Your financial life: Track it. Improve it.
New ways to keep tabs on your inflows and outflows can make a big difference to your bottom line.
NEW YORK (Money Magazine) -- When it comes to managing a budget, Quicken and Microsoft Money have long dominated the playing field.
Getting them to sync with your bank and investment accounts, though, can make a pencil and ledger look tempting, especially when you factor in the costs of the programs and the fees some financial providers charge for a linkup.
But now a set of personal-finance Web sites promise to do everything for free.
New tools that aggregate accounts, help you track spending and show you where to save money have been sprouting like crabgrass.
Sites such as Geezeo.com and Wesabe.com have enjoyed lots of buzz, but the fact is they aren't quite ready for prime time. (That could easily change in the next six to 12 months.)
The most effective site has actually been around for years. Yodlee MoneyCenter (Moneycenter.yodlee.com) lets you upload your bank accounts, credit cards, mortgage, loans, investments and even frequent-flier accounts into its system. Then a click of a button will show a net-worth statement that considers all assets and debts - and can even factor in home values.
As for your data's safety, know that Yodlee is what powers major banks' online products.
Runner-up Mint.com lacks the capability for you to input investment accounts and loans, but it has a slick and easy-touse interface that might make it the perfect tool for your budgeting teenagers.
It also takes less than five minutes to set up and analyzes your spending and automatically categorizes it for you.
One feature that the new sites boast but that Yodlee lacks is an online community where users can discuss money strategies without revealing personal financial information.
Then again, as of now, Geezeo's and Wesabe's users skew very young. Do you really want to be taking financial advice from your neighbor's son?
Instead, if you have questions, check out the message boards at savingadvice.com/forums. Posters there are more than willing to throw in their two cents on how to raise financially savvy kids, cut day-today spending or pay off debt.
After you've used Yodlee to get your financial picture, you might be itching for advice on how to make it better. Your latest issue of Money Magazine is certainly the place to start, but if you're still starved for information, the blogosphere has scores of options, some worth your time and plenty not.
Two of the best are ConsumerismCommentary.com and GetRichSlowly.org. They offer reviews of personal-finance books and sites, timely tips on saving money (Get Rich Slowly recently ran a piece on cutting your heating bills, for example) and ways to make a little extra cash.