When it comes to personal finance and budget tracking, how would you describe yourself? Do you swear by pen and paper or Excel spreadsheets? Or do you think there's nothing better than an app and with instant notifications and updates?
This isn't just a question of using technology or not, it also plays into how much control you like to have over your budget tracking. The beauty of this is, it doesn't matter if you prefer manual budget updating or automated personal finance tools - there's something out there for everyone.
But first, you have to decide what kind of method will work best for you.
Budgeting Tools for the Hands-On Budgeter
How much control do you prefer to have over your budget tracking? Do you want to be the one plugging numbers in, even if that means doing everything manually? If so, here are some great options for you:
Pen and Paper
If handwritten lists and notes are where you’re most effective, using pen and paper might be the best option for you. You can always create a budget on your computer and then print it out to keep track. Or you could simply do it all with pen and paper. Either way, this method works best if you add your transactions in at the end of every day - so there is a good amount of diligence involved.
If you’re looking for a way to actively budget your expenses and manage your transactions, it doesn’t get much more active than handwriting your budget. With this method, every single expense will be etched into your brain because you had to write it down.
For some people, the act of writing down a figure is a better way of drilling information into their head. But that doesn't mean this process is always easy to maintain. Even worse, if you're keeping a budget with your significant other, you'll need to remember to work on this together at the end of every day. Otherwise, you both could end up with very different numbers at the end of the month.
Some people love Excel - really love it. Part of this is because Excel comes with highly useful formulas that can prevent you from ever having to do math by hand. Just plug in the numbers and watch all your totals update accordingly.
If you like the idea of Excel formulas but haven't figured out how to use them, there are plenty of pre-made templates to choose from.
Pros of Using Excel to Manage Your Budget:
An Excel spreadsheet allows you to easily see an overview of your complete budget. That means you don't just see your day-to-day, but you also get that birds-eye view that's so important to understanding your money behavior.
Cons of Using Excel to Manage Your Budget:
If you’re the type of person who likes to enter your expenses as they happen, then an Excel spreadsheet might not work for you. Theoretically you could use a mobile spreadsheet, but that might be a lot more tedious than using an app.
Budgeting Tools for the Technology Lover
If you're a technology lover, you can use your personal interest in technology to help you track your budget. And you'll certainly never run out of options to choose from if you're trying to find the perfect app for you. Here's a list of great personal finance apps to try.
The question is, how can you tell if this is the right method for you?
- Automated Tracking
Personal finance apps are great for confidence and motivation. When you know your finances are being tracked automatically, that's one less thing you need to worry about. You can rest easy knowing your transactions are accounted for and the calculations correct.
Even better, many of them have some form of a dashboard that shows you how you're doing on your overall plan. You can also dive into deeper insights on your spending behavior and other things that factor into your finances.
The cons to using a personal finance app to manage your budget revolve around your level of comfort linking your bank accounts. If you prefer not to link to your accounts, then you'll lose out on the automated benefit of these apps.
Another con could be that these apps are a little too easy to use. You might find that you let them run in the background while paying them little mind - even at the end of the month. Just like all budgeting methods, you'll need to check in monthly (at least) to ensure that you're on track with where you intended to be.
The Only Method that Matters is the One You'll Stick To
Whether you’re trying to optimize your financial plan, identify areas for improvement, or find options to help you stay on track, it's important to choose a budget tracking tool that will work for you. It doesn't matter if you choose, pen and paper, Excel, or an app - all that matters is that you choose a method you'll be able to stick with.