One of our new year's resolutions every year is to master our finances. Just like those January gym-goers, we start strong but slowly fall off the bandwagon. We really admire past generations who balanced their checkbooks to the penny (unless we're behind them in line). But despite our admiration, we know there are easier options now available. And if you spend 100 hours every year to catch a $15 bank error have you really saved money? We've found a few tools to wrap our heads around our wallets and get a jump on the new year (and tax season).
Mint is a pretty well-known budgeting manager and personal finance tool. Mint can't make any changes to your accounts, only draw in data and analyze it. This makes it more secure, and it'll even alert you to suspicious transactions. The real power of Mint, however, is its budgeting tools. You can visualize your data through plenty of shiny charts and graphs, and use that info to keep your spending under control. Mint also makes suggestions of financial products based on your data.
We don't carry a wallet anymore, just a credit card holder with a slot for cash, so we don't really have a place to stash our receipts. And ever since we've gone paperless we hate to keep the things around anyway. We used to just plug them into Evernote, but a dedicated app certainly would make them more useful. OneReceipt indexes your receipts and presents the data for you to mine. It also provides offers based on your spending history and alerts when your return period is about to expire. We like how this compliments other, more extensive services like Mint, by giving you insight into how you spend cash.
SmartyPig is an alternative to traditional savings accounts that gives you a little bit of added functionality that can be useful if your bank is lacking. The savings rate is competitive (.7% APY) given most bank's rates are in the toilet. SmartyPig helps focus on saving for things rather than paying for them later, and makes us more conscious of our spending habits. It also adds social media features. We're not sure how helpful those would be as how many people are really going to donate to our iPad fund? But it's a nice thought. We like that it's FDIC insured, a relief given you're socking away your cash with a different bank (BBVA Compass).
We've saved this one for last because it's currently by invite only, though you can request on the website. As you can see from the video Bank Simple's creators are really thinking about how people use and think about their money, and thus give their users access to pertinent information in ways different than a regular bank. Transactions are easy to get at using the natural language search, and the interface lives up to the company's name. BankSimple also provides the ability to save through goals rather than individual accounts, make payments to friends and split transactions. While we haven't seen anything yet on the side of budgeting as robust as Mint, if nothing else you can use the two together.
(Image: Flickr user Jorge Franganillo under creative commons.)