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Cheat sheet: Great budget websites

(Mint.com )
April 26, 2012|By Megan Crepeau, for RedEye

So you want to start a budget. Specifically, you want to start a budget that doesn't make you run sobbing into the overpriced embrace of the nearest Anthropologie.

Well, I can't actually promise that, because any time you come face to face with your actual spending numbers, it's going to be a shock. What I can do is scour the Internet for the best budgeting software. I had one requirement: they had to be free. No sense spending money trying to save money, right?

Generally, online budgeting falls into three categories: software that pulls numbers straight from your bank, software that doesn't, and spreadsheets. Here's the best from each category.

Mint.com is the big daddy of budgeting websites, and that reputation is well-deserved. Mint feeds right from your various bank and loan accounts, so you don't have to enter in your spending by hand. It lets you set certain goals and limits in different targeted areas. It's easy to navigate, and you can use it as much or as little as you want to. And did I mention it's so, so pretty? It's got this day-spa color scheme that makes you think of pink roses and lemonade even while you're freaking out about your credit card debt. That's quite a perk. It's not often that the prom queen is also voted Most Likely to Succeed, you catch my drift?

Now, just because some sites get your financial numbers directly from your bank account doesn't mean they're going to post all your financial info out there willy-nilly. Mint, in particular, is owned by Intuit – the Quicken company – and they have a serious interest in keeping your stuff private; it'd be a PR nightmare if their accounts leaked. But if you aren't comfortable coughing up your online banking info, that's fine too. Try a site like budgetpulse.com. You enter your own figures, set your own goals and go from there. Just be honest with yourself about the numbers, and you'll be spending sensibly in no time.

So if you want to really just get in there and crunch the numbers on your own, you're going to want to keep a spreadsheet. It's old-school, I know, but hey, some of you just like to see exactly where your numbers are coming from. You probably bake your own bread, too. No judgment. It's also nice because you can try different sheets without having to commit, and see what works for you. Google Docs has a ton; look, I've even made you a handy link! Check it: bit.ly/az4Jkh.

Megan Crepeau is a RedEye special contributor. She's a twenty-something college grad navigating this dumpy job market just like the rest of us.

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