Finance Apps

Apps make everything easier, especially personal finance. If you’re like most people your day is usually busy, and you don’t always have the time to fire up your computer to check your bank statement. In fact, you might only check your finances once per week due to your schedule and responsibilities. Or you might be the sort of person who very rarely thinks about budget and spending. The good news is that there are many apps that can help you stay on top of your finances and track your money. Here’s a list of some of the top finance apps available.

Mint
I’ve written about Mint a number of times in the past. The site is so popular for a simple reason: it’s one of the best personal financial tools on the market. Mint’s app is just as useful as the site—if not more useful since all of the information you want to access is right there on your phone. The app gives you the ability to sync all of your accounts in one place so you know how much you spend each month. One of the most useful features is the alerts that you receive when you are close to going over your budget.

Level Money
After you enter your accounts and bills into the Level Money app, it will present set a monthly spending goal for you. Additionally, the app will give you recommendations on how much money you should save each month. The app updates in real time, so you can review your budget after every purchase to make sure that you’re on track with your spending and savings goals.

Digit
If you have trouble saving money each month Digit can help. You can connect your bank account to the app, and it will gain an understanding of your income and how much you spend on a regular basis. Once it has this information Digit will create a savings account and withdraw small sums of money from your checking account. Every month it takes into account how much you spend, so the amount that it withdraws is different each month. Digit’s savings account doesn’t earn interest, so in the long run, you should transfer your money to a better account. However, it’s a great place to start.

Goodbudget
Goodbudget gives users the ability to create “envelopes” for different categories. For example, you can create envelopes for food, entertainment, and bills. Then you decide the budget for each envelope. If you go over your budget, the app will let you know. Goodbudget doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that Mint has, but it is a simple budget app that anybody can easily use.

Tips for Paying Off Student Loans

Debt is one of the biggest hindrances to financial health. Today just about everyone under fifty years old who has attended college has some sort of student loan debt. The more recently you went to college the more likely it is that you have student loans. This means that millennials are well acquainted with the real cost of attending college. Fortunately, it’s possible to pay off your student loans quickly. You just need to be smart about your payment strategy. To learn how you can eliminate your student loan debt, take a look at the below tips.

Larger Payments
The easiest way to pay off your loans quickly is to simply pay more money. When you pay more than the minimum payment your money goes after the principal balance faster. Some people make larger monthly payments while others choose to make payments every two weeks. Ultimately, how you decide to make larger payments depends on your financial situation. Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn’t put so much money toward your loans that you end up not having money for savings.

Automatic Payments
Most loan providers allow you to set up automatic payments. It’s a good idea to create an account where you can deposit money that gets automatically deducted each month. By keeping your loan repayment money separate from your regular checking account, you won’t be tempted to spend the extra money that you want to go toward your loans.

Extra Work
If you’re reading this and you’re still in school, consider finding a part-time job that will help you save money. Then you can use that money to pay your loans. After graduation when you work full-time, you can earn extra money by doing different small jobs. For example, if you make crafts you can sell them on Etsy. Or if you’re an artist you can sell your art on the side. You can take the money that you earn from your side job and apply it to your loans.

Be Smart
Ultimately, paying off your loans quickly comes down to a simple formula of saving money and applying it to your loans. If you want to save your money, though, you have to make the right decisions. Don’t needlessly waste your money every month. Create a budget; stick to it, and in time you’ll have extra money saved up that you can apply to your loans. While it’s true that you will need to make some sacrifices in order to pay off your loans quickly, in the end, you’ll be happy living a debt free life.

3 Ways You Can Save Money This Summer

During the summer there are many ways that you can overspend. When the weather is warm and inviting it’s difficult to stay inside. Plus, there’s a good chance that you want to purchase new clothes for the vacation that you planned. If you live in an area where it gets hot, then you likely spend a lot of money on your electric bill each month. However, it’s possible to save money and enjoy the summer months at the same time. Below are some of the simplest ways that you can save money during the hot summer months.

Staycation

Every family knows how expensive vacations can be. If you really want to save money, think about some of the ways that you can have an enjoyable staycation. Do you know anybody with a pool membership? Maybe they will let you and the family tag along for a day. Other ideas include the movies, miniature golf, or even a local amusement park if you want to go on rides. Eating out while on vacation is one of the most expensive aspects of the trip. You’ll save a lot of money just by cooking at home or packing your lunch if you visit an amusement park.

Turn Off the Air Conditioner

It might sound crazy, but turning off the air conditioner is one of the easiest ways to save money over the summer. Instead of blasting the AC every day think about using a ceiling fan instead and open up the windows. Obviously, in some situations (like during a heatwave) you should absolutely keep the AC running. However, on days when it’s not too hot or humid, don’t be afraid to turn off the AC, get a drink of something cool, and dress lightly. Then you’ll save money and stay cool at the same time.

Don’t Waste Water

If you want to save money over the summer, then be careful not to use too much water. One of the biggest wastes of water is lawn sprinklers. The possibility of drought is a real concern for many areas of the United States. Even if you don’t live in a part of the country that has experienced a drought, it’s still a good idea to put the sprinkler away. In most cases, it’s better to let Mother Nature take care of your lawn for the most part. If you must water your lawn, just make sure you’re not overdoing it.

6 Tips for Saving Money

When it comes to saving money, Americans are notoriously bad. Last month CNN reported that “nearly six in 10 Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $500 or $1,000 unplanned expense” (Vasel). If you are one of the six Americans that CNN is referring to, then you’ll find the below tips useful.

Track the Money You Spend

You can’t save money if you’re not sure how much you spend each month. Every time you buy something make sure you get a receipt. Then at the end of the month tally up all of your expenses. If you’re comfortable with online tools, Mint is one of the easiest ways to track everything in one location. Tracking your expenses will show you where you spend the most money. If you find that you spend too much money on entertainment each month, then you might need to rethink your spending habits.

Plan a Budget

After tracking your expenses for a couple of months, you can create a monthly budget. This budget will help prevent you from overspending. Once you have a budget you’ll be better able to make spending decisions each month.

Start Saving

You should include a savings category as part of your budget. Saving 10-15% of your income each month is a good starting point. If you find that percentage to be too high, you might need to take a second look at your expenses. Think about cutting back on non-essential expenses like buying coffee each day or dining out each week.

Create a Savings Goal

It’s easier to save money when you have a goal you’re saving for. It’s easier to give up your daily latte when you’re saving for a vacation or a house. An emergency fund is another good savings goal. The above CNN article mentioned how unplanned expenses can catch a lot of people off guard. An emergency fund will help you avoid this unpleasant situation.

Pick Your Priorities

Saving money is easier when you prioritize what you’re saving for. For example, if you are saving for a new car you shouldn’t neglect your retirement savings in the process. Once you prioritize your goals you’ll find it easier to start saving money.

Decide How to Save

When most people think about saving money they think about savings accounts. While savings accounts are a great way to save your money, they aren’t the only way to do so. Take a look at this article to learn about the different ways you can save money.

5 Best Apps for Budgeting

Have you been thinking about trying out a new budget? There’s an app for that. The list below highlights some of the best money management apps on the market. What are you waiting for? Get downloading!

Mint.com

Mint.com is a great free app to track a multitude of financial area. You can track earnings, savings, spending, budgeting, and even retirement accounts. There is a bit of initial set up because you need to sync all your accounts to the app, but after that it’s smooth sailing. Mint.com is great in the regard that it supplies you with a financial overview, but also tracks cash flow in real time. You can see your money coming and going so you can adjust accordingly.

GoodBudget

Goodbudget is another excellent free app that want to budget based on cash caps. You can separate spending into “envelops” and track how much you’ve spent against what you previously allocated for yourself. GoodBudget even takes into account those people who receive an irregular source of income. Freelancer and service industry folks – rejoice!

PocketGuard

PocketGuard is a free app that is available on both iPhone and Android markets. There is even an Apple Watch component available! PocketGuard is a simple app that connects to your bank accounts so you have access to your current transactions. The app lets you know how much money you have in your “pocket” now, what your cash flow looks like, and even analyzes spending so you know what to plan for.

HomeBudget

HomeBudget is a paid app that allows you to sync a budget up between devices. Each device needs to purchase the app, but it allows a hands on approach across multiple devices. The comprehensive platform give multiple people access to the family or home budget so you can all be on the same page. Pretty nifty, huh?

Wally

Wally’s a free app that at it’s core is an expense tracker. It allows you to manually enter expenses or take a picture of your receipt. The app will adapt to your spending habits and goals to help you achieve whatever you set out. If you want to pay down debt or save more money, Wally has your back.

How To: Setting Financial Goals

In order to attain a desired financial security and status, there is a great deal of planning that goes into it. This is where detailed financial goals come in. Goals allow you to set realistic end points and then develop an action plan to achieve them. Before you go setting goals there are a few things you need to consider. The steps below take you through the steps of how to create realistic financial goals that you can achieve both now and in the future.

Set Guidelines

Guidelines are the first step of setting your financial goals. Guidelines will keep you accountable, but also keep you from putting things out of your reach. There are a few parameters you will want to keep in mind.

First, be specific. Vague goals only muddle the process and will distract you.

Then, you will need to make sure the goals you set are measurable. If there is nothing to gauge your success of off, how will you know when you’ve gotten there?

Be honest with yourself. Set goals that are attainable. Lofty goals are great, but a lofty goal should still be possible with enough tenacity and planning.

Finally, have time constraints. If you do not set a deadline, nothing will get done. It’s in our nature to work harder for goals that have a reasonable, concrete deadline.

Identify Financial Goals

Now that you have guidelines in place, it’s time to think about what your goals actually are. What do you want to achieve? When identifying goals, ask yourself the tough questions about your finance to see where improvements can be made.

Here’s a few things to get your wheels turning:

How much would you need to save to stop working?
Are you happy with your spending habits or could you make a change?
Do you want to retire early? If so, what will you be comfortable living off of per year?

Once you have given your financial situation proper attention, it’s time to come up with goals. Your goals should range from short term to long term. Some goals should piggyback off each other. They will make a road map on your way one ultimate financial philosophy. For most people, this means financial independance.

Long Term vs. Short Term

Once you have a list of defined goals, you’ll need to label them long term goals or short term goals. Short term goals should be things you can achieve in a year. They will often be the stepping stones for long term goals. You will never be able to declare you’re debt free without paying off things like credit card debt.

Prioritize

Now that you have made a distinction between the goals that are more urgent than the others, we need to take it a step farther. Prioritize the short term goals in order of the most urgent and possibly damaging. If you have many credit cards that are maxed out, they are a financial burden and also detrimental to your credit score. Something of this nature will certainly be put at the top of the list.

Similarly, you will want to prioritize long term goals. If you have a goal that is going to take more aggressive measure of saving or investing to achieve, then this will be your top priority. Labeling each goals in an order of importance, will provide you will clarity and direction to achieve your goals.

Periodically Evaluate

Goals are set with the purpose of signaling when your hard work has paid off. Periodically check in on the progress you are making on your goals. If you are ahead of where you thought you would be – great! If you are behind, you now have the chance to work harder or reevaluate your situation. No matter what, it’s imperative to know where you are and how far you have to go.

Living Well Below Your Means

Most adults aspire to not live paycheck to paycheck, maintain the ability to save, and be comfortable enough to cover unexpected expenses. Unfortunately, there are many people who are not able to do so – or at least they think that’s the case. You can achieve all of these things by partaking in a simple exercise and sticking to it. I’m talking about budgeting, money management, a game plan, or a spending plan – whatever you want to call it you need to have something in place to get spending under control and to increase your saving. This blog highlights a few systems for keeping track of your expenses so you can confidently take control of your finances.

50/30/20 Rule

The 50/30/20 rule is probably the simplest budget out there, but it’s a good way to see how your spending stacks up. If you are under spending in the living or personal categories, you’re in good shape! If you find your spending is creeping out of the guidelines of this budget, it may be time to reevaluate how you spend.

Living Expenses

Living expenses are the 50% in the 50/30/20 budget. These expenses take up the biggest slice of the pie – for good reason. The things that fall into this category are the expenses you can not live without. They are housing, utilities, food, and transportation. By carving out half your monthly income for living expenses, you maintain flexibility, but put a cap on how much you should spend. If your housing has a high rent cost, you more likely live in a city and could walk to work. Thus, your transportation costs would be low. Similarly, you can keep your utility costs down by being conscious of energy use and installing fixtures that conserve water and electricity.

Personal Expenses

Personal expenses make up 30% of your monthly income. Personal expenses cover all unnecessary spending or bills that you have control over. For instance, if you are looking to cut down in this area, you can change cell phone plans, reduce cable costs, and eat at home more. This category has the most flexibility because it all comes down to your lifestyle and spending habits. Putting a 30% cap on your personal spending will give you a hard number to stay under. Just a heads up, when you begin to employ the 50/30/20 budget you very well receive a rude wake up call. Most people grossly overspend in this category. Don’t panic! Now that you are aware, you can make necessary changes.

Savings

Your saving should cover the final 20% of your income per month. Saving can also translate to “getting ahead.” You can use this money to either stow away or pay off additional debt. Either way, this money should be used to improve your financial footing. This number is also the most flexible. If you end up spending less in one or both of the categories above, then you should add the extra cash into this category. There’s nothing wrong with saving more than you’ve allotted. It may even come in handy a month you go over in another area.

Spending Plan

If a budget like the 50/30/20 plan doesn’t suit you, a spending plan can give you enough freedom to make decisions on a monthly basis. A spending plan is an alternative to the traditional budget. Budgets tend to employ a one size fits all mentality. Every month is devoted to the same budget. That method does not work for everyone.

Disclaimer: a spending plan requires a bit more work and tenacity. You need to monitor your spending closer than you would in a cap expense budget like the 50/30/20 system.

To get started, you’ll need to determine your monthly take home pay. This is what you have to work with every month, so it’s a good place to start.

Next, move on to the meat of your spending. These are your fixed monthly costs. You know, the bills you have to pay every month in order to live in your house and have everything you need. Some of these expenses will be the same month over month, but others can fluctuate. No matter what, you are going to shell out something for these items every month. Some examples of fixed monthly costs are:

  • Rent/Mortgage
  • Insurance (health & auto)
  • Internet
  • Cell phone
  • Utilities
  • Savings/Retirement

Now that you have your fixed costs for the month, subtract that from your take-home pay. The money left over is what you can spend the rest of the month. This should go without saying, but you don’t have to spend it all! If you want to save for a larger purchase, increase your emergency fund, or put money aside for a vacation, then go ahead!

The beauty of a spending plan is the simple fact that you now have juxtaposed what you need to spend with what you want to spend. You make come to some realizations because of this. You may notice that you have very little left over after the fixed costs come out. This can signal a few things for readjustment:

  1. Your fixed costs may need a little tweaking. Do you want to have more spending money? Then you may need to get rid of cable or lower your package. Maybe you don’t need as much data on your cell phone plan. Whatever the case may be, you have identified the issue and can make changes accordingly.
  2. The reason you can’t seem to get ahead with credit card bills or can’t save as much as you like is simply because you were spending more than what you should be. This can be a rude wake up call for some people, but with some work you’ll get where you want.

No matter what plan of action you adopt, set realistic expectations and be honest with yourself. Your financial goals will be the motivator between how much you spend and how much you get to bank away at the end of the month. With careful planning, a closer look, and financial adjustments, you will find yourself on better financial ground in no time.

Tools Every Accountant Needs

You may not have thought about it, but accountants all need certain tools to do their jobs right. Many of the tools used by accountants are to make the job easier and provide ways of offering better services. Below is a list of a few of the most important things every accountant should have.

Reliable Computer

Invest in a quality computer because it is the one that takes on most of your work for you! Having a fast, reliable computer will allow you to run multiple programs at once. It also gives you the peace of mind that you will be able to do your job effectively.

Tax Software

Tax software eliminates the need to file taxes by hand and saves you a ton of time and headache. Investing in a great tax software will help you serve more clients at a more efficient rate. Plus, tax software will catch any mistakes you may make and gives you the option to correct them. Doing so can save your client a lot of money.

File Encryption

Adding a layer of security to the confidential and sensitive information found on most of the files you have will ensure clients that their information is safe. By having file encryption in place you will be able to email sensitive materials without the risk of the wrong person getting a hold of that information.

Scanner

In order to convert paper files into easily accessible electronic files, you will need a scanner. You can get a traditional scanner/printer combo or even a file scanner specifically for scanning documents and sorting them. These special document scanners often can scan both sides of a double sided documents at the same. They also turn your bulky paper documents into easily accessible PDFs.

Gear Up

You can have the best computer all the software in the world, but nothing beats old school gear. Have a great calculator handy for crunching numbers. Also have plenty of writing utensils and notepads around for note taking. Being able to do the thing the “old fashioned” way never hurts. You may not always be able to rely on technology and having the tools to complete the job are important.

Finance Degree vs Accounting Degree

Students looking to get into finances of any sort are often faced with the dilemma of getting a finance degree of an accounting degree. Each one comes with it’s own unique difficulties and job opportunities. Educating yourself on the difference will give you the knowledge to make a decision that makes sense for you.

Money

Typically, finance degrees yield a higher payout. Wealth managers statistically receive higher salaries because they receive commission off of the portfolios they manage. Accountants on the other hand charge a flat fee for the service they provide. If money is your main motivator – finance may be the better major for you.

Education Requirements

In order to take the CPA exam for accounting, there tends to be a requirement of credit hours that succeed a bachelor’s degree, but fall just short of a masters. If you go this route, it may make sense to continue on your education for a master’s degree for a better understanding. Finance majors on the other hand can get away with a bachelor’s, but will have better job opportunities with a masters. Either way, accounting or finance, a master’s degree seems like the way to go.

Job Opportunities

Both degrees provide graduates with a multitude of job opportunities, but they fall into two separate categories. Those with finance degrees will find themselves with jobs managing wealth and investments. Accountants handle more of the tracking financial data. Again, this comes down to a personal choice of which avenue you will have more of an interest in.

Stress

Who is more stressed – those with degrees in finance or accounting? When it comes to stress, each field has its opportunities to provide stressful work environments, but it all depends on the job you pick. Accountants who tackle tax season may work longer, more stressful hours during tax season but see a significant break for the rest of your year. Those finance majors with wealth management jobs carry their own unpredictable amount of stress depending on the clients and the investments.
Overall, when it comes to picking a major, it all depends on what side of the fence you fall on. Do you want to help people manage and grow their money or track and analyze financial data to create budgets and maintain retirement accounts? Depending on what you choose will be the deciding factor of what degree you will pursue.