The 2010 Savings Challenge has kicked off, and as we gear up for a year of saving, it’s important that we have the right tools to help us along. I know some people shell out big bucks for budgeting software and other money-management helps, but here are two tool suggestions that won’t cost you anything.
1. Mint.com – My husband and I love this site, and have been using it for quite some time. Mint is a free online service that allows you to track your spending and investments, plan a budget, and manage your money all in one place. You can feed your bank accounts, credit cards, investments, mortgage, and nearly any other account you might have or owe money into Mint. (Okay, it doesn’t track under-your-mattress hoarding…) It’s a one-stop tool.
My personal favorite feature of the site? We have our debit and credit cards linked to Mint, and our Mint account is set up to tag each purchase as a budget item- like eating out, entertainment, groceries, auto, etc. It’s budget tracking without the work.
Ryan logs into our Mint account once or twice a week and is able to see right away how we’re doing. He can see how our IRAs and stocks are performing, and what our credit card balance is. (Don’t worry, we pay it off each month!) Right away, he is able to see how much principal we still owe on our house, along with our net financial value. And he can even see if we’re spending too much on eating out in a given month. We use this as our primary financial planning tool and have found it’s a real time saver too.
Maybe you’re like some of our relatives who worry about the security of Mint. Believe me, we wouldn’t use it if we didn’t trust it. Mint uses the same security technology as bank websites though, and you never have to give them any identifiying information like your name or social security number. You can read through Mint’s privacy FAQs here.
2. Smarty Pig – We’re using this online savings account to save for our 2010 Savings Challenge goal. It took a little more than 5 minutes to register, and you have to provide the same information (like a drivers license number) that would you have to provide a bank. I found the initial set up to be easy and the rest of the site is really user-friendly too. And it’s all secure too, like Mint. The use of Smarty Pig is free and there aren’t any hidden fees. Of course, since it’s a savings account, you will want to put money into it though.
After you create your Smarty Pig account, you can set up a savings account labeled for a certain savings goal. I titled our Smarty Pig account “Adoption”, for example. Throughout the year, I’ll use Smarty Pig to save for our adoption goal. Each month, funds will automatically transfer from our other account into the adoption fund.
The current interest rate on Smarty Pig is 2.01% (APY) after the first $25 is deposited, which seems to be a bit on the above-average end of savings account interest rates right now. And the account is backed by the FDIC. Since this is a short-term savings goal, the 2% interest on this account works well for us, as a long-term, higher-interest account won’t fit our needs.
But the real selling point of Smarty Pig for me is the “share” feature. Smarty Pig lets others contribute to your savings goal without seeing your personal information (you can share your balance total or percentage saved, if you want). So let’s say my dad wants to contribute to our adoption goal next Christmas for our gift. He could visit the Smarty Pig account, enter my email address, and give to the adoption fund instead of the traditional method of writing a check, giving it to me, having me take it to the bank, etc. If the giver is a registered user of Smarty Pig, there’s no cost to contribute, though there’s a fee of 2.9% to a contributor who isn’t part of Smarty Pig. (You can also put Smarty Pig widget on your Facebook page if you want to share with your friends that way.)
After I have reached my goal- or decide to get my money out anyway, I have three options from Smarty Pig- have the funds sent to my bank, get the amount sent to me in a MasterCard debit card, or have it all put on a retailer gift card (think Amazon, Travelocity, Jared, The Home Depot, and others) where I can get a gift card bonus up to 12%. Or you can have the saved amount pay out in more than one of those ways.
Smarty Pig will be an easy way for us to save toward our 2010 Savings Challenege goal, and allow others to help if they choose.
I hope you find these two free savings tools helpful as you work toward your savings goals this year!