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Ways to get your budget in order

The Savage Truth

It's time to confront your spending and make good on your vows to get your money organized. Budget is not a dirty word. And it's important to remember that it is a verb as well as a noun; it doesn't happen without your active participation.

Here are a few ways to get started. Notwithstanding the terrific computer programs and apps described below, you might prefer to start with traditional paper and pencil.

1. "The Budget Kit: The Common Cents Money Management Workbook" by Judy Lawrence (Kaplan, $19.99). Yes, I'm starting with a paperback budgeting book (also available on Kindle), now in its sixth edition, and one that I have consistently recommended over the past 20 years. (In fact, I was both surprised and delighted to see my earlier endorsement on the front cover of the new edition!) For some people, there is no substitute for seeing money issues in black and white. This is not just a fill-in-the-blanks book to track your spending. It adds helpful advice and resources (including online references) to guide you through the process, whether you live on a regular paycheck or have variable income and ongoing expenses.

2. Quicken (www.Quicken.com, $39.95 to download the starter edition). Quicken has been the leading budget software for 30 years. You can instantly download the program onto your computer, paying by credit card. There is no tech knowledge required to get started. It's easy to connect to your bank and credit card issuers (as well as brokerage accounts and loan accounts). You'll see all your financial information in one place, password protected and using the security of the financial industry's transmission safeguards. Creating a budget is easy and colorful, spending is automatically put into categories of your choice, and progress toward your goals (or excesses) is easily tracked. 

3. Mint.com (www.Mint.com, app download is free). For those who want expense tracking and budget categories available instantly on a smart phone, the free Mint app is the answer. (Intuit, parent of Quicken, bought and improved this app to become the industry leader.)

Mint is free to users, but you agree to receive text messages from potential financial service providers about lower-rate credit cards or mortgage refinancing. In return, you see in real time your account balances on accounts, as well as the status of the budget categories you have created. Mint sends millions of text alert messages to users as they approach the spending limits they have set or reminding them of upcoming budgeted expenses.

4. Mint Bills (www.MintBills.com, app download is free). Until relatively recently, the only drawback with the original Mint was that you couldn't actually pay bills. The Mint Bills app solved that problem. Download the app separately from Mint, and then easily connect securely with an unlimited number of bank accounts and card issuers. It allows you to pay bills instantly from your bank or credit card accounts, or to set up automatic payments and either pay in full, pay the minimum or an amount of your choice. It protects you from penalties, late fees and overdrafts. And it's all at your fingertips.

5. Mvelopes (www.Mvelopes.com, app download is free). If you want to combine the old "put money in an envelope" budgeting trick with modern technology, this app will make you smile and give you comfort. It was one of the first budgeting programs, and now it has morphed into a very useful app to track your spending, help you budget and give personal finance advice.

Now you have no excuse for busting your budget -- or for not making one in the first place! And that's The Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and the author of four best-selling books, including "The Savage Truth on Money." Terry responds to questions on her blog at TerrySavage.com.

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