Budgeting software can be relatively simple or pretty complex, but within that range, packages offer a variety of features. There are some budgeting software functions that are important for just about any user, though:
- Comfort and Ease of Use -- Most online and computer-based budgeting packages offer a free introductory trial period. This is actually great news. You can test drive a couple of programs to see which one appeals to you the most. Just limit the information you enter in any single package to a few items, and then move on to the next. That way you won't waste too much time on the getting-to-know-you part of the process.
- Flexibility -- Your budget may be full of entertainment-related expenses if you're single, and child-related costs if you have a family. The best budgeting programs are customizable enough in the way they let you assign categories and style reports that you can make the particulars of your budget specific enough to be helpful. Being able to change the amount of your monthly income may be important if you own your own business or work seasonally, too. The less sophisticated a budgeting program is, the more likely it is to contain limiting one-size-fits-all assumptions.
- Output -- If you want a nice printed report to mark up and review while watching television, make sure the program you have in mind has a print function. Some don't. Ideally, you'll also want to customize reports based on a period you choose, and review them either online or in print form. It's true that you may rely on the same reports month after month, but until you recognize the details that most interest you, flexibility in reporting is an important feature to consider.
- Export --In time, you may decide to conduct more of your financial activities using online or computer-based tools. Upgrading to a more sophisticated system may result in loss of data if you can't move your information. Make sure whatever system you decide to use has export capability or is comprehensive enough to grow with you.
- Security -- Most budget and personal finance programs these days are very security conscious. They make full use of passwords and encryption where needed. It's still a good idea to check the product forums for any current security or other issues before you buy (or sign-up). This is especially true if you plan on allowing the program access to your bank accounts.
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