5 No-and Low-Cost Financial Planning Tools

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It sometimes seems as if only a select few people are born with innate financial savvy and an affinity for numbers. If you weren't lucky enough to have inherited or developed this (literally) valuable attribute, fear not! A vast number of financial planning tools are available online and through your smart phone or tablet. It may take a bit of research to choose the right application or digital system for your unique situation, but the popular tools listed below offer a useful starting point.

Financialmentor.com (free)

This website offers visitors a wealth of free information. One of Financial Mentor’s most helpful features is a comprehensive index of financial calculators. Enter your personalized data into user-friendly forms to instantly evaluate how much you should save for your retirement, investigate various credit card payment plans and estimate the amount of life insurance coverage you need. Financial Mentor also offers calculators and news to help you manage personal finances, various kinds of debt, retirement savings, investments, etc.

While these kinds of forecasting tools are invaluable for staying financially proactive, keep in mind that many of these rely on assumptions and predictions to compute a “final answer.” It is important to recalculate projections as your financial situation evolves, and fiddle with the predictions you use in order to investigate alternate scenarios (both positive and negative). This will give you a broader understanding of what to prepare for and help insure against unwanted financial surprises or disappointments down the road.

Mint (free)

Available on the web and as a mobile app for Android, Apple, Amazon, and Windows devices.

Mint is a free tool that can help you better understand your financial big picture. This product enables you to upload information from all of your accounts—checking, savings, credit cards, retirement, investments and more—so you can truly comprehend the overall state of your finances. Automatic, personalized categorization of your transactions allows for a closer inspection of spending patterns and more efficient budgeting. Choose from alerts to notify you of low balance levels, changes in credit, and bill due dates to keep you on-time with payments, within your budget and aware of unusual activity on your accounts.

It is important to note, however, that Mint is read-only. Once you have uploaded your account information, no funds can be moved through the service, making it a secure way to observe your state of affairs and act accordingly. Additionally, this product uses bank-quality encryption and verified monitoring methods to ensure that your information stays private. Mint is supported by advertisements, but they are personalized to show products and services that are relevant to your spending patterns and savings targets in the hopes of helping you keep more money in your pocket.

BillGuard (free)

Available on the web, and as a mobile app for Android and iOS.

If poring over credit card statements to ensure their accuracy is one of your least favorite (or rarely performed) activities, BillGuard can relieve you of this wearisome task. This app monitors your credit and debit card transactions for pesky grey charges: unwanted expenses incurred due to misleading or deceptive billing. BillGuard uses "crowdsourced" knowledge to track businesses who engage in these tricky billing practices and notify you of these unnecessary costs. Not only can you save money through this feature, but you can also flag unauthorized or problematic transactions for future investigation and directly contact the merchant responsible to report the issue. BillGuard recently added a data breach alert feature to keep users aware of when a business they have shopped at has been breached. This service is also funded by advertisers, but only shows you offers that are applicable to your spending habits.

Budgt ($1.99)

Only available for iOS.

For those who are on a more meager monthly income, Budgt is a simple way to help break down how much you can afford to spend on a day-to-day basis. Set your savings goal or available funds for the month, then record and categorize your expenses as they occur throughout the day for a real-time view of your progress. Budgt also allows you to program alerts reminding you to enter your expenses and set an additional passcode to keep your information secure. The resulting data will help you track your expenditures and savings, and can even be exported as a csv file to use with excel. Although manual entry of your financial information may not be as convenient as automatically linking to your accounts, frequent interaction with these current, raw numbers may serve as a useful reminder to spend less and save more.

SavedPlus (free)

Available on the web and as a mobile application for Apple and Android devices.

Let's face it, getting into the habit of saving money can be tough. We all know how important it is to put away funds for retirement, emergencies, and big projects and purchases, but do you have a savings schedule in place that you consistently adhere to? SavedPlus is a nifty tool that can help you grow your nest egg with very little effort.

Most of our financial focus lies with conscientiously tracking and decreasing our monetary outflows to "save." True saving, however, is a more involved (and occasionally painful) process that simply requires taking available money off the table for the long term. SavedPlus alleviates some of that hassle by automatically transferring a portion of every purchase you make into your savings. Simply upload your account information, set the percentage of your expenditures that you would like to save, and continue shopping as you normally would. It is compatible with all bank accounts, credit and debit cards, and you can choose which ones to apply savings to and where to deposit the resulting funds. Helpful features allow you to personalize your program by excluding certain transactions, setting a maximum limit on transaction amounts, and establishing a required minimum account balance to prevent overdrafts. You can set goals and put aside money for a simple rainy day fund, a new washing machine, or your retirement. SavedPlus also utilizes top-notch security standards to ensure your information is protected.

Ashley Huntsberry-Lett

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Ashley is responsible for the planning and creation of AgingCare.com’s award-winning content. As a teenager, she assisted in caring for her step-father during his three-year battle with colon cancer. Now, through her work at AgingCare.com, she strives to inform and empower the caregivers who devote so much to helping and healing the ones they love.

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