By Stacy Rapacon
Kiplinger's Money Power
Robert Love didn't pay much attention to his finances as a college undergraduate, and it cost him a lot of cash. Now Love, 24, is a graduate student at the University of Florida, and he's also graduated to tracking his finances at Mint.com.
The free money-management Web site lets users view and track all their accounts: checking, savings, credit, loan and investment. Each account is updated automatically every day, and each expense is tagged by category, such as "groceries." The site can turn even the ugliest financial mess into a thing of beauty, organizing expenses into neat grids, pie charts and bar graphs.
After a year, the system has helped Love save $1,000 and dozens of hours in front of the computer. The downside: The site tracks only information available through your bank electronically. You can't add transactions manually to your Mint account, so you can't keep count of what's in your piggy bank or tally cash dealings.
To keep the books for her family of six, Kelly Whalen prefers Wesabe.com. The Exton, Pa., stay-at-home mom manages her credit, savings and checking accounts on the site, although she has to go elsewhere to keep track of the mortgage and her husband's 401(k). Still, since joining Wesabe last June, she's cut her family's expenses by about $1,000 a month.
Getting started on Wesabe takes a bit longer than on Mint because the site doesn't automatically tag an expense with an appropriate spending category. But unlike Mint, Wesabe lets you manually enter cash accounts and transactions.
The real power of Wesabe, however, lies with its users. Members set goals they share with the community and form groups in which they support, inspire and advise one another. One strategy Whalen picked up was to start an emergency fund. Just months later, when a series of unfortunate events required a couple of car repairs and three new pairs of eyeglasses all in one month, she was happy to have the extra cash.
Geezeo.com also offers a good, albeit smaller, online community for your finances. Like Mint, Geezeo automatically tags your expenses. Plus, the site offers expert advice, community confessions, and a marketplace of financial products for you to review and compare. Caveats: Although you can link all your accounts to Geezeo, we had trouble adding more than one account from a single financial institution.
To link your bank accounts to any of these sites, you have to provide your user name and password. But don't worry: They all maintain secure connections. And all user names and passwords are encrypted. For more online budgeting tools, stop by our site first: kiplinger.com/tools.
Stacy Rapacon is a at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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