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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.

Try Personal Capital

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 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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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 in a job she hates. She’s been looking for a way out, but for financial reasons, is currently stuck in her position. One way she’s trying to earn some income is by buying items at low prices from a variety of sources and selling these items on eBay for a profit. The concept makes sense, because eBay is such an efficient market. Garage sales or yard sales are much less efficient because there isn’t a wide pool of potentially interested buyers to drive up the cost of a rare item. Nevertheless, people still use garage sales to sell unwanted items because they don’t want the hassle of creating an effective eBay listing.

Finding deals at physical shopping locations and selling those items on eBay can produce a healthy profit with the right kind of knowledge guiding the shopping prices. It’s also possible take advantage of bad eBay listings and flip products purchased online for incremental income.

Finding the right items to sell

Income potential for selling items on eBay is limited only by the seller’s ability to recognize good deals before purchasing. In this case, a good deal is anything that is underpriced based on the eBay market. This type of knowledge comes from paying close attention to completed eBay sales. It would be very difficult to understand the eBay market for all products, so it might make sense to focus on one or a small number of product categories, such as old books, magazines, dolls, vinyl records, or vintage clothing. As you gain knowledge and experience, you might have the confidence to expand into additional categories.

Book SaleKnowing the target prices for purchasing products, the price at which you will be able to earn a profit, is one step for finding the right items; next, you need to be in the right places to find a deal. Here are a few locations where you may scour for deals.

  • Garage sales and yard sales. Your local newspaper or local events website can help direct you to garage sales in the area. At garage sales, you can often be successful negotiating towards a better deal, increasing your potential profit if the item can be sold on eBay. There are two good times to visit garage sales: at the beginning, when some of the best deals have not yet had the opportunity to be scanned by other shoppers, and at the end, when you have stronger negotiating power and sellers who are motivated to get rid of their less popular items at any price.
  • Book sales. Libraries and schools often put collections on sale to the public once they’ve outlived their use. The key is to be able to cherrypick the best selections, spotting any editions that may be rare or collectible. That isn’t the only way to succeed, however. Often, at the end of sales, you may find that the selling organization offer deals where you can fill a box of any books and take an entire lot at a small price. Even with books that aren’t rare, you can make a profit by listing these individually on eBay or a book selling website of your choice.

    For an overview of what this can be like, take a look at the Bryn Mawr/Wellesley book sale, an annual event in Princeton, New Jersey. The claim to be the biggest book sale on the east coast, and many shoppers here are looking to profit by reselling their finds. Here’s a video.

  • Other eBay auctions. If you become adept at spotting auctions that are not well-designed and would not attract a lot of interested buyers, you may be able to bid a low price, win the auction, and turn the item around on eBay with a better listing to earn money. There are tools you can buy that help in this endeavor, but I wouldn’t suggest paying any money up front for a tool that can help with incremental income. Search eBay listings for popular misspellings, and you may find popular items with less traffic than they should have, if the correct spelling was used. Many sellers anticipate misspelled searches and use incorrectly-spelled words in their listings to draw more attention from potential buyers.
  • Flea markets and swap meets. Thanks to eBay, it’s less likely to find great deals at flea markets and swap meets. The more savvy vendors have moved the bulk of their operations online because of the greater revenue potential. Nevertheless, flea markets and swap meets could provide some opportunities for finding profitable items, but education and experience is more important than ever.

Building your eBay reputation

You can attract more potential buyers on eBay by being a good — and frequent — seller. Always offer good return policies and always communicate well with your customers. The feedback and ratings they provide will solidify your reputation as a trusted seller. The more you sell, the more eBay increases your status. The more business you do on eBay, the faster you will move up to and through the ranks of PowerSeller. The eBay PowerSeller badge is a somewhat important piece of advertising for your seller account, but it isn’t the only criterion that buyers are concerned about. Interestingly, as a PowerSeller, eBay allows a certain number of policy violations, but the more you make your selling approach friendly to buyers, the less you need to worry about that.

To build your reputation, you may want to focus on growing positive feedback from buyers, and that might require forgoing significant profit. Sell as many items as you can handle, even for a bargain, to quickly receive the positive feedback you need to attract more discerning buyers.

Here are a few ideas that will move your reputation in the right direction.

  • Ship your items quickly after receiving payment and offer shipment tracking.
  • Respond to shoppers’ inquiries immediately.
  • Charge reasonable prices for shipping.
  • Always be gracious in your communications.
  • Leave great feedback for others.

eBay selling income potential

Unfortunately, the internet is full of promises of riches to be derived from selling items on eBay. Many such advertisements simply fail to subtract the cost of goods from their revenue, others just outright lie. However, it is possible to earn a living making a business out of scouring physical sales and inefficient eBay listings for deals, selling the best finds for a profit on eBay. My former co-worker’s husband made such a living, but I believe he would say that he wasn’t exactly rich and it was a hard, time-consuming job. He focused on music recordings, and really enjoyed music, so besides the potential revenue he was working with something he enjoyed. Furthermore, their entire apartment was full of stuff determined to be unsaleable or waiting to be sold. To do this well, you may need significant storage space while your items are being sold, and that could be a drawback.

More likely than making a living, this process has the potential to add a few hundred dollars to your bank accounts each month. Even this requires diligently finding only the best deals and attracting enough buyers on eBay. In the worst case scenario, you spend more for your inventory than you can make by selling on eBay, resulting in a loss. It’s a risky business, but you can reduce that risk with practice and by focusing your tactics on a specific category to start.

Do you have a profitable side business (or main business) selling or flipping items on eBay? What are your suggestions for success?

Photo: Phil Roeder

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Earn More Money: How to Be a Secret Shopper

by Luke Landes
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

by Luke Landes

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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