Learn 6 ways to use free online financial tools to get more done in less time.
Online Money Management Method #4: Online Brokerages
When it comes to investing, the secret to success is to play a Jedi mind trick on yourself by digitally automating the process. With automation, money gets transferred from your checking account into an investment account before you have the opportunity to spend it. If you don’t have a 401(k) or 403(b) plan at work, open up an IRA at an online brokerage like ShareBuilder or E*TRADE and set it up to invest a set amount on the same day every month. To reach your long-term financial goals, like retirement, choose diversified investments and feed them on a consistent basis. But don’t procrastinate because the sooner you get started the less money you’ll need to put aside to accumulate your nest egg.
Online Money Management Method #5: Financial Web Services
After you create online accounts with all the financial institutions in your life, you can take full advantage of free web-based personal finance services—like Mint.com, moneyStrands, and MySpendingPlan.com. These financial services give you a bird’s eye view of your finances by aggregating all your data from multiple online accounts into one place. They use secure technology to import transactions from places like bank checking and savings accounts, brokerage accounts, and credit cards. Once all your digital transactions are funneled into one place you can see how you spend money, monitor your investments, categorize your transactions, and create a budget. These web-based financial services aren’t banks, but they do allow you to get a handle on your cash flow. Some even allow you to manually enter cash transactions, so you have a complete picture of your spending.
Online Money Management Method #6: Financial Software
If you need a financial system that’s more advanced than a free service like Mint.com, there are powerful desktop software programs for managing your money. Quicken and QuickBooks do what the web services do, and much more. They display your bank, credit card, and investment accounts in individual registers, allow you to import transactions from each of your financial accounts, automatically categorize your transactions, make it simple to create and monitor a budget, and offer a wide range of financial reports. The price for Quicken starts at $59.99—but I can tell you from experience there’s no better way to stay on top of your bills, get organized, and be ready for tax time. If you want to try out a free personal finance software, download GnuCash from gnucash.org.
How to Stay Safe from Identity Theft
One of the first reactions many people have to the idea of moving their money online is a fear that it won’t be safe. Going digital is actually one of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft because you stop sending and receiving confidential documents through the mail that could fall into the wrong hands. A few quick and dirty tips for staying safe are to:
password-protect your computer or mobile device
create strong passwords for your online financial accounts
access financial Web sites from a secure Internet connection only
If you follow these guidelines you’ll maintain control over your private information and reap the rewards of digital money management.