Managing your personal finances

Managing your personal finances

Use your computer to take control of your home budget and stay in the black

The most annoying thing about hoary old clichés is that they’re usually true. Remember the one about taking care of the pennies so the pounds take care of themselves? The truth of the matter is that most of us do the complete opposite. It could be that the thought of monitoring our money seems tedious at worst or terrifying at best. But if you don’t keep an eye on what you’re spending, you’ll soon be in danger of losing control of your finances. Thankfully, your PC is here to help.

Online banking 

Banking online provides a fast and convenient way to manage your accounts.

The first step to using your computer to take control of your money is to sign up for online banking. Every one of the major banks offers some form of online service and the benefits are obvious. You can access your money 24/7; no more waiting for the banks to open or standing in line. Simply log on and you’ll be able to check your accounts at a glance. From here you will be able to make payments, manage your direct debits and standing orders, and search through your past statements. The convenience factor is high. Have to pay an urgent, unexpected bill? Instead of dashing to the bank, you can do it there and then on your PC. Not enough funds? Then nip on and transfer money when you need it.

Mobile banking 

Many banks offer mobile apps to give you convenient access from your mobile

In these days of smartphones and tablets you don’t even have to be at your desk. Many banks are now offering mobile apps that allow you to access your money while you’re out and about. It’s never been easier to check your balance and see how you’re doing. Plus, as long as you’re careful, most of these services are perfectly safe. A security breach is bad publicity for a bank, so they work hard – and spend a lot of money – to ensure that their online services are as secure as possible. You still need to use your common sense, though. For example, it’s best not to access your online banking on a shared computer at work or while using free Wi-Fi in a public place. Be sensible and you can enjoy the many benefits of mobile banking without putting your accounts at risk.

Tracking your spending 

Track day-to-day spending with the help of our step-by-step guide

Banking online is only the first step to mastering your finances. Online banking shows you a snapshot of your accounts, but what about that purchase on your debit card that hasn’t shown up yet? Then there’s the regular payment you’ve forgotten that’s about to come out. Unless you’ve planned ahead you could be spending money you don’t actually have. The next step can be as simple as creating a spreadsheet in a program like Microsoft Excel to monitor your weekly or monthly spending. Granted, this doesn’t sound like a laugh-a-minute way to spend an evening, but you’ll reap the benefits in the long term.

By knowing how and where you spend your cash, you’ll see where you can make savings and whether you’re living beyond your means. Start by adding your monthly income, then immediately take away every bill or payment you know will be paid in the month ahead. Then, whenever you buy something, make a note on your spreadsheet, recording the time, what you bought and how much you spent. Make sure that you include everything – even those coffees you put on your debit card on the way to work – and you’ll be amazed at how much you can burn through without realising it. For more help tracking your spending in Excel, check out our easy step-by-step guide.

Home accounting software 

Once you know where your money’s going you can really start to get a handle on your finances, setting a budget to make sure you’re on the right side of your overdraft. This is something you can do via a spreadsheet, but why not let a dedicated program do the hard work for you? Home accounting applications can help you manage your cashflow using the information gathered from your expenditure spreadsheet. They can also plan savings, monitor repeat payments, track investments, and help prepare your tax return. Best of all, once you’ve entered most of the regular outgoings, the software will automatically update repeat payments.

Of course, most of the packages out there are aimed at businesses and (unless you work for yourself and need to invoice for services) purchasing one of these to control your personal finances is like using a cruise missile to crack a walnut: you won’t need half the features included for the price.

Choose the right package

Home Accountz offers you complete control over your spending, budgets and planning

An affordable tool for personal use is Home Accountz 2012. This easy-to-use software was designed with home-users in mind. You can import your bank or credit card statements to keep everything together, set up individual budgets to help save for holidays and big purchases, or even forecast your future expenditure to see if you’re steering dangerously near the red.

You don’t even have to be a computer whiz to get the most out of Home Accountz. The latest version includes ‘Eazy Button’, a menu of handy wizards that guide you through everything, from paying off a loan to transferring to a new bank. If you’d rather not shell out to see if dedicated software is for you, there are a number of free alternatives available, such as AceMoney Lite, which lets you manage up to two accounts for free. Once again you can manage your home budget, keep track of your investments and make sure you never miss another bill payment deadline.

Whatever method you choose, there’s no excuse for you to stick your head in the sand and hope your money is looking after itself. Your computer can soon become your own personal bank manager, helping you save money in minutes and prepare for any eventuality.