Managing your budget means more than just keeping costs contained while you work the cash flow that keeps your bills paid. That’s the first step, and it’s essential to having a functional household, but you also need tools that help you with long-term planning and others to advise you when you’re considering big purchases or investments. Understanding these essential tools can really help at every phase of your financial journey.
1. Spreadsheet Software for Budgeting
This one is so basic that it’s taught as an essential personal financial tool in many high school classes. The biggest excuses people use for not embracing a fully budgeted and accounted-for set of household books are the expense and the time it takes. The time issue can easily be facilitated with apps that allow you to scan and store your receipts for expense tracking, but the actual ledger is best kept with specialized software.
It used to be that good bookkeeping software could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. If you’re running a business, that’s still true, but households can generally work from a spreadsheet. When you don’t have a paid office suite on your computer, you can still find free options from the Linux community and from Google.
2. Online Loan Calculators
There are a few varieties of loan calculators you can find, and they are easy to bookmark. Many banks and credit unions include them as interactable features on their loan department’s websites. The biggest thing is finding the right calculator for the occasion. Some are flexible, allowing you to input loan terms and interest rates manually. They work for any type of loan. Others have limited parameters, like those that automatically generate mortgage payments.
If you have been saving for a new home or vehicle, understanding your monthly payments before you even apply for the loan can mean peace of mind about the approval. The right car loan calculator can even help you see the payment options for different loan term lengths side by side.
3. Personal Credit Lines
If you own a home, you can often maintain an open credit line by using its equity. Many people use this to finance home improvements or other major purchases without a term loan, but there is a more powerful way to use this tool. An open credit line can be a great way to manage cash flow while keeping flexible emergency money available. Instead of paying a bill late and eating the fee, a quick withdrawal lets you pay it on time, and repaying it a few days later when you get your check often means sneaking in and erasing the balance before you even have an interest charge.
If you do not have a piece of real estate to use for a secured credit line, unsecured lines for smaller amounts are frequently available from banks and credit unions, allowing you to make use of the same cash management tools, at a slightly higher interest rate.
4. Receipt and Invoice Management Apps
You have a few options here, but basically any app designed to let you catalog your receipts, bills, and other expenses with your phone’s camera will work. Finding the best solution for your budget just means a little time in the app store for your phone, and there are some recognizable names in financial software making them. If you can find an app that dumps the information from the receipt into a format you can use in a spreadsheet or another budget management tool, that’s even better.
There are a lot more options out there for you when you want to take control of your financial planning, but these basic items will get you started so you can make the big decisions with more confidence. From there, it’s a matter of doing the work to learn how to best handle your long-term savings and wealth growth. That requires a new set of tools, including apps that help you manage investments and retirement funds, but it helps to get your everyday expenses and asset purchases in line first.