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Income

Budgeting doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Some of us need a little assistance with tracking our income and spending. That’s where budgeting tools come in.

There are several front runners in this space. Many of them offer a wide range of features to help you manage your money better. Here are four of the best budgeting tools that we’ve found:

Personal Capital

Personal Capital is a money management tool that tracks your investments and other financial accounts. What’s great about Personal Capital is that it’s an all-in-one tool. Not only can you track things like your net worth and portfolio balances, but you can also get down to the nitty gritty details of your budget.

After you link your financial accounts by logging into them through the Personal Capital website, you’ll see different charts on the main dashboard. One of those is a cash flow chart. This chart shows you your income and spending for the last 30 days — a quick glance at your budget details.

Personal-capital-cash-flow-spending

Simply click the chart to be brought to another page. Here, it will show you the details of your budget. You’ll see where your income is coming from, and where you’re spending money.

Personal Capital is free to use, but it charges a fee for optional wealth management services for people with investment portfolios worth over $1 million.

Mint

Mint has long been considered the gold standard for budgeting tools. Between its website and mobile app, Mint gives users the ability to see their money activity in real time. Much like Personal Capital, Mint syncs all of your financial accounts into one dashboard. From there, you can see your spending categories, investment balances, and upcoming bills.

Mint-Review

What’s unique about Mint is that it also offers a free credit score. You’ll see the number on your dashboard every time you log in, and your score is updated every three months. Although there are plenty of websites offering free credit scores these days, Mint makes it easy to keep all your financial data in one place and avoid having to log in to multiple websites.

Mint is free to use. You’ll receive financial product recommendations for things like credit cards and savings accounts, based on your profile.

Learn More: Mint vs Personal Capital

You Need a Budget (YNAB)

You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a premium budgeting tool for the more involved users. The latest update included direct import, which allows users to sync their bank accounts with YNAB and have transactions imported automatically rather than manually. Despite this, users still have to manually categorize each expense, which can be a benefit to some because it creates more awareness of spending.

YNAB

What sets You Need A Budget apart from other budgeting tools is its comprehensive knowledge base. Users can sign up for free 30 minute online workshops on topics ranging from credit to debt. YNAB has a podcast with over 250 budgeting episodes and a YouTube channel that features weekly tutorial videos.

YNAB comes at a cost of $50 per year. This price tag may deter some users who aren’t looking to add another bill to their budget. However, YNAB’s website claims that new budgeters save on average $200 their first month, making the investment in the budgeting tool worth it. You can try out YNAB on a free trial for 34 days.

Good Ol’ Spreadsheet

Let’s not forget about the good ol’ spreadsheet for budgeting. Years ago, before online budgeting tools were popular, many people who budgeted simply tracked their income and spending in spreadsheets. It definitely takes more manual work and time than simply syncing your accounts on a financial aggregator. But the awareness you create when you update the budget spreadsheet yourself can be enough to get you out of bad spending habits and reach your savings goals.

You can grab a free budget template online with a simple Google search. If you have Microsoft Office, the program also includes free budget templates for Excel.

Stay On Track: 10 Guardrails to Help You Reach Financial Freedom

Final Thoughts

When choosing an online budgeting tool, it’s important to make sure the website is secure. The three online budgeting tools mentioned in this article (Personal Capital, Mint, and YNAB) have all been vetted for proper security protocols. Another benefit of using a spreadsheet for your budget is that you avoid giving external websites access to your financial accounts.

No matter how you choose to track your income and spending, the important thing is that you do it, especially if you are trying to save or get out of debt. Being aware of where your money goes, and knowing how to cut expenses, is a great first step toward financial freedom.

What’s your favorite way to budget?

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This is a guest article by Mike Collins, creator of Wealthyturtle.com. He shares with us how he and his wife decided to become a single-income family, and he offers some useful advice for those struggling with the same decision.

Most new parents will at least consider the idea of living on a single income so one parent can stay home with the kids. But is this a realistic idea or just a pipe dream?

stay home

It’s a question my wife and I dealt with when we first started to build our family and it wasn’t an easy decision. In the end we decided that my wife would quit her job and we would find a way to make it work.

I’m not going to lie to you. It involved a lot of sacrifices and there have been times when we questioned whether or not we made the right decision. But ultimately I’m glad we did things the way we did.

How it happened

First, let me tell you a little about our situation and how we made our decision. Then, I’ll give you some tips about making the right choice for you and your family.

Way back in 2004, my wife and I were expecting our first child. Initially we figured both of us would continue to work. The plan was for my mother-in-law to watch the baby a few times a week and then we would find a babysitter to fill in the rest of the time. But my mother-in-law started having health issues and we realized that she wouldn’t be able to take care of a baby even for a few days a week.

We considered hiring a babysitter for the entire week, but the cost was just too much. When we ran the numbers and compared child care costs with my wife’s salary, we realized she’d only be bringing home a few hundred dollars a month. Most of the time she’d be working to pay a babysitter and that didn’t make a lot of sense to us.

Financial impact led to sacrifice

Meanwhile, I could tell my wife really wanted to stay home, and I leaned that way, too. My main concern was the financial impact of living on only one income. At the time she was earning almost as much as I was so losing her salary would effectively cut our income in half. Further complicating matters was the fact that we had just bought our first house. The monthly payment that we made comfortably on two salaries would become a heavy burden on one income.

Related: Learning to Live on One Income (By Choice)

Despite our financial concerns, we decided that my wife would quit her job. The years that followed involved a lot of sacrifices (skipping vacations, me driving a beat up old car with no air conditioning, falling into debt, constant stress about money), but we pulled through it together.

Of course, just because it worked out for us doesn’t mean that you should follow our example. If you’re thinking about becoming a single-income family to stay home with your kids, there are a few steps you need to take before deciding if it is doable.

Calculate Your Expenses

The first step in determining whether or not you can realistically afford to stay home with your kids is to add up all of your expenses to see exactly how much you’ll need to live on. Start by listing fixed expenses such as your mortgage or rent payment, utilities, car payments, student loans, and insurance.

Next, add in other monthly expenses such as food, clothing, gas, and entertainment expenses. You’ll also need to add in credit card payments and any other regular debt payments you make.

It’s a good idea to leave a decent cushion to cover miscellaneous and unexpected expenses that can and will pop up. And don’t forget that a new baby comes home with all sorts of new expenses of his own. Hospital bills can be shocking, and even the cost of diapers often surprises new parents who underestimated the cost of raising kids.

While you’re calculating your expenses, you should take a good, hard look at your spending habits. We all have money leaks that slowly drain our budget, and now is a good time to seal them up. Prioritize what matters most to you because choices are inevitable if you want to live on one income. You may have to settle for dining out less or downsizing your vacations for a few years.

Learn More: Travel Rewards Credit Cards — Get More Vacation for Your Money

Figure Out What You’ll Save By Not Working

Many people forget this side of the equation, but you might be surprised at how much money you can save by not going to work. No more gas and tolls to get back and forth from work. Less wear and tear on the car means it will last longer, too. And you won’t need to spend as much on clothes, dry cleaning, lunches, or your morning coffee for the ride to the office.

And then there are child care costs. If you have a family member who lives nearby and is willing to watch your little one, consider yourself lucky. If not, you’d have to pay a babysitter or nanny to watch your kids while you worked. Obviously rates vary from one region to another, but in my area the going rate for an experienced babysitter is $12 to $15 an hour. For a nine-hour day (don’t forget to add in commuting time) a babysitter could cost you between $500 and $700 a week.

Don’t Forget the Long-Term Costs

In addition to the affect on your family’s monthly balance sheet, the decision to become a stay-at-home parent will also have long-term consequences. You’ll have less money to throw into savings and investments. You’ll miss out on employer 401(k) contributions and your Social Security benefits may be reduced since you’ll have contributed less to your account.

When the time comes when you’re ready to re-enter the work force, you may have a hard time. Your skills will likely be a bit rusty and you may find yourself at a disadvantage. And since you’ve been out of work and obviously not receiving annual salary increases, you’ll probably end up earning less than you would if you had continued working.

Resource: 33 Great Work-From-Home Jobs (That are Legitimate)

It’s Not Just About Money

In the end, after all your calculations are complete and you’ve gone over all the numbers again and again…it’s not all about the money. While some women can’t wait to get back to the work routine after having a baby, others just can’t resist the maternal pull and feel an intense need to stay home. And knowing that your kids are being raised at home by a loving parent can give the income-provider a certain peace of mind as well.

What if you are committed to being a stay-at-home parent, but you’ve run the numbers and you don’t think you can afford to do it? It’s time to get creative and find a way to make it work!

My wife and I knew that we couldn’t afford to pay all of our bills on my salary alone, so we looked for other ways to supplement our income. My wife did some babysitting to earn extra money and also tried direct sales through Party Lite Candles. When that didn’t work out, she got her real estate agent’s license. Of course just as she got her license the real estate bubble burst, but she did have one successful deal.

Meanwhile, I got a part-time job at Babies’R’Us for a while to make extra money (and take advantage of the company discount). I also started building websites and blogs on the side.

Do It, Too: How to Start Your Own Online Business or Blog

Flash forward a few years and we’re a lot more stable than we were back then, though there were certainly some sacrifices along the way. It can be frustrating at times to watch your friends traveling and doing things that you can’t afford, but in the end I do feel we made the right decision for our family.

Have you and your spouse thought about keeping one parent at home, or even taken the plunge? How do you feel that decision impacted your family and finances?

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This is the fourth article in a series about finding methods of earning incremental income. Some people have a desire to earn more money without the available time to learn a new skill or start a new business. I’ve written about becoming a mystery shopper, selling items on eBay, and teaching and tutoring.

The key to these techniques for earning more money is understanding that trading in small amounts of time for small amounts of cash is not a path to wealth. Nevertheless, when you have ten minutes here and ten minutes there, and would otherwise would be spending the time watching television, why not optimize that time a little better?

Recently, Donna Freedman offered advice on online surveys on a visit with the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, and she prepared a comprehensive article for MSN earlier this year.

My experience with online surveys

Pen and Paper: Online SurveysA few years ago, I gave online surveys a try. During an open enrollment period, I signed up for PineCone Research, one of the more popular online survey operators. Every few days between October 2006 and November 2007, PineCone sent me an email with a link to a new survey. Completing the surveys took only a few minutes each, and when completed, the company sent five dollars per surveys to my PayPal account relatively quickly. I received new survey opportunities every few days, but I rarely completed the surveys.

If I had signed up for more companies, I would have had enough opportunities to earn more money. I decided that answering surveys was not an ideal way for me to spend my time. Completing surveys can be somewhat tedious; I compare it to data entry, an annoying task that I’ve tried to avoid as much as possible throughout my adult life. As a result of my lack of motivation, I didn’t earn very much from online surveys.

Income potential for online surveys

Anyone interested in spending a significant amount of time completing surveys can earn much more than I did. With enough time, there are enough opportunities to earn a good part-time salary. PineCone research may be one of the most popular survey companies, but they don’t always accept new participants. Be on the look-out for ads that announce the next enrollment period. In her article, Donna cites the MSN Smart Spending community with recommendations for other survey providers, including Toluna, Synovate, Lightspeed Online Research, i-Say, SurveySpot, Valued Opinions and Surveyhead.

Although I earned five dollars for each survey at the time I participated, compensation can range as low as 50 cents. You may occasionally be able to find a survey that pays twenty dollars, depending on how your profile matches a survey’s requirements. Sometimes, the unique profile aspect is as simple as being a man; most survey respondents are women, and if a company is looking for opinions from men, they may be willing to pay more or offer more opportunities.

Do you earn extra money taking online survey? What do you enjoy about these opportunities?

Photo: Senior Peter

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This is the third article in a series about methods of supplementing income with spare-time projects. I typically focus on the big changes people can make that result in earning significantly more money, but this series focuses on incremental income. The first article was about becoming a secret shopper and the second was about selling items on eBay.

While I worked at my previous job, at a company in the financial industry, I wanted to use my extra time to learn more about business. I’m not particularly a fan of “business” as an industry, but I figured I was involved with it, so I might as well improve my skills. I decided to do this by enrolling in the University of Phoenix Online.

I was aware of the potential downsides, primarily the stigma that is attached to online degrees, particularly within human resources. That wasn’t particularly important to me. Another downside, the relatively high cost of tuition, also had negligible relevance because my company paid for almost all tuition costs. What I liked was the flexibility and the technology. Ever since I was exposed to online education via the web in its earliest incarnations, I’ve believed in the strong potential of this type of learning. It hasn’t been perfected for a mass audience yet, but I believe it will continue to improve.

The University of Phoenix and other schools, whether focusing on courses online or not, hire teachers or facilitators to develop materials, engage students, and share their experiences. If you have a master’s degree and you are successful in your field, you could qualify to teach an online course. There is a wide variety in quality among facilitators in online education, not dissimilar to universities focused on traditional education. Good teachers are always in need, and schools would do well to nurture them.

Income potential for online teaching

Using my experience earning a Master’s Degree at the University of Phoenix Online as an example, different facilitators will spend a different amount of time working. Regardless of the hours, salaries are standard. For a six-week graduate-level course, a new facilitator will receive a stipend of $1,400. After staying with the university of ten years, that salary reaches the maximum of $1,910. Those rates are as of 2009, so they might have changed in the past few years. You do need a PhD or JD to teach graduate level courses, though.

Facilitating an online class is, for most people, not a good prospect for a full-time job, but or those who have jobs in the field in which they’d like to teach and have the extra time, it could provide between $10,000 and $20,000 a year to prop up your balances.

Those with just a master’s degree can qualify to teach undergraduate courses, but the pay would be less. If you’re really interested in teaching in some form that doesn’t conflict with the time required for a day job, consider becoming an adjunct faculty member at a local community college. You may not need to work many hours and you may receive a higher salary.

Income potential for tutoring

With the highly competitive nature of college enrollment, an increasing number of parents are willing to spend money for tutors. Anything to give a child an advantage over another seems to be worth the expense. You can take advantage of this attitude by offering private lessons in an academic area, including the arts, with which you are most gifted.

  • Get to know the middle school and high school teachers in your academic field in your town and the surrounding towns. Once you do, you may ask teachers to recommend you to students in need of help or enrichment.
  • Your best advertisement is having pupils with noticeable achievement. When parents and teachers see improvement, they will recommend you to others.

The amount you can charge is proportional to the difficulty of the material; you may be able to charge $20 an hour for a ninth-grade student struggling with geometry, $30 an hour for a tenth-grade student needing more experience with algebra to score higher on the SATs, or $40 an hour for an eleventh-grade student who’s ready for calculus in advance of the rest of the class. The more advanced the topic, the less there is a chance you’ll be competing with exceptional high school students, who will likely charge less per hour than you would accept for the same work.

It’s not just academic subjects. The demand is so high for test preparation tutoring that you could charge $100 per hour or more. You might do well on your own, but many parents look first at organizations that offer these tutoring services, like The Princeton Review. If you can’t find pupils on your own, you could work for an organization like this as a part-time tutor. The possibilities for income is limited only by your time and desire. It may be difficult to handle twenty hour-long tutoring sessions a week, but there always is a demand for these services.

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Earn More Money: eBay Selling and Flipping

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Book Sale

This is the second article in a series about methods of supplementing income with spare-time projects. I typically focus on the big changes people can make that result in earning significantly more money, but this series focuses on incremental income. The first article was about becoming a secret shopper. A friend of mine is stuck […]

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Earn More Money: How to Be a Secret Shopper

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Secret Shopping, Shopping Bags

For all of the eight years of Consumerism Commentary’s existence, I’ve written about big ways to earn more income, like changing a career path, learning how to negotiate, or building your own business, much more than I’ve written about options that might seem more available to most people. I’ve generally shied away from the smaller […]

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Body Parts You Can Sell

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As I mentioned a few days ago, Consumerism Commentary is matching your charitable contributions. Please take this opportunity to give to your favorite charity. Here’s how to make your charity count twice. If you’re desperate for cash, you may have considered selling some of your extraneous body parts. In some ways, I’m glad there isn’t […]

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My Experiences Selling Online

by Smithee

I recently sold a number of possessions in my year-long quest to vanquish my credit card debt as quickly as possible. Before this, I had very limited experience using online selling tools, and generally thought of them all as a hassle, so I thought I would try more than one and see how they stacked […]

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