Have you tried to spread butter with a screwdriver?
Or have you brushed your hair with a toothbrush?
It’s doable, but it takes much effort and a lot of time.
I was always told to work smarter, not harder.
Working smarter is about getting the right tools for the job. The job, in our case, is creating an effective budget.
In a previous post, I discussed creating a budget. This post is about the tools at our disposal when creating and sustaining our budget. The available options range from simple to complex.
If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)
Let’s take a look at the available tools.
Pencil & Paper
Budgeting in your head is not effective, so do yourself a favor and stop now.
At the very least, you could write down your budget the old-fashioned way. If you don’t have a written budget, then you don’t have a budget.
At the very least, you can write down a draft budget on a notepad and tweak it as necessary. Make sure to write it in pencil because you never get your budget right on the first try. You will need to erase and rewrite… a lot.
- Easily accessible
- Easily replaceable
- Hard to maintain
- Involves a lot of paperwork
- May need calculator as well
Spreadsheets, such as Excel documents, are the next level up for budgeting and tracking our money.
They allow you to work with large amounts of data with a click of a mouse. These sheets provide the ability to adjust and calculate, simultaneously.
If you are at all comfortable with spreadsheets, you should consider developing a budget in spreadsheet form.
- Handle large sets of financial info
- Don’t need a calculator
- No paperwork involved
- Takes a working level of spreadsheet knowledge
- Upfront effort required to create a budget template
- Need to manually input your financial data
For the 21st-century budgeter, we have multiple tools at our exposure via the smartphone. I am sure many of you reading this own a smartphone. But are you using it to its fullest capacity?
Before I get into budget-specific apps, let me touch on financial apps you should already be using.
Have you heard the term “balance your checkbook”?
Decades ago, people had to carry around copies of their receipts in order to track their spending and their overall money flow. Furthermore, they literally had to list out all their spending (by totaling up their receipts) and lay out all their paychecks to make sure their checking account was “balanced”.
To balance a checkbook means you have recorded all the outflows (withdrawals) and inflows (deposits) of cash to determine the current balance of your checking account.
Now almost all the banks have digitized our daily transactions. Therefore, online banking should be the first place to start looking at when tracking your spending activity. Most banks have a smartphone app that will allow you to see information on your accounts such as your balance and daily transactions.
Rehab Tip: Make sure on a monthly basis to check what you spend on and the amount that you spend. Identity thieft is real, so you don’t want to get caught sleeping. If you haven’t done so already, I would strongly suggest you install your banking app on your phone or save your bank’s website on your internet browser. This will allow you to have access to your financial data at a moment’s notice.
Credit Cards work the same way. In your credit card app, you can see all of your purchases over time. Again, this will be a useful tool for tracking your spending. For me, the majority of my spending occurs via credit card. As a result, most of my detailed spending activity will be seen on my card statement and not my banking statement.
Do you use the iPhone or Android app for your bank and credit cards?
If you have the Instagram app but not one of these financial apps on your phone, that’s a problem.
If you already bank online, good job. But there is more you can do to fully utilize the power of smartphone apps. Imagine having the capability of a spreadsheet on your phone.
Also, imagine not having to look at their numbers, but also being able to look at the grass and visuals of your finances.
They are currently tons of apps on the market that help you manage your money easily. Let’s take a look at a couple:
I am sure most of you have a Gmail account. Over the years Google has built a suite of tools to help you manage your life better. Google Sheets is one of those products. Think of Sheets as an online version of Excel.
The Sheets app enables us to use the spreadsheet function on our phone, in addition to our laptop. Meaning you can start your budget at home and finish it up on the phone while you are waiting for the subway.
- Spreadsheet functionality
- Available on phone and laptop
- Developing advanced spreadsheets on phone can be difficult
- Time investment in building initial budget template
- Learning curve for people not comfortable in Excel
There are smartphone apps now that can consolidate all of your financial information from various institutions. The oldest and most popular of these is Mint. Mint links all of your accounts so that you can view it in one place.
This is a budgeter’s dream because it allows us to get an accurate picture of how our money moves each month. In the past, we would have to piece things together, manually. Now there is less guessing and more knowing. Half the battle with budgeting is knowing where your money is going. Once you know that, the rest is easy.
Within the platform, you can create your budget and track your progress. The app is simple and usable. It is very high level and gives you the basic functionality for you to hit the ground running.
- Combined your data
- Links directly to your financial accounts
- Very usable
- Takes time to properly set up
- Sometimes the app miscategorizes transactions
- Lots of ads and promotional material
Personal capital is another smartphone application that helps you budget and manages your money, similar to Mint. What makes personal capital different is that it has many visualization features and dashboards.
The budgeting process is easier as well because it does the heavy lifting for you. Instead of creating your own budget, it creates a budget based on your historical spending (with the option for you to adjust as necessary).
This app is primarily for people who are well acquainted with numbers and charts. If you enjoy analyzing detailed financial data, then personal capital is for you. In other words, an app like this is for the advanced budgeter.
- Links directly to your financial accounts
- Consolidates data
- Contains good dashboards and visualizations.
- Data overload for people who want to see the basics
- Takes a while to see spending trends
- Very technical
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Computer and mobile applications in the information age make knowing your money much easier and time efficient. My hope is that we budget smarter, not harder. In order to do that, we must leverage all of the resources available to us.