In case you missed our previous blogs in this budgeting series, we established that the path to financial wellness begins when you figure out your financial goals and then make a budget tailored to your needs and goals. But to stay on that path you need to carefully watch your spending habits and track how they fall into your budget.
There are a LOT of tools to track your budget, which means you get lots of options, but it can be overwhelming. We’re with you! Our in-house budgeting guru, Ella Broché, put together some thoughts and insights on the tools she’s found to be the most useful.
Marine Bank's Digital Banking Tiles
If you use Marine Bank’s Digital Banking, you have a couple basic budgeting tools at your fingertips. When you log into your digital banking account there is a section called Goals and another called Budget. These are your Goals and Budget tiles. These tools don’t include elaborate features with all the bells and whistles, but they are easy to use and convenient since they are a part of your online banking. And since there are no outside programs involved, your sensitive banking information is safer.
The Goals tile is a terrific way to keep track of savings goals like an upcoming vacation or a down payment on a car or house. This tool is best used with a savings account, and it pairs well with our Common Cents program.
To set a Goal tile, fill in the amount you’d like to save and then decide if you prefer to complete your goal based on a date or based on a monthly amount. If you choose to reach your goal based on a date, the program will tell you how much you need to save each month to reach that goal. If you opt to base it on a monthly amount, it estimates when you will reach your goal based on that amount.
Every time you log into your account, the tiles display a progress bar that shows how close you are to your goal. This progress bar adjusts as you move money in and out of your account. I’ve found that this frequent reminder of where I am with my goals provides just the motivational boost I need to stay on track. Here’s how to figure out your financial goals if you don’t have any yet.
The Budget tile is a simple option to categorize your transactions so you can easily track them in your budget.
There are preset categories you can use to classify each transaction or, if you don’t find exactly what you need in the preset options, you can create custom categories. Once you begin using the Budget tile, the system automatically categorizes your electronic payments. As you get started, you may find the system doesn’t always get it right. A nice feature of this tool is that as you go in and correct the transactions in the system, it remembers and correctly categorizes them next time they come through.
Depending on your preference, there are two approaches you can take with the Budget tile. The first approach is to make many detailed categories. For example, if you want to have a detailed budget, set up many unique categories such as entertainment, utilities, groceries, gas, dining out, education, doctor appointments, travel, etc.
The second approach is to create broad categories, which means fewer categories that fit more types of transactions in them. For example:
- Home expenses: utilities, cleaning supplies, mortgage/rent
- Food: restaurants, groceries
- Entertainment: movies, tv streaming services, concerts
- Health: medicine/prescriptions, doctor appointments
- Transportation: insurance, vehicle maintenance, gas
Marine Bank tiles are great because they are easily accessible as you log in to check your accounts. That means you don’t have to remember to check or transfer information to yet another app or website.
If you prefer to keep your budget separate from your bank account and classify your own transactions, there are tons of budgeting apps available. Many of these budgeting apps require you to link your bank account, and as a security measure, we encourage people to be cautious of this. The risk of sensitive information getting into the hands of the wrong people increases any time you link your sensitive information, like your online banking username and password, to a third party, like a financial app.
One of the top budgeting apps for 2021* that doesn’t require you to link your online banking accounts and is easy to use is Goodbudget. This app uses the envelope budgeting system, meaning you create “envelopes” in the app for each of your budgeting categories. The app has a free basic option, or you can pay for additional features.
How it works
This app makes it easy to manage your finances with your family. To get started, key in your total monthly income, and then add your budgeted amounts to your envelopes. You get 10 regular envelopes and 10 additional envelopes with the free version. Regular envelopes are for monthly expenses and additional envelopes are for long-term expenses like property taxes or home/auto repair savings.
Like Marine Bank’s tiles, there are a few preset labels you can select, or you can customize your own. Once you’ve created all your labels, manually key in your transactions across your accounts. Another alternative to manually keying in transactions is that some online banking platforms offer to let you download transactions in various formats like Excel. Goodbudget lets you upload transactions using some of those formats. As you assign envelopes to each of your transactions the program will deduct the amount from your budget and show how much you have left to spend in each envelope.
The free version allows one account to sync with two devices which lets you and one other person keep track of the same budget. The paid version allows unlimited accounts with up to five devices.
Pen and Paper
Not a fan of tiny screens or forced entries in confined categories? There’s always the tried-and-true tools of pen and paper.
Use a spiral notebook, or a monthly budgeting worksheet and fill it out by hand. I always recommend using a calculator because, no matter how savvy your math skills are, everyone makes mistakes. It’s always a good idea to double check the math.
So, stack up those receipts and don’t forget to write down your automatic payments and anything you pay online. And given that it’s erasable, a pencil might be a better option than a pen, especially if you are just starting your budget.
No matter what tool you use, be consistent in taking the time to track your funds. It doesn’t matter if you do this daily, a few days a week, or weekly, but don’t wait until the end of the month. You want to know if you are overspending or close to it before your money runs out. The routine may take a few weeks before it starts to stick but keep at it because it will pay off – literally!
Did you find this helpful? Leave a comment below if you’d like to know more about this subject or if you’d like us to dive into another financial topic.
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