One of the great things about the Internet is that free stuff is everywhere. Sometimes you can even find good free stuff. It may surprise you that there are a lot of companies offering to help you budget your money for free.
Before I go too much further with the mention of "free", I should mention my definition of free here. While you won't pay to use any of this software, you will be trusting your financial data with the company. That could come with some potential hacking and identity theft issues. Also, there may be something in the fine print where these companies may be able to sell your financial information. Usually this is aggregated (as in females under 30 spend X amount at the hair salon each month) so as to protect your identity. Because of these risks, I don't see myself personally signing up for 10 budgeting applications to write in depth reviews about them. (Also, didn't you catch the name of the site? Lazy Man and Money.) Instead, I'll just give you a brief run-down of what I could research and let you go to the sites themselves to learn more about which budgeting service might be right for you.
Here are some free budgeting applications and a very brief run-down of their features:
- Mint - Mint is what I use. It's not just becuase I had the fortune to use their software in private pre-beta. It's not because I did some work for them in the past. It's not because their CMO gave me a great tip about the local burger/BBQ place in Mountain View called Clarke's. It's because their software just works and works really well. They seemed to have got the jump on almost all the other software, had the funding, and built out the top product. Then they got bought by Intuit, so now they even have the big brand behind them.
- Wesabe - Wesabe was an early bird in the online personal finance applications. It seems to be more budget-minded than most. The big thing for me is how it helps you shop more efficiently. The community is also a large part of Wesabe. I gave a very, very brief review of Wesabe in the past
- moneyStrands is a newer online personal finance application. I've met with the top people in the organization in person a few times now. I was even invited to be part of a brainstorming session on personal finance software. I have been too busy to use it for a few months. It was not as full-featured as others out there, but the "widgety" interface really clicked with me better than others. I can see them being a strong challenger to Mint with the right funding to fill out everything.
- Geezeo - Geezeo is like Wesabe in that it emphasizes the community in addition to it's free budgeting tools. You get the standard budgeting accounts available (checking, savings, credit cards, etc.). They are local to my Boston-based home, so while I'm pulling for them, I haven't heard much new from them in a long time.
- Quicken Online - One of the most trusted names in personal finance, they have their own product that has fewer features than Mint's - which may explain why they bought Mint. There's the usual budgeting and categorizing of expenses, but not really that much else.
- Yodlee - Yodlee seems to have been around forever. I remember I signed up for it around 1998 or 1999 because it tracked the T.G.I Friday's reward points as well as airline frequent flyer miles. When I moved to a different job that didn't fly me as much or have weekly lunches at Friday's, I kind of forgot about the account. (I wonder if it's still gathering dust on their systems.) In any event, Yodlee has come a long way. They have contracts to securely aggregate almost all financial out there (not sure if they are working with P2P yet like Lending Club or Prosper). They leverage that expertise to power other services like Mint.
- Buxfer - Like many of the tools above, this bills itself as a complete money management tool. It was more of a budgeting tool when it started, but now it can track your checking, savings, and credit card accounts. Two notable aspects are the bill reminder feature and the trade IOUs from friends. I don't see any information on investing accounts like a brokerage, so this might be more geared to young adults just out of school who might not significant investments.
- Thrive is another online tool similar to many of the above. One thing I like is how they allow people to categorize themselves on the front page. You can click on any of: "I want a place of my own.", "I have way too much debt.", "I like to shop...a lot!", and "I want the best accounts." and learn more about how to solve each problem. I like that they have a good blog and focus on eduation.
- SmartyPig - Despite difficulties in setting up an account for them, I have successfully used SmartyPig to save money for a small goal, to buy a netbook. SmartyPig works by setting up automatic withdrawals each month until you reach that goal. When I had the money, I dipped into another account because I didn't want to deal with SmartyPig's login to retrieve the money I had been depositing. So it did it's job in my eyes - stopped me from getting the money, but failed in other aspects... my money is still at SmartyPig and I keep on forgetting to get it out. It's just too "small potatoes" at this point to make my "to-do" list.
- Budgetpulse - From what I could tell, this service simply doesn't have the feature set of other services listed here. They do have international compatibility which may be of some interest if you are outside of the United States.
There are certainly some very compelling reasons to go with free online budgeting applications. However, in the upcoming days, I'll look at some of the paid budgeting applications and ask what you are get for you money.
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