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I get a check on Friday, but it's already spent.
February 14, 2013 12:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm desperately trying to become an adult (finally!), but I can't wrap my head around 'classic' budgeting software. Suggestions and tips to find what I really need?

I have... very poor money management skills. And, by 'very poor', I pretty much mean 'non-existent'. I really need to get a better handle on what I'm doing, since living paycheck-to-paycheck (and only barely making it) just isn't cutting it in the face of turning 46, an owned home, and a toddler.

I've got a pretty decent income, so there's part of me that says this shouldn't be hard. But it is. I'm not managing to save very much money although, for the first time in forever, I'm keeping up with my bills, at least.

Most of the budgeting software I've seen is great at reminding me that I have bills due, and great at telling me what I've spent (and, possibly, what I've spent it on). None of them (to me) have been good at helping me *plan* my spending. I'm hoping to find something that isn't a Google Docs spreadsheet where I can say "I get paid on every other Friday for the foreseeable future starting next week, my net each paycheck is $DOLLAR_AMOUNT, and I have bills A, B, and C due on days X, Y, and Z every month" and have it spit out an estimate of what I should have left over. I can then refine that with additional "oh, and I want to add $25 to my Starbucks card every paycheck, and I want to put $50 in this savings account" kind of things to get me on track with being financially aware.

So... does something like that exist for OSX or the iPhone? Am I just missing the obvious? Thanks, all!

Note: I'm not looking, in this thread, for tips on how to save money or spend more wisely - please don't berate me for my Starbucks example above.
posted by hanov3r to Work & Money (28 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
I highly, highly recommend Mint. It's on the web and there's an iPhone app.
posted by General Malaise at 12:45 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


You Need A Budget is great - I think the desktop software is like $60 but it integrates beautifully with the iphone app. It spits out really encouraging graphs as your net worth and savings grow, too.
posted by hungrybruno at 12:52 PM on February 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Use the Envelope method.
posted by gauche at 12:54 PM on February 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


You Need a Budget has helped me a lot, though you're more or less paying for presentation. The mobile app makes it great for tracking spending as you spend.

You put in your income, allot portions of it to categorized budgets for next month's expenses, and then spend within those budgets. If you overspend, the amount overspent is docked from next month's income. You can prevent that by moving money from an overestimated budget into the underestimated one.

The idea is to build up a savings of a month's worth of expenses. Once you've done that, it's pretty easy to manage.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:55 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


You Need A Budget (YNAB) is definitely great. It takes a little care to set up, but they have some nice help articles and videos, and it syncs with smartphones so you don't get buried in recording transactions at the end of the month.
posted by odinsdream at 12:56 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not software, but I think Dave Ramsey's advice is very sound for developing the right mindset. (I skip his religious stuff, which isn't all that hard to do.) Once you get your feelings about money and debt in the groove, any system will probably work.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:58 PM on February 14, 2013


Another vote for YNAB. Watch the videos, read the instructions, do your best to wrap your head around what it wants you to do.

One other thing: this stuff can be scary, facing down exactly where you stand financially. So good for you for taking the first steps. Keep at it. You will get there, and you will feel so much better.
posted by agentmitten at 1:01 PM on February 14, 2013


I'm hoping to find something that isn't a Google Docs spreadsheet where I can say "I get paid on every other Friday for the foreseeable future starting next week, my net each paycheck is $DOLLAR_AMOUNT, and I have bills A, B, and C due on days X, Y, and Z every month" and have it spit out an estimate of what I should have left over. I can then refine that with additional "oh, and I want to add $25 to my Starbucks card every paycheck, and I want to put $50 in this savings account" kind of things to get me on track with being financially aware.

I do exactly this with an Excel spreadsheet. I also use it to track my spending. I've tried Mint a couple of times and I just hate it. Is there a reason you don't want to use a spreadsheet?
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:04 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I use a Google Docs spreadsheet to do exactly this - if you have a gmail address/google account, this link should take you to a blank spreadsheet that you can copy and start filling in: Budget Estimator. It looks at cash flow on a monthly basis, so you enter how much you get payed in a month, and what bills you have due in a month, and what your common expenses are (look at what you spent last month on food and gas), and tells you whether in a month you are net positive or not.
posted by muddgirl at 1:12 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm with showbiz_liz - I've tried Mint and a few others like it and I always go back to my trusty spreadsheet. I just have too many weird wrenches in my money management (splitting bills with boyfriend, getting paid on the 15th/30th, etc.) for a regular system to work well for me. If you have even the most basic Excel skills, you can set up a spreadsheet for your budget. I keep mine in my Dropbox so it's available from my phone, iPad, and computers.
posted by anotheraccount at 1:13 PM on February 14, 2013


General Malaise: I highly, highly recommend Mint.

I've tried Mint. To me, it fell into the "really good at telling me what I've done" category and not much into the "help me figure out what to do in the future" part. But thanks for that suggestion.

YNAB looks very interesting. I'll take the demo for a spin (34 days? Really? Kinda random).

showbiz_liz: Is there a reason you don't want to use a spreadsheet?

In part because I know me, and I think spreadsheets are boring and (to be completely honest[1]) boring won't get used. Something with a little flash is, I hope, more likely to keep my attention long enough to engender the good habits I'm trying to spawn here.

[1] yep, the 'boring is bad' is another habit I've got to break. But, one at a time. I'll get there, too.
posted by hanov3r at 1:18 PM on February 14, 2013


Another vote for You Need A Budget. It was the first package I found that did both budget and expense tracking. Very easy use, and you don't have to worry about giving it your bank account. And it does let you plug in recurring income and expenses.

It syncs between IOS and desktop software via DropBox, or by manual files.

Honestly, I wish I had started using it years ago.
posted by AD_ at 1:18 PM on February 14, 2013


muddgirl: this link should take you to a blank spreadsheet that you can copy and start filling in: Budget Estimator.

I'll pull a copy of that and take a look. Thanks!
posted by hanov3r at 1:19 PM on February 14, 2013


I too endorse the envelope system.

You only spend the money in the appropriate envelope.

Also, have automatic savings and retirement taken out of your check BEFORE it's deposited into your bank account.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:21 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you're missing out a key concept of budgeting. What you spent last month on rent, insurance, gas, utilities, groceries, entertainment, etc should very closely approximate what you will spend next month. Add in some savings goals (vacation, long term savings, seasonal gifts, seasonal clothing, I Want An IPad, etc) and you should be able to project what you need to budget for against the order in which you need to pay out expenses.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:26 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ruthless Bunny: Also, have automatic savings and retirement taken out of your check BEFORE it's deposited into your bank account.

401k (and alimony and child support) get taken out before I ever see my net. I have an automatic transfer of a small chunk of money to savings scheduled the same day my paycheck hits. But... what I can easily transfer from checking->savings I can just as easily transfer right back. Planning out that future spending makes it easier to say "I won't have to touch this money that I'm moving to savings", dig?

It might also be time to open a new savings account at a bank other than the one holding my checking. Gotta think about that.
posted by hanov3r at 1:27 PM on February 14, 2013


Set up a savings account at a different bank. Have your savings portion directed there. Now it takes 3-4 days to transfer money from your savings to your checking, plus you need to log into a whole different system.

Or, on preview what you just figured out.
posted by magnetsphere at 1:32 PM on February 14, 2013


You need to tweak Mint to work in this fashion, but it is possible.

First, you need to rely on the Budget widget.

Second, you can input expected bills ahead of schedule manually. If you get all the information correct, Mint will automatically reconcile the manual entry with the entry from the bank. If you miss it by a penny, or get the vendor name wrong, you can go in the next day and just mark one of them as a duplicate, and it will hide the entry. (Don't delete it! Deleting things in Mint just makes things go wonky.)

This way, when you look at the budget, you'll see that you've already "spent" most of your upcoming pay, and it will show you where you still have funds available. I also like that if you look at each individual line, it will show you the last four months of historical data. So if you try to budget 200 dollars a month on food, it will be obvious that's way lower than you usually spend, and you really need to tighten your belt to meet that goal.

I also wrote a super long comment a while back, explaining how I use multiple banks/accounts to segregate and manage my discretionary spending from my required spending. The emotional part is probably not particularly useful, but the mechanics might be helpful.
posted by politikitty at 1:35 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


For monthly bills, I have a separate bank account. My work allows me to split up my direct deposit. So for anything that is a recurring bill (including monthly stuff like a mortgage or utility bills, and also bi-yearly like car insurance), it'll come out of that account, either as an automated withdrawal or a check. You should be able to go back through your bills and figure out how much, per paycheck, needs to go into this account - just add them all up for the past year and divide by 26. You want to set this up so that you have, at minimum, a month's worth of extra money in here - so if all these bills add up to $3000 in a month, that balance shouldn't ever dip below $3000. This is your cushion that Dave Ramsey and all of those people talk about. If you want a bigger (or smaller) cushion, that's up to you. But you should NEVER touch this account except for these bills.

For the rest, I use an app called CashTrails. Which app isn't really important. What is important is that I record in that app *every single dollar* that I spend. $120 buying clothes for work? In there. $50 to fill my gas tank? In there. $2 for coffee at Starbucks? In there. CashTrails has a tagging system that you can attach to each expense - the tags I have are Vehicle (which includes gas), Food, Entertainment, Charity/Church, Maintenance (lightbulbs, laundry detergent, clothes, etc etc), and Gifts (meaning gifts for your spouse/kids and for other people). With a toddler, you might want to split out Child expenses like diapers. If Starbucks is a thing for you, and you feel it deserves its own category, do that. If you want to distinguish between Restaurants and Groceries, do that. You want to do this for at least a couple months, recording *everything* that you spend, so that you know what your spending habits look like.

Repeating - RECORD EVERYTHING. This has to be a habit. EVERY DOLLAR. This is vitally important. Make sure your spouse is in on this with you and tells you the money she spends as well.

After a couple months, you will have enough of a history to figure out where your dollars are going. This should be pretty educational. For instance, my wife and I were pretty appalled about how much money we were spending at restaurants after we did this - when we started paying attention to how often we ate out and where (even fast food has strata - Arby's is far more expensive to eat at than McDonald's, for instance), we were able to lower that amount by something like two thirds each month. With this information you can decide what you want to spend your money on.

Once you've got that you just have to stick to what you decide. If you've got a Starbucks habit that's $50 a month (which is $600 a year - sometimes it helps to understand how much things are costing when you look at them as a total per year), and you're OK with that, then that's fine - just understand what impact that has on the money you're taking in.

But the main thing is that you have to know where this money is going. Once you've figured out just how much money you spend on gas, for instance, you might end up adding that to your 'bills' account, putting a certain amount of money in there that covers gas, and pay for gas out of that account. Same with food. But at the beginning, you should keep those out and record them, just to make sure you know just how much you're spending. Savings can also be a separate category.

But again - RECORD EVERYTHING, in a way that you'll actually stick to. This is how you're going to figure out where you're money is going. It is kinda boring - do it anyway. Phone apps are by far the easiest.
posted by markslack at 1:39 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


EEBA is another envelope system website/app (iOS and Android) that's free to use for up to 10 envelopes. I haven't used YNAB so I can't compare the two, but I've always been happy with EEBA.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 2:01 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a vote, I have similar troubles with "yes, this tells me where my money has BEEN..." and then spending way too much. Used Mint forever but didn't really get the point except to see what had posted and not posted to my accounts. As soon as I figured out YNAB (and it does take a little bit of thinking to figure it out, but once you get it, it's easy) I was a convert. It's AMAZING. Does everything I want.
posted by good day merlock at 2:17 PM on February 14, 2013


I'm using YNAB on the free trial right now and I'm in SUCH a honeymoon over it. It makes me feel so in control over my spending. Mint just looks backwards at what happened in the past*. YNAB allows me to plan forward. The videos and the philosophy are great too.

I love excel. I have excel spreadsheets for hobbies as ends in themselves. But YNAB enables me to quickly record cash spending on the road with the iphone app (I have an iTouch, so I just record as I spend, and the budget updates when I connect to wifi at home at the end of the day).

*at least the Canadian version; can't speak to the additional features available in the U.S.
posted by girlpublisher at 2:41 PM on February 14, 2013


It might also be time to open a new savings account at a bank other than the one holding my checking.

Alternatively: would opening a CD at your current bank work for you? There are fees for withdrawing from CDs before maturation, usually a few percent of the value; enough to be a disincentive against dipping into it for impulse spending, but not so much that you can't dip into it for emergencies. This all depends on what your goals and timetable are for those savings, of course.
posted by kagredon at 4:37 PM on February 14, 2013


Not an electronic resource but the best book I found for this sort of thing was The Budget Kit. I ordered it on amazon and while you have to do the math yourself, the spreadsheets are perfect!
posted by missriss89 at 4:56 PM on February 14, 2013


Throwing one more note in on the YNAB rec - the 34 days is that they want you to be able to go through a whole month's cycle with it, plus a day or two to get used to it.

I really really recommend their training materials online - the webinars are free, the ones I've done have been extremely well-run, and there's usually plenty of time for questions. It's done really good things for me to be able to plan my money ahead, and be sensible about it. (They're also up front that it takes a few months to get everything in there for most people - you forget about X thing you only buy every few months, whatever.)
posted by modernhypatia at 6:42 PM on February 14, 2013


Never used YNAB. I use Chronicle (OS X) to track my bills, mostly because I'd like to know what I spent - I've never used its budgeting features but they might be interesting.

I think the key is what markslack et al said above: record *every* dollar in spending for a couple of months, so that you really understand where the money is going.
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:47 AM on February 15, 2013


N'thing YNAB. It's an incredible piece of software with a really strong zero based budgeting methodology that is basically designed to answer your main issue with budgeting. Cloud sync through dropbox with iOS and Android apps. Cross-platform. It helped me go from low five figures in debt to completely solvent, supporting two people, on one income, inside five years. It's the best money I've ever spent. Also excellent forums. Can't recommend it highly enough. MeMail if you want more info, I can talk about it all day.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:16 PM on February 15, 2013


I sat in on a YNAB intro webinar today, I've d/led the software and already started playing with it. That seminar really did help a lot - by laying out what's going to happen and how things are going to look at the beginning, when it's the scariest, they managed to pre-allay a lot of fears.

Thanks, folks! This is why I love the green.
posted by hanov3r at 12:47 PM on February 15, 2013


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