My major tool in my Financial Planning activities is my computer. I use it to track my spending, I use it to make up financial plans for the coming time, and I use it to analyze my spending habits, all in all a very powerful tool for me.
My wife prefers to use pen and paper because she likes to see the spending and such, and if that is the way you work, I have no problem with that either. It takes a little longer, but maybe when it takes longer you might notice and absorb more information from the data entry side of things.
My major tools that I use (I am not endorsing these computer tools, I am simply pointing this out to be complete) are:
- Quicken, first and foremost this is the tool I use to keep track of spending and attempt to report trends and such. A very powerful tool, that I still don’t think I am using completely correctly.
- Tax software, in this case Quicktax, but only because it is so simple when I do it this way and I can E-file my taxes which is quicker and easier for me. I also use that tool to infuriate myself figuring out what might happen if the Government supported Income Splitting.
- Excel or whatever spreadsheet you like. I like to extract data from Quicken and then use it for some elementary calculations and forecasts in Excel. Excel has some very powerful financial functions, but make sure you are using the Canadian versions for Interest calculations and such.
- Powerpoint, to present information easily to my wife or to my banker, if I am going in to try to get Free Banking
- Internet Explorer or a browser for On line banking, and thanks to my PC I no longer walk into my local branch weekly to get my banking updates, I get them daily on line. This is an amazing capability that we take for granted that didn’t exist 20 years ago. I pay bills that I don’t have to mail in any more either.
- Firefox or Internet explorer as a research tool, by looking up on Government sites I learn about Tax rules, by reading company’s web pages I learn about good investments and by reading some amazing Blogs, I learn about Finances in general (see my right bar for some excellent financial bloggers).
These tools make Personal Finance for me a little easier to deal with.
Take Care of your PC
As with all tools, you must maintain your PC. Yesterday my PC was taken away, because it was doing suspicious “Virusy” things at work and now I sit at my kids’ computer attempting to get anything done. I am lucky because I have an entire I.T. group to take care of my PC (for now), most folks do not, so here is my views on the minimal I.T. tasks you should be performing on your PC (this advice I do actually stand behind, because this is an area I think I have some expertise):
- Backups, backups, backups! If there is any data on your computer that is important, you must make sure itis backed up in some fashion. There are many ways to do backups
- Back data up to CD’s or DVD’s if you have a CD writer. If you don’t have a CD or DVD burner, go get one NOW.
- Norton and other services are now offering network based back up services that you can subscribe to. I would read their agreement closely to see what re-courses you have if your secret data is compromised by their backup system, but this is still another way to go.
- If you have TWO computers at home, make a BACKUP directory on each, and back up important data on the other machine. At least if one fails you still have your data.
- Floppies? Well, if you think that is the way to go, knock your socks off, but I do not recommend it.
- Restore! Yes this is just as important, you must test that you can restore data from your backup system! Backups are useless if you cannot retrieve your data. If you have important data already backed up on floppies, transfer it to DVDs or Cd’s or something. Also check the state of your old important backups, because the Media it is on, does degrade.
- Anti-Virus software, get something, ANYTHING, but do not think that your Internet Access provider or your good ideas are going to stop viruses from getting on your computer. Use Norton, McAfee, NOD or others, but use something or your machine will become compromised.
- Anti-Spyware software too, most anti-virus systems now come with Spyware checks as well, important to get this kind of software, or you are going to end up selling Herbal Viagra from your PC.
- Clean your computer. Vacuum out the fans at least, or take it to a reputable local computer shop to have it cleaned (ask for references from the local shop, if you don’t know the owner). I had a fan break on my CPU, due to dust and my machine was gone for a few days.
There are many other tricks of the trade you should think about, but this is my minimum list. If anyone else cares to comment on other important tasks, please feel free, as I don’t think this list is exhaustive, just a good starting point.