If you're new to the world of home budgeting, don't be too apprehensive. Even if you've never kept track of your spending before, there are lots of tools around that can make the process almost fun. We say almost because keeping a budget can be -- an education. There's a fine line between reward and indulgence. Understanding how that relates to your habits and your finances can be the first step on the road to financial stability.
Computers and the Internet have made record keeping a lot easier. You can enter information one way and see it sliced, diced and compared in lots of other insightful and enlightening ways. You can also customize your preferences to meet long or short term goals and suit your personal temperament. The temperament part is important. A budget is only effective if you use it.
To use a budgeting aid, you track your income and expense by keying-in or uploading details about your financial life. If you're a Type-A personality who loves details, financial software was made for you. If the prospect of balancing your checkbook sounds like root-canal without anesthetic, then you'll want a budgeting aid that's intuitive, fast and easy to use.
Before we start exploring the numbers, take a minute to think about what you want to accomplish. Do you just want to see where your money is going? This could involve a few simple notations about certain types of spending over a limited period of time. If you want to set up multiple categories with spending limits, that will require a more sophisticated solution. If you want to use that information at tax time too, or need to expand the scope of your approach to include financial planning and investments, you'll want a program that will grow as your needs grow. Recognizing what you want to accomplish -- and knowing what you'll realistically stick with over the long haul -- will save you money and effort.
Grab your willpower and hold on tight. We're about to explore the wondrous world of budgeting software. Some of the options may surprise you, too. From programs that automatically download data from your online bank statement (or upload info from your phone or PDA) to free services that live in the cloud, this isn't your mom's ledger sheet with the loopy handwriting and notations written in red ink. This is the 21st century, and money minding has gone high-tech.