When it comes to keeping track of your finances, some of us struggle more than others. It only takes not entering one or two checks you’ve written and before you know it, your account is overdrawn and you have a mess to sort out. If you are like so many of us just trying to balance a budget and get by raising a family, you don’t have the funds to hire a personal accountant and you almost surely don’t have much set aside for that proverbial ‘rainy day fund.’
Whether you are a single parent raising kids, a senior retiree or a young person just getting started on life’s long and winding journey, these five free and easy ways to take control of your finances should help you stay on top of your budget
1) Free Credit Reporting ResourcesOne of the things you will almost assuredly want to do is get a copy of your most current credit score. Not only is this important should you ever need credit of any kind, but it is also a good gauge on how well you have been able to manage your money. Unfortunately, most people who struggle financially don’t seem to be able to keep a decent credit score, so when you see it start rising, you know you are on the right track.
Check out sites like Credit Karma and others like it that will let you keep a weekly eye on your score and will email you when there are any changes, good or bad. Sometimes simply disputing a charge which shouldn’t be there will bring your score up noticeably. Keeping track of your credit score is also a good way to ensure you are staying on top of your financial situation. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken!
2) Free Online Financial CalculatorsThere are a number of financial calculators which you can use online. Most are websites like the one that hosts the 1040 estimator. While most people can benefit from estimating their income tax throughout the year, a 1040 estimator is great for those people who paid a high year end’s tax bill or those who work and receive earned income for dependents. If you find that you receive an inordinately large refund at the end of the year, but are not entitled to earn income credit, you might have allowances and deductions you could take throughout the year.
This would make your paycheck higher, but you wouldn’t get a large refund next April. Sometimes one small adjustment to your filing status can make all the difference in the world, so do take care of your IRS taxes if you need that extra money throughout the year. Even $40 or $50 can give you enough extra cash each pay period to help you make it through from paycheck to paycheck!
3) Free Credit Counseling ServicesIt is difficult to recommend which ‘free’ credit counseling service you should try, but the one thing you may want to know about this kind of nonprofit is that counseling should be free. A credit counseling agency should only charge if you are using other services of theirs. For example, if you contract them to get in touch with your creditors to make payment arrangements, that is a paid service. On the other hand, they should not charge you for meeting with you and giving you suggestions on how to keep your finances in check.
They might suggest a better budget, fewer expenditures or even setting a certain amount aside each pay period, but unless they actually provide a service, the counseling session should be free of charge. Many people have recovered from huge amounts of debt by taking the advice of free credit counseling.
4) Free Online Budgeting ToolsMuch like the 1040 tax estimator mentioned above, there are calculators and online budgeting tools that will help you make, and hopefully stick to, a budget. You will find that most, if not all, of these tools will have a category on savings. It is important that you try your hardest to include savings in your budget because you never know when the unexpected ‘catastrophe’ can strike, necessitating money you haven’t budgeted for.
In fact, use this saving as your rainy day fund. If some expense suddenly arises, one you would never in a million years have accounted for, you have money set aside to pay that bill. It could be a doctor bill not covered by insurance, it could be a pipe that burst under your sink, or a furnace that went out in the middle of winter. If you expect and save for the unexpected, it is much easier to keep your finances in check.
5) Advice on Preparing for Other Unexpected ExpensesAnd finally, when speaking of the unexpected, this is where so many people go wrong. Since they hadn’t saved for that rainy day event, they put that expense on a credit card which can be a huge mistake. Not only are they spending money they don’t have, they are going to pay interest on top of that money. This is a very big mistake, indeed.
If you do have credit debt, look for an initially free consolidation card or loan at a lower rate of interest. Put as much of that bad debt on your new low, or no interest, account, and you can reduce your monthly bills by that much money. These are often interest-free for a period of a few months up to a year, so pay them off while you can! While not being exactly ‘free’ in the literal sense of the word, you get free from high-interest rates, which you can then set aside for your rainy day fund.
From Advice to Tools – Keep It FreeWith so many resources online, there is no need to pay high fees to keep your finances in order. Use calculators and budgeting tools wherever possible. Look for free counseling services and then take the time to read, read some more and read some more again!
There is a wealth of information online that can help you get out of debt if you choose to look for it. The one thing to keep in mind is simply this. Keep tools and advice free so that you can add to your soon-to-be-growing bank account. Millions of others have done it and you can too.