January always feels like the perfect time to get organized — the calendar is filled with white spaces, we’re culling the toys to make room for new Christmas gifts, and the start of a brand new tax year is upon us. This is when I review the year’s finances, reorganize our budget, and attempt to find additional ways to save in the new year.
I’ve spent the last few days going over our budget worksheets and tweaking our financial plan for the new year’s changes in insurance rates, income, and utility rates. I always find that the things we need for wine and budget night have deteriorated into a hot mess of bill piles and scattered paycheck stubs. Paperwork in my home is destined for disorganization, so I’ve learned to utilize a few online tools to keep our finances organized.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- ING Direct: We use their high yield accounts to organize our savings. We have one account for emergency savings, one for Christmas, and a third to help us save towards whatever larger goal is on our minds. That could be a vacation, new furniture or a computer upgrade — right now it’s neglected as our focus is on debt management.I love that you can have multiple accounts and provide a nickname for each so we can label our savings. I also love that it takes a few days to transfer savings over to our local checking account. It helps keep it untouchable so there’s not chance of using it for another purpose.
- Mint: Mint.com is free personal finance software that will help you keep track of absolutely everything! You can enter your account information, and Mint will pull updated finances for you to manage everything in one place.One of my favorite things is the ability to set a budget for each category, and let Mint track how well you’re doing. If you tell Mint you want to budget $100 for dining, it will tell you when you are getting close to help you stay under budget. You can also view pie charts to see where your money is going. This is a great way to see which categories are starting to take over your budget so you can make changes as necessary.
- Shoeboxed: This is a new one for me, but I have to start using it this year. Instead of searching for receipts in the dozens of places they get tucked throughout the year, you can ship them to Shoeboxed. They will scan each one for digital storage.The cool part is that the information on your receipts is organized as well. It will keep track of your budget categories, taxable expenses, and even online receipts. All you have to do is forward your purchase emails to Shoeboxed. There is a free, basic account, along with a variety of premium levels to fit your needs.
- Smarty Pig: This is another online savings account, with a twist. It’s like an online piggy bank to help you save for your dreams. Set a goal and share it with friends & family. Not only will you have their support, but you can create a gift registry so people can contribute to your goals with Smarty Pig gift cards, in lieu of material gifts.Plus, get more for your money by redeeming your savings as a gift card, instead of cash. Redeem your goal as a Smarty Pig Rewards Mastercard to earn 10% back on your purchase at several retailers. If you cashout the funds as a retail gift card, you can get up to a 14% bonus. Saving up for a computer? Select a Best Buy gift cards for additional money towards your goal!
Each of these tools will help you organize your budget and saving more money towards paying off debt or taking that dream vacation. What’s your financial goal for 2012?
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