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Simplify your finances

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WASHINGTON (6/8/09)--The recession has many consumers looking at their personal finances through a microscope to uncover even the smallest speck of savings. The best approach, though, may be to take advantage of a few smart moves and tools to help simplify certain tasks (Kiplinger.com June 2009). Make some smart moves now for a brighter financial picture later:
* Sign up at a personal budgeting website. Consider these free online tools: mint.com, quicken.intuit.com, and wesabe.com. After set-up, you’ll see how much you’re spending and where it’s going. Some sites show spending in multi-colored pie charts, and some let you interact with other users for support and budgeting advice. Check privacy policies and use strong passwords. Another tool is the Budget Blueprint calculator on the Home & Family Finance Resource Center site, for subscribing credit unions. * Sign up for online bill-pay. You’ll avoid costly late payment fees and eliminate envelopes and stamps. Have your bills e-mailed to you to reduce paper clutter. And with online banking, your balances and outstanding checks are immediately available. * Streamline retirement savings. Sign up for your company’s automatic 401(k) enrollment plan if you’re not participating now. Consider a target-date fund that adjusts your savings to less risky investments as you approach retirement. And consider consolidating your retirement accounts from previous jobs into an individual retirement account (IRA) for easier management later. * Use shopping bots to compare prices. Sort retailer listings by price, and set alerts so you’ll be notified when prices drop. Consider BizRate, Shopzilla, Google Product Search, MySimon, PriceGrabber, Shopping.com, and Yahoo Shopping (Consumer Reports Money Adviser June).
Here’s a tip: Reserve several hours one weekend for a budget boot camp (Money June). Review your credit union and credit card statements for the past three months and identify recurring expenses and amounts. Then identify one or two line items to cut so you can balance your budget and meet your short-term and long-term goals. Making a sacrifice now--such as getting rid of a second vehicle and the associated gasoline, maintenance, and insurance expenses--may be necessary to get through these difficult times and position you and your family for better times ahead. For more information, read “Keep Passwords Strong, Secret, and Safe” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.