by Rob Zorn
Online help for tough financial times
Even when there wasn't a global recession, many of us found there was a whole lot of month left at the end of the money. That so many of us are bad at managing our finances is a bit of a shame, but it is not necessarily something to be ashamed of. In his recent book, Mind of the Market, Michael Shermer argues that the human race has evolved over the last 90,000 years as hunter-gatherers living in small bands. The economic psychology we developed over that time doesn't necessarily fit well with the consumer-trader economy we now find ourselves in, and that is a comparatively extremely recent development.
I better stop there as it's not the job of the Actrix Online Informer to get all philosophical. The fact is, however, our consumer-trader economy has led to enormous shared wealth which has made things like the Internet possible. This means, with just a few mouse-clicks, we can access all sorts of free advice online to help us hunter-gatherers manage our money (and it won't be through the various get rich schemes that come through to us in spam). This month we thought we'd present a bit of a round-up on what's out there online.
One of the first places you can turn to for budgeting advice is your banking website. The Westpac website, for example, has a nice little 'Managing Your Money' tutorial in plain English that covers off some of the most basic money management principles quite succinctly. It deals with some really basic principles we tend to overlook such as not spending more than you earn (who'd have thought it?), paying off priority expenses first, and that paying off debt is a form of saving. It even has a section on controlling your hunter-gather-based emotions when dealing with your money.
The Westpac tutorial is available at http://www.westpac.co.nz/mym/about.html, and you don't have to be a customer to use it. Have a look at it, or try your own bank's website to see what sort of financial advice they offer.
Sorted is a free independent money guide for New Zealanders, run by the Retirement Commission. Itís full of calculators and information to help you manage your personal finances throughout life. It has a pretty high profile and we've probably all seen the advertisements on television featuring the cute little mouse.
The Retirement Commission would like you to think of Sorted as your own personal financial trainer. You can systematically work through all the site's sections if you need a thorough and ongoing workout, or just use the calculators if and when you need them. Sorted also features a quick check-up tool (Sort Me) where you can answer a few easy questions to get an idea of your current financial health. Find the link to Sort Me under the 'How sorted am I?' heading on the home page or click here.
The good thing about Sorted's tools and calculators is that they do the maths and take a lot of the hard of the hard work out of managing your money. You can do your budget, work out loan repayments or determine how much interest you'll make from your savings. Everything you do on Sorted you can save in your very own confidential My Plan which you can come back and update at any time.
Sorted's great if you're serious about changing the way you think about and handle your money long term.
Family Budgeting Advice
Family Budgeting Advice was set up by the New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Services Inc. It's not as comprehensive as Sorted, and is more designed to offer some basic help and then put you in personal contact with an advisor should your family find itself in financial strife. However, it does offer a nice array of tools in the 'Need Budget Advice?' section, including worksheets for setting up a budget, a cashflow chart, and a plan showing how to spend your food money on the right foods to make a balanced diet. There's even a down-to-earth 'Great Little Cookbook that suggests simple ways to choose, prepare and serve healthy and inexpensive food.
I quite like the online games, too. You can play these with your children to help them learn about money. The 'Budgeting Myths' section might also be good for overcoming some of those hunter-gatherer notions that hold us back.
Family Budgeting Advice is probably a good place to start if you're concerned about your family, and think you may eventually need more specialised help (i.e. one-to-one) to sort things out.
Moving on from budgeting advice, Fundit is a website that could save you a lot of money when it comes to taking out a mortgage.
You simply complete an online application form stating things like the
amount you want to borrow, how you want to pay it back, what your assets
are, etc. The site will even organise credit reports and capital valuations
for you. Lenders who are interested in your terms then compete with each
other to supply you with a mortgage, putting their bids forward on your
auction page. Your application details can only be seen by lenders once
you've started an auction and only on an anonymous basis. Your full details
are not released to the lender until you accept a bid.
And then there are the blogs...
There are lots of blogs out there dedicated to helping you save money, most of them are from overseas. Being blogs, they are sometimes helpful and sometimes a little quirky. It's up to you to decide how much credence you want to give to their advice.
Wise Bread is a community of bloggers who want to help you "live large on a small budget". Despite what you may have heard, they say, you don't have to sacrifice your financial independence to enjoy life. They have pages and pages of articles such as Household Cleaning Hacks that Save You Money, 10 Ways to Get More Wear Out of Your Clothing, and even Leftovers: 6 Money Saving Ideas for Those Bits at the Bottom of the Jar.
Frugal Dad was "created for the average family to find financial resources with a conservative slant". By 'conservative slant' they don't mean politics, rather the 'conservative' approach to personal finances. Again we have an Archives section filled with pages and pages of articles, mostly about finances. There's a helpful topic index down the right hand side, and also a section of the most popular (Top 10) articles. I like the look of: Is Sneaking Candy Into a Movie Theatre Frugal or Cheap?, Become A Debt Killing Machine In Five Steps, and When Stranded In A Forest Of Debt, Just Keep Chopping.
Fabulously Broke in the City was set up by a young woman who cleared a US$60,000 debt in 18 months by being frugal. She says most people can afford the things they want if they make room for them in their budgets. They just need the discipline to cut back on other areas. I'm not sure how true that is, but it might be an interesting read for those wanting a feminine perspective in a field often dominated by men. Topics of interest include: Blaming anyone but yourself is the easy way out, Having a Big Brain does NOT = Financial Smarts, and Perceptions of Women and their money.
Almost Frugal shares Kelly Rigotti's personal journey on the road to frugality (as well as any tips she's found along the way). In This is What Frugal Looks Like: Funny About Money she provides a series highlighting different ways people can be frugal in their lives. After all, she says, frugality doesnít have to be drastic or just about clipping coupons. Frugality can be fun and easy. Each respondent answers the same four questions.
And let's finish up with a few articles....
Here are a few articles from around the web on a variety of financial matters. Read and act on them at your own risk!
I hope these online resources were helpful for some people, or at least provided an interesting read. If you know of a good website out there that can help with money management, let me know!
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