The start of a new year is a great time to take stock of your finances. And the best way to do this is with a budget.
But where do you start? These tech tools will help you keep track of your outgoings, and in the process get a hold on your spending.
For budgeting beginners
If you’re just starting out trying to rein in your finances, an online budgeting tool is for you. These are simple to use and very convenient – there are no apps or software to download, and no complicated systems to navigate. All you do is fill in some forms online, then log in every time you want to update it.
The Money Advice Service has an online tool that analyses your results to put you in charge of your finances. Budget Planner lets you input information from statements and bills, estimate how much you spend on things like takeaways and alcohol, as well as childcare, holidays and more. This gives you a really accurate picture of how your finances stand. Remember: the more up-to-date the information is, the more accurate your results will be, and the more likely you are to get control of your spending.
Citizens Advice has a similar online budgeting tool. While it doesn’t let you save your results, you can print them off to have a hard paper copy.
For the tech-savvy
If the online budgeting tools don’t take into account all the categories you need, or you don’t like their layout, you can go ahead and create your own. But be warned: this is more complicated than using a ready-made tool, so you’ll have to be quite tech-savvy.
You’ll need a programme that creates spreadsheets. One of the most popular is Microsoft Excel, which comes as part of the Microsoft Office software set - you can see how to create a budget on Excel here. The equivalent on Apple computers is called Numbers, and Google has a version called Sheets.
All three offer much of the same features, so it really depends which package you are most used to and what type of computer you are using. Try each, and see which suits you best.
For those on the move
Budgeting apps are optimised for use on smartphones and tablets, so there’s no awkward zooming in or scrolling across the page to read lines of text. They’re simple to use, with big, easy-to-read text. They can give you results and tips in seconds. And because they’re on your phone, you’ll always have them with you.
Whichever app you’re using, you’ll have to create separate accounts for separate streams of money (household bills, for example). Once you’ve entered the amounts in each category, you can see at a glance how your funds are doing. That way, you can plan before you start spending. Check back in, and it’ll give you an overview of where your money is going, so you can see exactly how much you spent on that pizza.
Goodbudget is a doddle to use, and very informative. PocketGuard, meanwhile, is designed to stop you overspending. It pulls together all of your accounts in one place, including bank accounts, credit cards, loans and savings. By knowing exactly how much is in each, you’re more likely to stick within your means.
For planning all the way to the bank
Your bank is also a good place to start. Remember – it’s in their interest for you to be financially healthy, so they arm you with the tools you need to take control of your spending.
The advantage of using one of these budget calculators is that the bank will recognise it. That way, if you’re applying for a mortgage or a loan, you can show them in a way they will understand exactly what your finances look like.
They’re all very similar. The main difference is that some – like NatWest’s – uses a sliding tool to input your information, while Nationwide's and Barclays' have you enter it in figures. But they all ask for much the same information - what's coming in, and what's going out.
More serious investors might find it worth paying for specialised software. This will give you more advanced features, like the ability to see what your balance will be once you’ve paid your bills, and market comparisons for your investment portfolio.
Quicken is one of the highest-rated paid-for pieces of software, and costs around £30 a year. CountAbout is more affordable, at just £7 a year, but that requires you to input transactions manually. To have it complete them for you, you’ll need a Premium subscription, which costs £30 a year.