Useful Apps for Managing Your Expenses

Using your smartphone to be smarter about budgeting
Creating and sticking to a budget is essential if you want to get out of debt and achieve financial security, but it’s easier said than done. The proper amount of money to spend on various expenses can be difficult to calculate, and summoning the willpower required to stay true to those set amounts can prove even harder. Fortunately, there are many apps designed to keep you honest—and in the black. Here are some of the best apps available for managing your finances.

The most popular app for managing your money is Mint, a free app from Intuit, the company behind TurboTax and QuickBooks. Mint allows users to connect all of their bank and credit card accounts, as well as their monthly bill statements, into one convenient, all-in-one application for managing spending. Bill payment reminders, specific advice based on your unique spending habits and free credit scores are among the other services that Mint has to offer.

You Need a Budget, or YNAB for short, doesn’t just document your spending—it seeks to actively improve your purchasing habits and behaviors. For $5 a month or $50 per year, this app is best for those struggling to escape from the burden of debt. In addition to designing a budget that will help you achieve solvency, YNAB also provides helpful advice and community support in the form of an online forum made up of others suffering from the constraints of living paycheck to paycheck.

Level Money
Many consumers get into the bad habit of checking their bank account, seeing a healthy balance and then spending with carefree abandon. But there’s a difference between how much you can spend and how much you should spend, and Level Money is designed to illustrate that divide. This free app factors in essential monthly costs like rent, utilities and grocery bills to show the “spendable” amount of money in your bank account. You can also program it to take into account your saving goals, which helps you better prepare for the future.

When managing your expenses, it can be hard to remember to save money; fortunately, Digit does it for you. This free app makes an analysis of your spending and income and then automatically takes small amounts from your checking account, often anywhere from $5 to $50, and banks them in an account managed by the company. The app is fee-free and comes with a no-overdraft guarantee, so there is little risk involved. No interest is earned on your savings, since Digit is not a bank, but there is a “Savings Bonus” of five cents for every $100 saved over a three-month period.

Whether you are racked by debt and searching for a way out or simply looking for a convenient way to keep track of expenses and improve your saving habits, there are many free and affordable apps that can have a positive impact on your finances.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.


Retirement Planning in Your 20s

Five best practices to jump-starting your savingsAprilFeatured_Planning
When you’re in your 20s, you are worried more about starting your career than you are about what you’ll do when your career is over. Still, it’s important to put down some building blocks at this point to lay a solid foundation for your financial future. Here are five tips to get the ball rolling:

Develop financial habits
You will want to become well-versed in the process of saving. Cash flow may be an issue in the present, but your future self will thank you for not letting your expenses get in the way of your retirement savings.

“These years of saving in your early 20s are your prime years. If you deny yourself the opportunity, it will just set you back with retirement planning in the long run,” says Certified Financial Planner Brian T. Jones on “You’ve got to have balance.”

To help, you’ll want to develop another habit, one of overall financial organization, recommends Robert Berger of U.S. News & World Report Money. Any simple system for storing digital and hard copies of records will end up saving you a ton of time, hassle and money in the future.

Stick to the basics
When you first start learning about 401(k)s and hearing terms like “diversification,” it can make you turn into a deer in headlights. Don’t let that talk deter you from starting your retirement investments. In the beginning, the simpler the better. There are several options out there that automatically invest you in a portfolio, including a broad range of stock and bond index funds.

Of course, investing won’t get you anywhere if you haven’t saved up anything to invest.

Boost savings as earnings increase
Ideally, this would be each year; regardless, you should boost your retirement savings as you continue up the career ladder.

“Increasing your retirement contributions is easier than you might think,” Berger says. “For tax-deferred accounts, keep in mind that each dollar of additional contribution will only cost you about $0.70, depending on your tax bracket. And one easy approach is to use a portion of your pay raise or bonus each year to boost your contributions.”

Once you max out your contributions to your 401(k), which hopefully your employer matches, you can open a Roth IRA or other brokerage options, but you may need some additional assistance for that.

Choose your advisers carefully
When you get to the point where you want to take your retirement savings to the next level, there are plenty of companies and individuals ready, willing and able to help. Therein lies the challenge for you — sorting the proficient, trustworthy and affordable from the ones who are not so. Therefore, do your research. Ask friends, peers and mentors for referrals, and check out reviews online.

Get your debt out of the way
It’s a lot easier to focus on saving when you have fewer bills to pay. Many bills, such as utilities, cannot be avoided. However, high monthly payments to pay down your credit card debt can be one of the biggest obstacles to retirement savings, no matter what your age. Make it your goal to consistently knock out your debt through the years, maintaining a solid, smart payment strategy. Then, ensure that you don’t add more to your debt.

By starting small and starting early, you will give yourself a huge advantage in the quest to achieve a secure financial future.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

The True Cost of a College Education

Consider all tuition expenses so you can manage your budget and earn a college degree

A college education is crucial, particularly in today’s challenging job market. Not only does a college or university degree drastically improve a person’s chances of earning his or her dream job, but it also helps ensure a higher salary.

According to U.S. News and World Report, those who hold bachelor’s degrees typically earn roughly $2.27 million in their lifetime. Conversely, people who have only their high school diplomas usually make about $1.30 million in lifetime earnings.

“The payoff from getting a college degree is huge and is actually increasing,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and chief executive officer of Lumina Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on boosting the number of college graduates in the United States. “For people wondering [if] a college degree [is] worth it: Not only is it worth it, but the premium is growing.”

Gaining an edge in today’s job market is vital, which is making it more important than ever before for both kids and parents to save for school. A recent Millionaire Corner Survey showed that 34 percent of investors said they were currently involved in paying for a child or grandchild to go to college. Meanwhile, 46 percent of these people were concerned about college expenses.

Despite the challenges that surround paying for a college education, there’s tremendous value in getting a degree. However, those who consider the actual cost of tuition – not just the list price – can budget accordingly.

Check out the following tuition expenses to fully understand the true cost of a college education.

  • Housing – College housing is crucial, and the costs of living on- or off-campus vary widely in cities and towns nationwide.Recent U.S. Census Bureau data revealed that 12 percent of college students live on campus. It might prove more cost effective, however, to save money, live at home and commute to campus. Start searching for housing early and review all housing expenses before enrolling in school to determine what option works best.
  • Food – Many colleges and universities require students to sign up for meal plans while other schools may allow pupils to simply buy groceries and cook meals on their own. Weekly, monthly and semester budgets often are helpful for those who are trying to better understand food costs. In addition, picking up a few cookbooks or looking for recipes online is great for those who want to make tasty meals on a budget.

  • Books – Remember, classes change every semester. The U.S. Government Accountability Office notes that textbook prices have risen three times faster than inflation over the past 10 years, a trend that may continue in the foreseeable future.Fortunately, purchasing books online or at secondhand bookstores may be cheaper than buying directly from a college or university. Students can also sell their books at the end of each semester and use the money toward future college expenses.
  • School fees – Tuition is more than just the list price, and many schools charge extra fees that aren’t always included in the initial tuition price. Parents and students need to review every expense associated with a college or university prior to enrolling. Ask questions when selecting a school to avoid potentially expensive school fees down the line.
  • Incidental expenses – Emergencies can happen without notice, and it never hurts to have extra money in the bank. Putting aside even a little money helps, and those who do so may reap significant rewards down the line. 
According to Scholarship Experts, the list price tuition and fees charged by American four-year colleges and universities has increased at an annual rate of 7.1 percent. As the U.S. economy improves, these costs are likely to rise as well, but understanding the true cost of college education allows parents and students to prepare.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser 
Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.