals for yourself and outline milestone goals/steps to track your progress toward those goals. You can even add tags to your purchases. For example, I noticed I way overspent in my ‘Restaurants’ and ‘Alcohol and Bars’ budgets in November because I went on a birthday trip to Nashville with my best friend (we were celebrating, ok), so I was able to go in and tag those transactions as ‘vacation’ so when I look in the future I can understand why I overspent so much in that particular month. The initial budget set-up takes a little while but once it’s set up managing budgets is incredibly simple and efficient.
Lastly, it keeps you honest with yourself. The app will send me ‘High Spending’ and ‘Over Budget’ notifications when I go a little hog wild with my spending. In fact, I got one recently that said, “You spent 7x more at Uber.com than average Mint users.” Ok I get it. Maybe it’s time to turn the notifications off…