Hands up if you diligently keep track of all your finances and have an up-to-date personal budget. OK all one of you with your hand in the air, you definitely don't need to read this feature. If, on the other hand, you're a bit more like me with half a dozen scraps of paper and a bit of a half baked Excel spreadsheet, then you might benefit from a bit more help.
I started out looking for budgeting spreadsheets that would help me out a bit more. While I know that there are finance packages out there, I didn't really think they were suited to personal use. But, as it happens, of course I was wrong.
So, after a bit of rummaging around, I found a couple of packages that seem to do the job quite nicely and are free, and a couple of other programs that you have to pay a little bit of money for but are fairly inexpensive.
If you decide that really all you need is a spreadsheet, and don't want to have to fork out for Excel, you could use Open Office. This is free, and while it isn't as fully featured as Microsoft Office, it is close and fairly similar to use so you'll be able to work things out quite quickly.
What is personal finance software?
These are programs that let you organise your home budgets and track all your accounts and any investments you might have.
Sounds fairly straightforward, and it usually is. Most bank accounts have facilities that allow you to import your account information into programs like these, for example.
The only downside for time-poor parents, and this can be a stumbling block, is that it takes a while to set them up. However, like a lot of things, a little pain leads to a lot of gain. You will, I've been told, find it easier to in the long term if you do a bit of budgeting and planning now.
Banktree Software was my first find as it had been awarded a Which? Best Buy award. Which? are a consumer organisation, so their awards are usually pretty spot on. Having looked around the internet, it would seem that most people agree with Which that this is the package to use if you're looking for something that is very user friendly.
On the downside, it isn't free. The software does cost £26.
Ace Money Lite
Ace Money Lite is a free package, which is always good. It is handy enough to use if you only have a few accounts to keep track of. You can import data from other software packages and from your bank too. And it comes with calculators for helping you work out the details with things like loans.
If you've only got really simple needs - like me - then you'll probably find that this is the software package that will meet all your needs. What I also liked about it was the easy to navigate layout, and that the software is easy to use.
Anything that cost more than £30 and any product that has a Z in the name were instantly crossed off my list. Budget Forecaster was recommended to me by PlayPennies mum of one Cassandra. I haven't actually tried it out myself. It costs £19.99.
This program also has built in calculators, and also you can keep track of various family budgets. "The income and expenditure is shown on the front page, and that makes it really easy for me to see how things are at a glance" says Cassandra. "It did take me a wee while to figure out how to use it though, so I think it could be more user-friendly for people who aren't used to finance software but otherwise I'm happy with it."
Looking at Gnucash, the other free personal finance software I found, I realised that I may have actually tried to use this before. I don't know if it is the same one, but it had a very similar feel. I failed miserably that time, and I didn't really like it this time around either.
It's supporters point to helpful features like the FAQ, so you may want to give it a try yourself before deciding. I think that I will be sticking with Ace Money though.
Now this was something I came across while researching this article. As far as I can tell, an Account Aggregator is like a dashboard that shows your various bank accounts in one place.
I didn't try any out as I felt a bit uncomfortable giving out my account passwords and other details. Also, when I did a bit of research into these services, I found that apparently some bank accounts don't let you use them. So you will need to check the Terms and Conditions on your accounts before signing up.
First Direct offers an account aggregator, and that's a company that is fairly well known.
Is it worth it?
Have you got your finances organised but found it wasn't worth the trouble? Or have you done so and it has left you wandering a) why you didn't do this years ago and b) how much money you've lost because you weren't more organised? Please do let us know your personal experiences with personal finance!