Happy Fourth of July!

We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it. ~William Faulkner

Those who won our independence believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. ~Louis D. Brandeis

From the entire DWM team, we would like to wish you a safe & fun Independence Day!

Successful Investing Strategies for Millennials

We have all heard how important it is to start saving for retirement at a young age; but what exactly does that mean? A lot of young working people will sock money away in a savings account and think they are doing the right thing. While having cash for a rainy day/unexpected life event is very important, it is not at all how to save for retirement or save for a big purchase (i.e. down payment on a mortgage/new car). The secret behind it all is something called “compounding interest”. Compounding interest is something that happens over the course of many years and is hands down the best strategy to obtaining financial freedom.

For starters, it is important to understand what kind of account you are funding. Ideally, funding both a qualified account and non-qualified account is important. Qualified accounts are tax-advantaged retirement accounts such as Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and 401ks. The beauty about these accounts is that they can grow either tax-deferred (such as a Traditional IRA) or tax-exempt (i.e. Roth IRA), however they cannot be tapped until a later age without penalty. Qualified accounts also come with contribution limits so one cannot put in an indefinite amount. Although you will pay tax on earnings upon sale of investments within non-qualified accounts, the good news is that the funds are available for withdrawal at any time with no age restriction.

We understand young workers may not be able to fund both kinds of accounts early in their careers, therefore, we recommend funding the qualified accounts (retirement) first, followed by the taxable, non-retirement accounts.

Click here to learn a little more about Roth and Traditional IRA’s (qualified/retirement accounts).

The next step is to determine what kind of asset allocation aligns with your ‘Risk Tolerance Level’. We recommend consulting an investment expert, like DWM, to help determine your risk level profile (e.g. defensive, conservative, balanced, moderate, or aggressive) and the funds you should be invested in. Assuming your risk tolerance lands you in a “balanced” portfolio, you should expect a targeted long term rate of return of 6 to 8% per year. This may not sound like an enormous annual rate of return, but after compounding interest over a long investment time horizon, one is capable of achieving impressive portfolio numbers.

Now for the magic of compounding interest, what it can mean for your future, and why it is so important to start early for young workers. The best way to explain this is through an example:

If you contribute $5,500 to a Roth IRA (the max a Roth allows each year) starting at 22 years old and average 7% return per year until retirement at age 65, the $236,500 total contribution will turn into $1,566,121.

Compare that to socking away $5,500 into the same type of account, invested in the same exact funds, starting at age 40: Your account will grow to $372,220. This is still great and much better than not investing at all, but it would be a lot nicer to grow an account to over 1.5 million dollars versus less than 0.4 million dollars going into retirement.

An accepted estimate in the financial planning world is something called “The Rule of 72”. This is a quick and simple math equation that estimates how many years it will take to double an investment, given a certain annual rate of return. If we assume a 7% rate of return, we would divide 72 by 7 to come to a final answer of 10.24. So, with an annual return of 7%, it will take you a little over 10 years to double an investment. Therefore, a 25 year-old has the potential to double his/her invested money every 10 or so years from your early 20’s until retirement (4x over).

This means one would need to more than quintuple your annual income if you wait until age 40 vs. starting at 22 to make up for not putting away the $5,500 the 18 years prior (~$1.25 million) you technically missed out on.

Click here to see what amount you can achieve if you started putting $5,500 away today.

Another big misconception with saving young is “maxing out a 401(k)”. Many young workers will say they are maxing out their 401(k). However, simply putting away the 3-4% a company matches is not at all maxing out a 401(k), in fact, it is barely scratching the surface. As of 2017, the maximum employee contribution, per year to a 401(k), is $18,000- this is maxing out a 401(k). Let’s say a 25 year old makes $50,000 per year and is contributing 4% to his/her 401(k) that the company is matching. This 4% is only $2,000 per year and the match only becomes yours after it vests. It is important to understand your companies vesting schedule because in some cases it can take six years or more for that to actually be considered your money.

Another important step to saving/investing correctly is analyzing the investment menu within your 401(k). This involves studying the funds offered within a 401(k) and identifying an appropriate asset allocation target for yourself in-line with your risk tolerance. It is also important to look at the underlying fees within the funds of the 401(k). If you are in a large cap equity fund charging 70 basis points but there is another large cap fund that charges only 9 basis points, it can make a big difference over 20-30 years. Here at DWM, we do a 401(k) analysis for all clients because we understand the importance a few basis points can have on an individual and their family over the course of a lifetime.

We have all heard our millennial generation and future generations will never be able to retire because of different theories on social security and how rare pensions are today. This could not be further from the truth. We simply need to take our savings just as seriously as our expenses and we may be capable of not only retiring, but comfortably retiring and being able to leave a legacy for future generations. While a lot of millennials believe they are going to invent the next pet rock and become overnight millionaires, it might be a good idea to start saving the correct way because slow and steady does indeed win the race. 

Why is Alphabet Soup Important to You?

When I first joined the Detterbeck Wealth Management team, I knew it would not be long until I started my designation pursuit. Three of the most respected designations in the financial services industry are the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), CPA (Certified Public Accountant), and the CFP® (Certified Financial Planner). Each of these designations are considered to be the best of the best in their niche. “The CFA designation is considered the gold standard among financial professionals worldwide (Finance Professional Post, New York Society of Security Analyst); meaning someone who holds this designation is a chartered professional when it comes to portfolio and investment management. If the CFA is considered the gold standard of finance, it is easy to see the CPA has the same importance with respect to accountancy. Where the CFA and CPA focus on portfolio management and accountancy/tax, respectively, the CFP® focuses on comprehensive financial planning as a whole.  Someone who holds a CFP® designation has proven competence in all areas of the financial planning process including: financial statement preparation and analysis, investment planning, income tax planning, education planning, risk management, retirement planning and estate planning. DWM founders, Brett and Les Detterbeck, understand the importance of continuing education and have set the bar high for the rest of the team. Brett holds his CFA, CFP®, and AIF; while Les holds his CPA/PFS, MBA, CFP®, CFA, and AIF®. They understand what it takes to become true financial planning experts and help pave the way for the rest of the DWM team.

The CFP® or CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification is the most respected financial credential for financial planners, financial firms, and those seeking the advice of a financial planner. Therefore, the CFP® is a designation new DWM team members set their sights to obtain, however, there are many other well respected designations in the industry as well. Rather than jumping right into the CFP®, the team and I decided to go after a different designation; one that is specific to our clients and is a great stepping stone to the CFP®. I decided to pursue becoming an Accredited Wealth Management AdvisorSM (AWMA®).

“The AWMA® professional education program is the nation’s original and most well-respected designation for providing financial advice to high net worth clients”. The coursework consists of roughly 2,000 pages of material, 25 hours’ worth of video sessions, and a 4 hour examination that must be taken within 6 months of signing up for the class. DWM team member Grant Maddox is also pursuing the AWMA® and will be sitting for his test later this month.

While the AWMA® is a great program and allows a individual to become specialized in working with high net worth clientele, it is not the only path to becoming a financial planning professional. For example, DWM team member Ginny Wilson took a different path by obtaining the CRPC® or Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠. The CRPC® is the nation’s premier retirement planning credential and someone who holds it is considered to have mastered every step of the retirement process and can create a “roadmap to retirement” for almost any client.

As the entire DWM team knows, it is a bit of an adjustment working during the day and studying at night/mornings/on the weekends, but most of the information is very interesting and gives us the knowledge to help clients on their path to financial freedom. I learn something new every time I sit down to study. While I find investment strategies to be the most interesting coursework topics, I probably benefitted the most from learning all of the different estate planning techniques, as I had zero experience with this aspect of financial planning prior to joining DWM. The most eye-opening part of this entire process is just how complicated financial planning can be. If someone does not have the correct asset allocation funded in the proper kind of account, proper estate planning, or doesn’t fully understand all of the different tax ramifications that can come with financial planning, etc., it is possible they could hamper or damage their plan. Planning for your money must be done thoroughly and correctly.  The entire DWM team has dedicated thousands of hours on continuing education, and we are still all learning every day. Working with an advisor who lacks the proper credentials could end up costing you money.

Even though I am still just starting my wealth management journey, I am thrilled I was able to obtain my first designation, AWMA®, two weeks ago. On top of that, I realize now more than ever how important it is to work with a firm like DWM because the alternative could mean working with someone who is not as qualified, thus, costing the client money, servicing and care.  Continuing education is a valued process at DWM and we recognize its importance to our clients. All designations require continuing education classes, seminars, etc., which we welcome as an opportunity to expand our knowledge and be in a position to provide even greater value to our clients.

Big Macs and Donald Trump

Big Macs are becoming a real bargain everywhere in the world… except for the United States. This is because most emerging market currencies have taken a big hit since the election of Donald Trump, whereas, the dollar is as strong as it has been in almost 20 years. Not only has Trump raised expectations of an increased strength of the dollar, but many foreign countries have had problems of their own as well, leaving emerging markets lagging behind.  The Turkish Lira, for example, is one of the worst performing currencies so far this year due to terrorist bombings, economic slowdowns, and a central bank reluctant to raise interest rates to defend the currency (The Economist, Big Mac Index of Global Currencies). Emerging market struggles paired with a surging US dollar has led the Lira to be undervalued by 45.7% according to the Big Max Index.

You may be asking yourself “what on Earth is the ‘Big Mac Index?’” At least that’s what I asked myself the first time I heard it. You may be surprised to hear the Big Mac index is exactly what it sounds like: the cost comparison of a McDonalds Big Mac burger from one country to another. It is a fun, educational, and interesting way to learn how the world is valuing cost of goods on a country by country basis. The Big Mac index is built on the idea of purchase-power parity, meaning in the long run currencies will converge and rates should move towards equalization of an identical basket of goods & services.

In the United States a Big Mac costs $5.06 versus 10.75 Lira, or $2.75, in Turkey. The Mexican peso is even more undervalued at 55.9% versus the US dollar, meaning, a Big Mac only costs $2.23 in Mexico as of January 15th, 2017. The Big Mac index allows us to take complicated subjects, such as international commerce, and make it relatable and understandable.

One drawback of the Big Mac index is it does not take account of labor costs. Of course, a Big Mac will cost less in a country like Mexico because workers earn lower wages than workers in the US. So, in a slightly more sophisticated version of the Big Mac index, labor is included. This typically devalues the US Dollar (USD) compared to other countries around the world because our income is higher. For example, in the traditional Big Mac index, the Chinese yuan is 44% undervalued to the greenback, but after labor adjustments, it is only 7% undervalued. When this adjustment of labor cost is made, it makes it nearly impossible for the USD to trade at a premium against the Euro. This is because Europeans have a higher cost of living and lower incomes than Americans (The Economist, Big Mac Index of Global Currencies). Typically, the Euro trades around a 25% premium against the USD according to the Big Mac index. However, since the election of Donald Trump, even with the labor cost adjustment, the Big Mac index currently finds the Euro UNDERVALUED to the dollar. The US dollar is so strong, it is currently trading at a 14 year high in trade-weighted terms.

 A strong dollar may sound great, but it has many disadvantages. In the United States specifically, a strengthening USD can lead to a widening trade deficit with decreased exports and increased imports. This has a negative result on domestic businesses that operate in foreign countries as well as anyone servicing debts tied to the US dollar. President Trump has publically stated he feels international commerce is rigged against the United States. Whether he is right or wrong, as the trade deficit grows, so does the likelihood of him imposing tariffs on imports from China and Mexico in hopes of bringing balance to trade. If we put a tax on imports, it will lead to something called “protectionism,” or the practice of shielding the United States’ domestic industries from foreign competition. Some feel this is a strong policy because it will keep businesses in the United States and, according to Trump, will prevent us from being taken advantage of. However, it is fairly accepted in macroeconomics that protectionism is a poor/outdated policy because corporate globalization has led to international supply networks that promote convergence and integration throughout the world. Simply put, the countries that are the best at developing goods, develop them, and other countries benefit from the best products at the lowest prices. When something like protectionism takes place, it disintegrates these networks and adversely affects trade-dependent states and the domestic country itself (in this case the United States). The import tax will ultimately drive up prices for domestic consumers who would otherwise benefit from world prices that are significantly lower. This will lead to an increase in trade of intermediate goods and inward investing into value chain niches.

The reason the Big Mac index is so interesting is because it can explain a complex subject like macroeconomics with something as simple as the cost of a hamburger. By knowing the price of a Big Mac on a country by country basis, we are able to understand a significant amount about the world economy and the repercussions the US will face based on the actions we take moving forward.

The Big Mac index is telling us one thing for certain: the US dollar is abnormally strong, which makes the near future uncertain. It is important to have a well-diversified portfolio with an appropriate asset allocation and a competent, experienced fiduciary like DWM to help guide you through times like this. 

Your New DWM Website

A few months before starting my career at DWM, the team decided it was time to change the look of the company. The first step was revamping the logo to have a more modern feel, while still maintaining a strong message. The DWM gears were a perfect fit. The origin of the gears symbolizes the idea of process, which is ideal when you consider DWM’s philosophy: “Wealth management is a process, not a product.”

While the new logo certainly achieved a modern feel, we also needed to update the look of our website. We came together as a team to determine what the old site lacked, and how the new site would improve the overall user experience. I started building out the new site my second week at DWM. Every week the team discussed ways to make it better for clients, prospects, and anyone else who wanted to stop by. Now, almost 8 months later, the new and improved DWM site is finalized and ready for you to visit.

The new site benefits both DWM clients and non-clients in three main ways: simplicity, quick/convenient access, and transparency.

Simplicity. The new site has a very simple layout. We do not try to impress anyone with fancy terminology or complicated charts that may be difficult to understand. The goal is for you, the viewer, to have a stress free experience on our site and easily obtain the information you are looking for. From our home page, one can easily navigate to brochure-like items such as our DWM Total Wealth Management Process (investment management, value-added services, and relationship management), DWM processes and culture, the DWM team, and a link to recent blogs.  Within each tab, we give a brief overview of our philosophy on that particular subject, but do not ramble on for 10+ pages. As much as we love talking about all aspects of wealth management, we recognize you probably did not come to the site to read an entire book. So while the information is detailed, it is still easy to understand and not overwhelming.

Quick/convenient access for clients. Typically, clients visit the DWM website to access either their MGP financial plan, DWM/Orion account (performance) information, or Schwab account information. With that in mind, we did not want you to have to scavenge the site just to access your information. For this reason, we inserted quick links in the header of the site so you can quickly locate your information from any page. To go along with quick access, we made a point to maximize convenience, so, we decided all log in screens should open in a separate tab. This way, if you are reading a blog about market performance and decide to check your account, you will not be navigated away from the site. A new tab will open and you can finish reading after checking your account. Of course, everything is still 100% secure, as DWM takes your personal and account information very seriously.

Transparency. When I first started building out the new site, I was surprised to hear a general rule of thumb is to limit the amount of pictures of the company’s employees. If you visit other sites in the financial industry, you may notice there are a lot of canned pictures of happy couples running on the beach, sunsets, and whatever else distracts you from the idea wealth management is a process that takes a strong team you can trust. So while we are certainly happy at DWM, it is not because we are running along the beach everyday with our hands in the air, but because we enjoy helping you achieve and enjoy your financial freedom.

To go along with transparency, we spent a significant amount of time on the “DWM Team” section of the site. We decided we did not want to only brag about everything we have accomplished and why we are qualified to be your personal fiduciaries, but rather, give you a better idea of who we are as people. Of course, we give background information, but more importantly explain how we got into wealth management, some passions outside of wealth management, our family, interests, and experiences at DWM thus far. This gives the reader the ability to learn more about the individuals on this team and how they mesh with your needs.

We are very excited about the new DWM website and our overall online presence. To go along with the new website, we also have updated our Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter Pages. We are using Twitter to help everyday folks with wealth management by posting blogs and “daily wealth management tips.” Our goal is to help as many people as possible achieve financial freedom and we are thrilled we can utilize social media to do that. So please, check out the new and improved DWM online platforms! Here are the links:

DWM website: http://www.dwmgmt.com/

DWM LinkedIn Page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/detterbeck-wealth-management

DWM Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DetterbeckWealthManagement/

DWM Twitter: https://twitter.com/detterbeckwm

Prevent ShareFile From Going to Spam Folder

Help Us Protect You and Your Data:
One of our most valued qualities at DWM is INTEGRITY: to honor the sanctity of respect, truth, and confidentiality in all of our relationships. You trust us with your personal information and we respect that. In today’s internet-fueled, cyber world, it’s easy to move around data, but it must be done in a safe way. To that extent, when we send you confidential information via email we want to ensure that your data remains private. That’s why we use Sharefile.
Sharefile is one of the most utilized and secure options for sharing documents via email. It allows you to encrypt the body of your message to your recipient, along with any attachments, providing all parties with comprehensive data privacy.
Unfortunately, some email providers like AOL, and sometimes Google, view an email utilizing Sharefile differently and it can wind up in your junk/spam folder and become lost, which makes communication between us quite difficult. The reason for emails being flagged as spam is because of the spam filter that is set in place by the email provider. If the spam filter does not recognize the email address it is directed to the spam folder.
The good news is that there is an easy fix. All you need to do is add the following domains to your approved senders list to omit this kind of problem:
@dwmgmt.com
dwmgmt.onmicrosoft.com
If you don’t know exactly how to do this, please see this handy list showing steps for users of AOL, Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo.
We take confidentiality of your information very seriously. Please help us help you by adding the domains today. And also, the best way to get us confidential documents is by uploading them to our Sharefile. To do this, simply click  the link below our of our team’s email signartures. For example,
Regards,
Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®, AIF®
DWM Financial Group, Inc.
DBA Detterbeck Wealth Management
110 N Brockway, Suite 330
Palatine, IL 60067
P 847.934.6262
F 847.934.5495

Click Here to send me a file securely.

Hurricane Matthew

hurricane-matthew-update-part-2

Hurricane Matthew was a scary time for DWM as it approached the US. For one, we know how devastating natural disasters can be to people’s lives, businesses, homes, and general well-being. Secondly, Matthew could potentially have directly affected our DWM family as it was expected to first touch the US in South Carolina, where half of our team and many DWM clients are located. It was an unsettling experience as our Charleston team/clients, along with much of the southeast coast, were instructed to evacuate to safety.

As Hurricane Matthew first formed as a category 5 hurricane and started its approach toward the US, analysts from JP Morgan projected it to be the second most costly US hurricane on record for insurers, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005. To earn this devastating title, Matthew would need to reach a total of $25 billion in insured losses. While still devastating, the most recent projections from CoreLogic (a real estate data provider) estimated around $10 billion in total losses, making insured losses between $4-6 billion. If these totals are confirmed, it would make Hurricane Matthew the 22nd most devastating storm since WWII, according to a recent estimate by Goldman Sachs. By the time Matthew made landfall in the US near McClellanville, South Carolina, it was reduced to a category 1 hurricane.

Even with Hurricane Matthew having inflicted significantly less damage than originally projected, Goldman Sachs still estimates it may cost about 5,000 US jobs in October. When storms like Matthew hit, jobs in the restaurant, hotel, and education sectors normally suffer the most. For example, 30,000 jobs were lost in those sectors when Hurricane Sandy struck, however, 40,000 jobs rebounded (mainly in construction) during the rebuild of the 2012 catastrophe.

While businesses almost always suffer and sometimes risk closing their doors when catastrophes like Matthew strike, homeowners can typically expect a higher burden. “These days homeowners who live close to the coast tend to opt for a 5% deductible on the hurricane wind damage portion of their policy,” said Bob Hunter, Director of Insurance for the Consumer Federation of America. Meaning: a homeowner, whose $500,000 house was fully destroyed, would have the obligation to pay $25,000 of repair costs before the insurance company covers the remaining $475,000.

While it is good news Matthew did not strike the East Coast with the force we originally expected, that reinsurers will likely be able to cover all insured losses, and that only .003% of all jobs in the US will be affected; it all pales in comparison to the 34 lives that were lost in the US and over 1,000 lost in Haiti. DWM’s thoughts and prayers go out to all families affected during this awful natural disaster.

P.S. Our new Charleston office at Church and Broad streets came through unscathed with no damage.  And, Les, Ginny Wilson, and our newest team member, Grant Maddox, and their families evacuated and all were safe and dry.  Grant, by the way, is a recent College of Charleston graduate in finance who has had some very interesting internships.  These included a stint as deputy finance chairman for the successful campaign of Charleston’s current mayor, John Tecklenberg.  Please join us in welcoming Grant to the DWM team.

How to Nickname Accounts within SchwabAlliance

nicknamesHaving a hard time deciphering which account is which within SchwabAlliance? Well, our blog today is directed toward helping you conquer just that!

As you most likely already now, as a DWM client, you have a few ways to access your information:

DWM/MoneyGuidePro Financial Planner

DWM/Orion Portfolio Manager

SchwabAlliance

(For more info on DWM-Connected Sites please click here to read our short blog: DWM Websites-101)

SchwabAlliance is a third-party site that, unlike the top two sites listed above, DWM cannot control. This is intended for compliance purposes. Since we cannot control that site, we cannot “nickname” an account for you there like we do within our DWM/Orion reporting system.
But by following this easy-to-use guide created by newest DWM teammate, Nick “Nick-Name” Schiavi, you can have those accounts nicknamed in a matter of minutes.

 

     Here is a link to the guide: Nicknaming and Grouping Schwab Alliance Accounts

Of course, you can always call the friendly folks at SchwabAlliance (800.515.2157) if you’re still having trouble with that site. For any help on the other DWM sites, please don’t hesitate to call us.

Happy surfing!

Happy Labor Day!

Labor-Day-Picnic-Clip-Art-PicturesWe hope you have a fantastic upcoming extended weekend. Although, I feel, the end of summer is a bit sad, there is much to look forward to come fall: beautiful mild temperature days, family visits to the pumpkin patch, leaves changing color, Halloween, and of course… football season. The shift always begins on the first Monday of September, or better known as Labor Day.

While most everyone is a fan of Labor Day and the three-day weekend, the history isn’t as well known. Labor Day is dedicated to the achievements of American workers and a celebration of how important they are. The state which first created the holiday, by legislative enactment, was Oregon on February 21, 1887; soon followed by Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York (the first state to propose Labor Day as an official holiday). By June 28, 1894, Congress made Labor Day an official holiday to be celebrated on the first Monday of September throughout all of the US.

Labor Day comes from one of the worst time periods to work in the trade, the Industrial Revolution. Many Americans worked 12 hour a day, seven days a week, and close to 365 days a year. In some states, families had to send children as young as 5 years old into the workforce, just to get by. With little regulation, workers were forced into extremely unsafe and unsanitary working conditions. With no other options, they had to take the chance in order to keep food on the table.

Eventually, enough was enough. Labor unions formed and, throughout the beginning of the 18th century, they grew larger and more vocal. For the first time, a group was standing up for the working man. Strikes, protests and rallies started to take place, demanding safe/clean working conditions and realistic pay. On September 5, 1882, over 10,000 workers left work to march from City Hall to Union Square, this would later be known as the first Labor Day Parade in New York City. The Unions made significant progress and eventually the idea of a “workingman’s holiday” started to float around.

In 1894, Eugene V. Debs of the American Railroad Union called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling all railroad traffic throughout the US. This eventually led to riots and the deaths of many protestors, leaving government and worker relations severed. In an attempt to gain the trust of the American workforce, Congress officially passed the act to make Labor Day a legal holiday in the United States.

To this day, there is still a debate of who came up with the original idea of Labor Day. Many credit Peter J. McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, while others argue it was actually Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labor Union, who originally proposed the idea.

Whether it was McGuire or Maguire, Labor Day is now a weekend that is always circled on the calendar. Working hard is part of our culture at DWM. We take pride in knowing we can add value and better the lives we touch every day. At the same time, we don’t take for granted the people whom we collaborate with and who allow us to provide more comprehensive service to our clients. So while it is a great weekend to barbeque with the family, it is also a great time to reflect on all of the hard labor done before us in order to make our lives better.

Budgeting Made Easy

BudgetingI recently researched and tested 3 different personal budget applications: HomeBudget, YNAB, and Expensify.  The goal was to find an app that clients and I personally could use for budgeting. Budgeting is much different than saving.  Saving is income not spent, or deferred consumption, e.g. money set aside to grow and eventually spend during retirement. On the other hand, budgeting is managing expenses to fit a given income. Each application has their advantages and disadvantages but they are all great when it comes to keeping monthly finances in order.

YNAB:

YNAB, or “You Need a Budget” is the first app I reviewed. For starters, YNAB links to a checking account, which is a plus because income does not need to be updated manually, it is done in real time. After monthly income has been set, every dollar of the previous month’s income is assigned to a specific category within the app. Categories are: Immediate Obligations, True Expenses, Debt Payments, Quality of Life Goals, and Just for Fun.  This app is different in the idea its goal is to use the previous month’s income to pay for the following months expenses, rather than most budgeting applications that use any funds available to pay off expenses. This app also stresses the importance for having cash on hand for emergencies or unusual expenses. Rather than only paying off the expenses you planned on having, YNAB makes sure a predetermined amount of cash is set aside for a rainy day. A fallback to YNAB is it is not the simplest app to navigate through and takes some time to get used to. It takes about 2 weeks to get totally comfortable, which is most likely the reason for the 34-day free trial. After 34 days, the cost is $5/month or $50/year.

Expensify:

What first caught my eye about Expensify was the price. It is free. Expensify links to individual credit and debit cards to keep track of expenses so you do not need to enter them manually. This way you will be able to keep track of expenses without having to hang on to every receipt. At any time you can export expense reports or send invoices directly off of the mobile app. Expensify can also keep track of things like “Distance” for people who need to expense travel costs and “Time” for people who are paid on hourly wages. A fallback, however, is Expensify is not a true budgeting tool. So, while you will have a better idea and an easier time keeping track of expenses, you cannot pre-set a budget for individual categories.

HomeBudget:

This is my favorite application from what I tested. It is very simple to read, colorful, and easy to navigate. When first entering the app, five sections appear: Expenses, Income, Budget, Accounts, and Bills; along with the dollar amounts of each (once you enter them). Below the sections, you see a gauge showing how much of your monthly budget you have spent and a month by month trend for expenses. It is like a condensed expense report summary right on the home screen. This app is very flexible and allows you to enter income in a variety of ways. Within the income tab, you select the add button and an “add income” tab pops. Whether you have a steady paycheck and title each check as “bi-weekly paycheck,” or you are a free-lancer and title it as “John Smith” because a client made a payment, you will be able to utilize a detailed description of income and what account it is going to. The same detail is available within the Expense section of the home screen. There are seven categories (Utilities, Food/Grocery, Departmental, Entertainment, Car/Auto, Insurance/Medical, and Misc/One-Time) all with subcategories. This allows you to keep a detailed record of all expenses.  Within the budgeting section, you can either take a broad approach, or an extremely detailed one. A broad approach would be selecting the “One-Budget” option within the Budget section of the home screen. This is for anyone who doesn’t mind where they spend a monthly budget, so long as they stay under the predetermined amount. Other people, who prefer to be more detailed, can go in and set individual budgets for each category or even sub-category. With this approach, you can see how much of a category budget has been spent for the month and if you click on a category, you can see how much has been spent on each sub-category. HomeBudget is by far the most hands on, detailed and efficient application I reviewed. However, there are a few drawbacks, the application costs $4.99 on iPhone/$5.99 on Android and does not connect to a card or bank account to easily keep track of expenses.

In my opinion, the HomeBudget app in conjunction with your banking app that keeps track of expenses is the best solution. Personally, I utilize my bank’s mobile app for tracking all the expenses against my checking account. If you don’t have something like this for your checking account, you may consider downloading something like Expensify and linking your credit/debit card. This way it will be much easier to enter expenses into a budgeting application like HomeBudget.

We can change how we think of budgeting.  In the end, it is not about spending as little as possible.  It is about having a plan for wisely spending what we have to meet all of our goals.  These applications are a great tool to help us make sure we don’t overspend and, more importantly, to make sure we continue to enjoy living the life we want to live.

*Other budgeting applications with good reputations I did not get a chance to review: Mint.com, GoodBudget, Mvelopes, Simply Planning, BillGuard, and Pocket Expense