I like to think that my pathetic lack of money management skills is simply due to my... ahem... creative nature. Give me a checkbook to balance, and I'll give you one swift kick in the shins. Ask me to do long division in my head, and I'm likely to fake a heart attack. Or maybe even have a real one. I'll be the very first to admit that when it comes to math, I am not Smarter Than a 5th Grader. Just ask my daughter, who happens to be in the fifth grade. She'll tell you that when it comes to getting help with her math homework, she's better off asking her pet guinea pig than me. Sad, but true.
Suze OrmanIronically, I'm good at both making and even saving money. It's just all that stuff in between — like budgeting, balancing, and tracking — where I totally fail. Turns out, there are a lot of people out there like me, according to financial guru Suze Orman, who once told me that "getting a grip" on every penny coming in and going out is critical to getting your financial house in order.
Clearly, it's a task easier said than done. No matter how much I tried to follow her advice, the inevitable wrestling match between me and math left me slumped in the corner, defeated and whining. Until now.
Technology to the rescue
In just the past few months, a few new high-tech, low-stress, really easy-to-use sites and services have done more for my overall budget than all my years of Suze worship combined. (Not that I don't still love her; I totally do.) But in the end, it's been technology to my rescue once again. In fact, I've already saved about $300 this month just from finally "getting a grip" on the big picture.
Here's a list of five "finnovative" (finance + innovation) services you just have to try for yourself. Once you do, you won't know how you went so long without them.
Pageonce1. Pageonce: Financial peace of mind that fits in your pocket
Download: Pageonce for iPhone and iPad orAndroid
This mobile app is like having a stress-free babysitter for your budget. All you have to do is sign up, download the free app, and link it to any and all accounts you want it to manage. It automatically organizes and tracks your money — bank accounts, bills, credit cards, investments, travel rewards, student loans — and there's even a calendar that shows when your next round of bills is due.
What I like most is how simple it is. You can always see where you stand — money in, money out, no more confusion wondering if a check will clear or whether you paid a bill on time. The basic service is free, while the mobile bill pay feature costs $4.99 a month. I've tested Mint, Manilla, and several other similar services. So far, Pageonce has been the easiest to use, the most clear to understand, and the fastest tool of all, especially on the go.
2. Expensify: Tracking expenses made easy and fun
Download: Expensify Lite for iPhone or Android
If you've ever wondered where all your money is going or had to create Excel spreadsheets of travel expenses for work, Expensify will change your life. You just sign up for free, link it to your credit card or bank account, and then check the boxes next to the expenses you want to tally. For work or business expenses, it generates perfect expense reports with automatically attached receipts that you can just email to whomever needs them.
With the smartphone app, you can also just snap a picture of your receipts on the go, and Expensify keeps them as digital records online that you can attach and email. So far this year, this service alone has saved me about $200, 12 hours of time, and countless new gray hairs just by helping me create expense reports from all my travel receipts. You could use this to keep track of any kind of spending you do, from groceries to medical bills to figuring out how much money you really spend on shoes.
SaveUp3. SaveUp: Rewards like a Vegas jackpot just for saving your own money
If saving money and paying down debt isn't reward enough, how about winning a new car for your newfound fiscal responsibility? SaveUp is a fun online gaming site that actually rewards you for each smart financial action you make. Every time you pay down debt, save for retirement, or add money to your savings account, you get SaveUp credits that you can use to play for really awesome prizes such as a new Kindle Fire, a Toyota Prius, or a $2 million jackpot. Just watching a financial movie called Money Matters: How to Pay Off Your Credit Card racks up a whopping 30 points — enough to enter three contests. (You're limited to three per day so that you don't get addicted to saving money. I know, crazy, huh?!)
I know it sounds too good to be true, but it's completely legit, totally brilliant, and there's a good chance you'll actually learn something really valuable here.
4. Weemba: A social network for loaners
Maybe you need some help paying off a student loan, setting up a new business, or even finding a little extra dough to finish remodeling your kitchen. This site lets you search for a loan by posting nontraditional details such as a description of the need for the money, plans for repaying the debt, maybe even the designer's plans for that new kitchen — anything that might add depth to the usual credit score and financial information that banks and other funders may review.
It's basically a financial social network, putting a human face on the whole business of borrowing and lending money. This opens up the playing field for borrowing and lending money. This is great for small businesses as well as so many people who just need that little leg up to get back on their feet.
Zaarly5. Zaarly: Location-based ecommerce — name the product, set the price
Download: Zaarlly for iPhone or Android
Zaarly is a new way to buy what you want or to sell what you have. Download the free app, then just type in what you want and how much you will pay, such as a new bicycle for $100. You can even post how far you're willing to travel for it. Like magic, the offers appear, and you just you choose the best deal — or no deal, if you change your mind or don't find exactly what you need. Bid on goods such as a picket fence or services such as someone to paint it. Or you can sell things. Search the site for things other people in your area might be looking for that you might have.
The site is strict about security and has several layers of "you can only sell what's legal" disclaimers built in; still, use your common sense and best judgment with this one. If you arrange to meet someone to buy or sell anything, make sure it's a public place. (The site will give you all of this advice, too.) Right now, it's available in 200 cities nationwide and coming to more very soon.
More tools to help manage your money
Speaking of more coming soon, there are a lot more really interesting ways that technology, social networking, and savvy money strategies are coming together to make your life easier. I'll continue to cover this beat and let you know how my own money management is coming along. In the meantime, we would love to hear from you as well. What have you tried, and what's working really well for you? Be sure to let us know in the comments section of this post.
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