The economy is bad, right? Everyone is short of cash, afraid their job is next on the chopping block, and all manner of depressing things like that. So I’ve decided this is a good time to launch Frugal Fridays. I got the idea from an editor of mine who was so thrilled with all the free stuff she found in the advance copy she got of my book that she wants to run an article on free stuff she found there. (Thanks Jonna!)

So until the economic horizons look full of gold, I will offer a geeky way to conserve, make, or manage money every Friday. Things I post on Frugal Fridays will never cost money but they will either help you save it—or they will actually pay you!

Since there is no expense that irritates me more than bank fees, overcharges, and late-payment penalties, I think Quicken Online is a great tool to start off Frugal Fridays with.

I have paid a few late charges recently and they really irk me. I’m normally right on top of the bills but if I travel or get swamped in work, the little holes in my procedure becomes immediately obvious. And forgetting even one bill can cost as much as a pair of kid’s shoes.

So last week, I signed up for Quicken Online. Intuit made this product free October 14, so woo hoo! It makes it to Frugal Friday!

I spent about 30 minutes (most of that time trying to remember passwords) giving Quicken the log-in information for my credit cards, bank accounts, and loans. And then I kicked back and sipped wine while it went out to all my accounts and gathered up recent transactions, due dates, and balances into a very organized page. A quick glance at the top of the page told me how much money came in last month and how much went out. Sweet! I am not—as I had feared—operating in the red. But now I’ll know right away if that starts to happen and how much I have to rein in spending.

It also made a best guess at categorizing every expense it found. So if I charged lunch to my Visa card at a place called Mary’s Sandwiches, it guessed “Dining.” It did a good job, too. I had to correct only one or two items (and it will now remember those) to get a quick budget based on what I actually spend on a regular basis. Now, it’s easy to see how I could cut from this budget. I know what things are worth to me and, now, I know what I’m spending on them. Do I really want to spend more on eating out than I do on groceries? (I’m not but I was afraid I might be.) More on bank fees than wine? (That, unfortunately, is true.) These sorts of decisions are so much easier to make when someone else does the math. It’s also a matter of a couple of clicks to see if I stayed within my budget or how much more I can spend before I exceed my budget. Now I make a quick check here decisive when my family is hankering for take-out Chinese.

Here is a video of how the product works.

I can’t pay bills or make any changes from Quicken Online—I use my bank’s free online service for that anyway—but I can see in an instant what’s due, where a balance is running low, and if I’m spending more than I’m bringing in—or than I want to. Now if I’m wondering (and I am) if I can afford that new fridge, I can see—with the crystal clarity of a snap shot—how the purchase will affect my monthly budget and overall bottom line. (I decided to pay off a credit card, then buy the fridge.)

As for those missed bills? That won’t happen again because I get text reminders sent to my cell phone. So even if I’m horseback riding in Iceland (as I was recently), I will know if a bill is due.

2 thoughts on “Frugal Friday”

  1. I have been using Quicken Online since December 2008 and it has proven to be really a realization tools for my expenditures. As a result, in the month of April, I found today, I spent at least 50% less on groceries.

    @Meghan: Does Mint also provide some kind of Health Insurance, I think I read that somewhere?

  2. Interesting…I’ve been using Mint.com in much the same way; I’m thinking Intuit made Quicken Online free to compete with Mint!

    I haven’t had a chance to check out the Quicken video yet, but I will and then I’ll maybe post something on my site about Mint and we can compare notes!

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