This is a guest post by Lauren Fairbanks of LifeStyler. LifeStyler is a New York City-centric guide offering tips to young adults in order to promote financial responsibility and fiscally responsible lifestyle choices. LifeStyler offers tips on furnishing your apartment without breaking the bank, where to find the cheapest beers in NYC, how to set up a retirement account, how to flesh out the wardrobe for next to nothing, and tips on sprucing up that resume and charming your way into your next interview.
There are those out there like myself who don’t want to bother with expensive accounting software for their personal finances, but would like an easy, online way to keep track of their spending habits. Now, thanks to online banking software and stringent security procedures, it’s here and there are plenty to choose from. The big question; however, is which one? We did a little homework; added our checking, savings, loans and mortgages into the top three most popular financial websites on the web today. This is what we think about their design, usability, features and overall pros and cons to see which ones make the cut.
Wesabe is a finance manager and social networking site all rolled into one. While it does the tracking and budgeting that the other sites do, Wesabe integrates a network of users to allow you to share budgeting tips with other people. Wesabe’s goal is to set up your finances and pool information from a large network of users to help consumers make better decisions and reach financial goals. The interface is pretty easy to use. There are four main header tabs: Accounts, Tips, Goals and Groups. The Accounts section shows you an overview of all of your accounts, the total of your combined accounts ��’ including debts- a sort of net worth calculator, if you will. You can click on individual accounts to see recent expenses and then click on individual transactions to set yourself as a “Fan, User or Captive” of the merchant. The Tips category offers tips based on your spending trends. The Goals tab is not currently set up, and apparently will provide “tips to help you get to your goals”. The Groups tab is basically a discussion board for a myriad of financial topics, and is a good way to connect with others for encouragement in meeting your financial goals and to swap money-saving tips. You can see an example of some of the discussion topics that are ongoing right here in the sidebar of Generation X Finance. Pros:
- It also allows you to “tag” your expenses to keep better track of them.
- You can create your own budgets to monitor you spending. Wesabe will send you an email or SMS notification if you go over your budget.
- It offers spending and saving tips based on your current spending trends and credit score.
- It allows you to integrate Wesabe into your Firefox browser so that if you’re in an online account, you can immediately add it in to your Wesabe interface making adding new accounts about as quick and painless as possible.
- You can read user recommendations on the alternative spending suggestions that Wesabe suggests. This part reminds me a lot of www.Yelp.com.
- You can participate in discussion groups where you can share tips on budgeting, shopping and investing.
- The Tips section is not completely tailored towards your spending habits. For instance, if I often spend money at Starbucks, it will recommend Pete’s Coffee and Tea and will give me the average dollar amount spent per visit by Wesabe users, how often they go back, and their approval rating of the merchant.
Buxfer’s layout is relatively simple. You can choose from five different headers: Summary, Add Transaction, Reports, Budgets, and More. The Summary tab is a basic summary of all your accounts where you can view your net balance, recent expenses and budgets. A short, detailed list of most recent expenses are laid out on the bottom of the page and a listing of your accounts, tags (for tagging transactions), contacts and groups are listed on the side. By clicking on any of the first three headings in the summary section, you can view charts and get more detailed account information regarding expenses and budgets. Like Wesabe, Buxfer also has an element of a social networking site by letting you interact with other users. However, instead of participating in discussion forums, you use the Contacts section to keep track of friends that you owe money to. You can even send money via Amazon Payments, which is a very interesting and useful feature. Pros:
- The layout at Buxfer is very basic and simple.
- It allows you to add in “tags” to better categorize expenses.
- It lets you create budgets and keeps track of when you go over your allotted spending. If you do go over, it promptly sends out an email stating how much over budget you are.
- You can keep track of and pay IOU’s from friends and acquaintances.
- You can make payments to other contacts in your network through Amazon Payments.
- You aren’t required to enter in sensitive online banking passwords if you’re worried about security. Buxfer lets you manually upload bank statements. Your info is stored on your computer, and not on their server.
- Allows you to receive financial reports every Friday via email and SMS.
- You can access Buxfer via Twitter to add in transactions on the go.
- There aren’t as many different reports as I’d like. Two graphs that show recent expenses – one in pie form and one in bar graph form. And a bar graph that shows your budgets in relation to what you’ve spent within them.
Mint is one of the original online personal finance management sites and the one with the most features. The main page takes you to an Overview of your account where you can see the balances of each of your accounts, budget, net worth and cash flow. Their site is aimed towards making financial management fun and interesting hence the abundance of graphs and the interactive “Trend” tracking. Pros:
- They have a great interface – lots of pertinent information on the home page with a very easy to read layout.
- The “Ways to Save” tab is extremely helpful and will suggest everything from cheaper interest rates on credit cards to cash back programs to more beneficial savings accounts. Although, for it to work correctly you to make sure the majority of your expenses are categorized.
- Mint has a designated section for Investment accounts, including IRA’s, 529 plans and 401Ks, which I haven’t seen on the other two sites.
- It offers a “net worth” section on the Overview page
- Spending trends is very helpful and offers a ton of cool graphs that track where your money is going each month.
- They make it a little easier to categorize expenses by allowing you to apply settings for one merchant to other expenses from the same merchant.
- It has a great “cash flow” chart on the Overview page, as well as a chart directly below it that shows how much you spent vs. how much you made each month.
- It tells you who your most frequent merchants are a great tool to use to target and cut out unnecessary spending.
- Mint sends out alerts when your balance gets low, when there’s an account deposit, and when your bills are due.
- It has a portfolio overview to easily gauge which investment accounts are down and which are up.
- You can create budgets after reviewing your spending trends and compare your spending habits to the national average.
- The automatic expense categorizing doesn’t work all too well, and it can be pretty time consuming labeling non-frequent transactions.
- Their accounts round down to the nearest dollar. For instance, if I have $765.70 in my account, it will show up as $765. It’s not a huge deal being that it’s a conservative estimate, but it’s not the exact dollar amount.
All three sites have extremely easy-to-use interfaces and feature helpful tips for saving and budgeting. But, if you’re looking for something that is strictly focused on financial management, Mint is probably your best bet. Mint offers the most comprehensive package with more useful graphs and trackers. However, if you’re looking for basic financial management, and being part of a network of users is important to you, you may want to go with Wesabe.
Do you use any of these services to manage your money? If so, which ones do you use, and why? Feel free to share your experience.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.