Free online programs great for starting out

For new graduates soon headed into new jobs, here’s a simple piece of financial advice that can help you along the way: Make it a habit to spend less than you earn.

It’s not always easy to set spending limits, or stay within those limits throughout the month. Any increase in spending power — whether it’s new income, a rise in income, or new credit — can and often does bring with it the impulse to spend more. You may eventually find yourself spending beyond your means, and using credit to cover the shortfall.

But this doesn’t have to happen if you make a habit of understanding and tracking your spending.

Websites

As a computer-savvy new graduate, you can look into free online budgeting programs like Intuit’s Mint.com, Buxfer. com, or BudgetPulse.com.

There are many different personal finance software programs out there. If you’re new to budgeting, a free program can be a good place to start. It’s easy on the wallet for new graduates, and practice with a free program can help you decide on features you may want in paid software.

Some online financial programs are free in large part because of advertisements for financial products that are displayed on the site. As with any product, weigh those offers carefully with your budget and needs. You also should make sure that any online budgeting program you try has hefty security protection and a good reputation.

Mint, Buxfer and BudgetPulse allow you to create a budget, and to track your budget progress with each transaction. Each program gives you a visual representation of how much you have spent and how much remains in each budget category for the month. If you make a habit of checking in with your budget, adding or revising your transactions, and updating your transaction categories, these programs can give you a consistently accurate picture of your spending, helping you stay under budget.

Mint’s site links directly to online accounts that you have with your financial institutions, and downloads your transactions and balances. The Mint service requires you to enter your login information to connect to your online accounts, for the convenience of automatic syncing.

However, if you prefer not to enter your login information to a budgeting site like Mint for security reasons, sites like Buxfer and BudgetPulse give you the option of manually adding accounts and transactions. Because you don’t need to enter any personal information, these programs give you an added level of security. You also have more flexibility in adding accounts to review.

Other personal financial management tools, such as bill reminders and calendars, reports and goal tracking, often are available on these sites and in other personal finance programs. These tools can be incredibly useful in strengthening the management of your household finances. Once you have a steady income, you also can try out and invest in desktop software that helps you track your spending and saving.

Budgeting programs can help a great deal, but they aren’t necessary. Next week, we’ll discuss ways to track your budget without a computer or internet access.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 19 years experience in retail banking and with financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com.

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