Financial Planning For Free

financial planning

As I have mentioned in a few posts now, I am on a break from my credit cards and am working diligently on paying down my consumer debt.  No fun – let me tell you!  The best thing I can say is that the sooner I knock out the debt, the sooner I can get back to my favorite hobby – shopping.  In this vein, I have decided to take a more formal approach to my personal financial planning.  I am embarrassed to admit this.  Not the fact that I racked up an egregious amount of debt mind you.  I had a good time and quite frankly don’t have many regrets.  What I am embarrassed to admit is that I have not taken a formal approach to my personal financial planning. Pretty sad considering I have spent most of my professional career doing planning and forecasting for corporations.  I could spend this entire post telling you how I have been playing fast and loose with my finances.  It would be an entertaining story I can assure you.  Instead, I thought I might pass along a pretty cool tool I uncovered.  Not nearly as entertaining as my typical post, but valuable nonetheless.

When I decided to take this “more formal” approach, I checked around and found that most people I know are using Quicken.  I’ll admit, I figured if it is good enough for everyone else, it is good for me.  I was all set to shell out $100 for this thing when I realized it is not currently compatible with my Mac.  What the hell?  What kind of dinosaur product are we talking about here?  Needless to say, I was not impressed.  I got to thinking about it and wondered, “Why do I even need to load a bunch of crap on my computer anyway?”  Why can’t I do my planning on a web-based application – in the “cloud”, if you will?

I put on my analytical hat and decided to do my own research.  Turns out, not only is there a good web-based planning application out there…but it’s FREE!  That’s right, I said it, FREE!  I am referring to Mint.com, which incidentally was recently purchased by Intuit, the same people who own Quicken and Turbotax.  So I take a look, thinking anything free must suck, and it turns out that what I found was quite impressive.

Mint.com enables you to see all of your financial accounts in one place.  You can even enter in info about your assets, like your home or automobile value.  The ability to see all of your investments, bank accounts – and in my case, credit cards – in one place makes it easy to understand your financial position and to think about financial goals.

Mint.com has an easy budget tool that allows you to create monthly budgets for various spending categories and automate the grouping of your monthly transactions into these same categories to see how you’re doing relative to your budget.  You can’t make educated decisions about your money if you don’t know where the hell you are spending it.  Let me tell you, I could easily group about 10 of my spending categories into one large one called “stupid shit”.  It was pretty sobering to see how much of my spending could fit into this group.

There are all sorts of graphs, bill pay notifications, and alerts to help you manage your finances.  They also provide what I think are unobtrusive tips and recommendations for ways you can save, which indecently is how they make there money.  They have apps for both Apple and Android phones and tablets.  And from my experience, setup was idiot-proof.

One thing I was concerned about was security, because while I do enjoy playing fast and loose with my finances, I do not enjoy hackers stealing my identity.  Mint.com  has 128-bit encryption, and their practices are monitored and verified by TRUSTe, VeriSign, and Hackersafe.  What does that mean?  Hell if I know, but it is the same level of security that banks have.  The other thing to keep in mind is that planning systems do not allow you to transact, so you cannot move money through the system.

I have been using Mint.com for a few weeks now and really like it – although, sometimes, the truth hurts.  I find that it’s pretty good at categorizing my spending, and I can easily make changes if I disagree or if something is marked as uncategorized.  I also like not having to log into 20 different places to see my 401k, bank accounts, auto loans…you get the point.  From what I understand, Mint.com is not quite as robust as Quicken, but it is also significantly easier to use.  I also hear that the mobile tools are better than Quicken, but since I have not used Quicken, I can’t say for sure.

If you happen to be working on your finances, or just want more transparency into how many nuts you have squirreled away, I highly recommend Mint.com.  Again, it’s free, so what do you really have to loose?

I would love to hear your experiences with systems that you have used for managing your finances.  What works for you, and what hasn’t?

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the tip. That sounds like great advice. I will try it very soon.

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