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Web sites help track day-to-day costs

February 1, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Do you know how much you spend on food every month? How about how much you spend on clothes, gas, or utilities? Keeping track of your day-to-day costs can be overwhelming. But now there are ways to get online help.Kim Bui is getting her money matters in order.

"I used to go to the ATM and, you know, check on my balances, and it would just be a lot less than I had imagined. It could be like $200 less," said Kim. "It seemed like a good time to sit down and start budgeting."

Rather than buying personal finance software, Kim turned to mint.com, one of several new and free budgeting Web sites.

"I can just log onto to mint and check in on my accounts, and see where my balances are and where everything is," said Kim. "So, it's pretty quick and easy."

Consumer advocate Gerri Detweiler says these sites make it easy for consumers to manage their day-to-day spending. After you create an account, you input your usernames and passwords for any bank account or credit card you want to track.

"They automatically go out to your financial accounts, pull that data in so that you can see all of your financial activity in one place," said Gerri Detweiler, the author of the Ultimate Credit Handbook.

The features on the sites vary slightly, but most let you set up a budget and alert you when your credit card bill is due, or your bank account is close to zero. They also automatically categorize your purchases and give you a breakdown of where your money goes.

"I knew I spent a lot of money on shopping and my car, but I just didn't actually realize how much of my income was going towards those things," said Kim.

Before signing up, check that the service you chose is partnered with the institutions you want to monitor.

"Some of them offer access to some 8,000 different financial accounts. Some of them, they run around $3- or $4,000," said Detweiler.

As for any security risk, Detweiler says it's minimal. But since you're giving out your usernames and passwords, it's important to protect yourself.

"Change those passwords monthly, and also make sure you have up-to-date anti-spyware, antivirus software, and a firewall on your computer," said Detweiler.

When choosing a free money management site, experts say it's a good idea to look for one that has a security seal on it from companies like VeriSign, HACKER SAFE, and thawte. It's also a good idea to look at blogs and review sites to see what people are saying.

 

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