If you have a computer and really don’t know where all your money goes, your life can be easier if you invest in personal-finance budget software. Nearly all of the finance programs have reports that you can customize and generate. Want to know how much you’re spending for groceries? Or how much miscellaneous cash went to coffee in the morning? The program will tell you. Your bank statement will include the debit-card amounts, which you’ll need to add in, but not the cash you spend. You’ll need to enter that as well.
Be cautious about the features of any software you buy. There is one brand-name software that will accumulate all of your information in one place. The ads say it can combine your bank accounts with your credit cards and investment accounts — by going into those accounts and extracting the information for you. Another software will make your payments for you automatically. Beware. While it’s a given that they’ve gone all-out to provide security for their servers, not all servers are equal. Do you really want to have every single transaction you make available to potential thieves?
Equally important, do you really want to give up that much control of your money? If you come across a deal that you shouldn’t pass up, knowing that you still have two more weeks to pay the utility bill, what are you going to do when the computer automatically spends your money on that utility bill?
Caveat: If you plan to use an Internet-connected computer for your finances, don’t download any personal-finance software from the Internet. You don’t know what’s in it. Instead, pick a name brand that comes in a box at the store. And when you enter your information into the program, don’t put your account number or even the real name of your bank.
Best bet: Use an old computer for all your financial information — and don’t hook it up to the Internet. Test some of the free basic-software programs to see which you like best. What you want is a simple program that will categorize your spending, reconcile your accounts (including retirement or investment) and possibly allow you to print out checks.
Uffington does not personally answer reader questions, but will incorporate them into his column whenever possible. Write to him in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.