Get Your Financial House in Order with the InterestingMoney Finance Tracker

Tired of wondering where all your money is going? Want an easy way to determine your monthly savings rate? Then it’s time to take charge of your monetary life and get your financial house in order. Mr. IM is here to help.

The InterestingMoney.com Finance Tracker

spreadsheet_icon
The IM Finance Tracker – Google Drive Link
Features include budgets for fixed and variable spending, tracking expenses categorically by month, charting income versus expenses, and automatic calculation (and graphing) of your savings rate.

What is it? Basically, it’s a spreadsheet to track your household financial life. No, it’s more than that – it’s a life-changing tool that promises to fatten your wallet, crush your debt, and make you a better lover. That’s a bit overboard. The truth is somewhere in between. Continue reading

New Year Challenge: Track All Spending for a Year

The time has come for me to throw down the gauntlet and issue a challenge to myself. Don’t call it a resolution – the timing as it relates to the new year is merely a coincidence, as I’ve been thinking about this for many months now. Still, the timing is impeccable as a year is an easy-to-measure chunk, so if you insist on calling it a resolution, I can live with that.

gauntlet thrown down

Gravity has taken its toll on this gauntlet.

Here it is: For the next year, I will keep track of all expenses so that I can see exactly how much I spend in a typical year. As an addition, I plan to do it all manually. Tools like Mint and Yodlee can tally up spending reports for any time-period that you wish, and useful as those are, they’re not good enough for my New Year resolution challenge. Continue reading

In Praise of Free, Open-Source Software

Open-source iconAt the beginning of this Holiday season, I’d like to offer my thanks and gratitude for the following free, open-source software projects without which my life would be much less productive and fulfilling. That I am able to use these applications to get things done in my life at a total cost of zero dollars is a blessing, and I offer my humble thanks to the multitude of developers around the world who contribute to these projects. Open-source software is truly created by the people for the people, and the world is a better place because of people like all of you.

In that spirit, here are the pieces of open-source software that touch my life on a near-daily basis, heightening my productivity in countless ways. Continue reading

10 Financial Podcasts You Should Subscribe To Now!

The following article is a guest post by Kris of Credit Card Compare.

Sometimes it seems incredible to me that with the wealth of financial information out there, and all the forms in which it is available, that many people still can’t manage their money. With such a variety of television shows, radio shows, video blogs, websites, and podcasts, all devoted to personal finance and investing, you’d think that anyone with cable television, a computer, or a cell phone would be a veritable spring of information, burbling forth their knowledge to everyone and anyone who would listen. Sadly, this isn’t the case. Continue reading

4 Free and Unlimited Online Invoicing Tools

If you run a small business or do any freelancing, you need a convenient way to send invoices to clients. Sure, you can keep track of all customer information in a spreadsheet, but you can also use an online invoicing tool. While I don’t have hundreds of clients for my side projects, I still get tired of wrestling with a spreadsheet for my invoicing needs. A friend recommended managing everything online, so I took a look at some online tools.

First of all, there are A LOT of options for online invoicing, both free and paid. Most companies, such as FreshBooks, offer a professional commercial invoicing system, but impose strict limitations on their free offering. Such limitations usually manifest themselves in the number of invoices you can send each month, or in the number of clients you can manage. While imposing limitations for a free product in order to urge customers to upgrade to a paid offering is understandable, some companies impose such strict limitations as to render the free offering practically useless. You mean I can only manage two clients and only send three invoices each month? Ridiculous.

On the other hand, there are a few companies that offer free and unlimited invoicing tools. All of the options listed below are completely free to use and impose no restrictions on the number of clients you can manage nor on the number of invoices you can send each month.

billing-boss-logo1. Billing Bosshttps://www.billingboss.com

Billing Boss is rare in that it is one of the only online invoicing programs that does NOT have a paid commercial upgrade. As of now, Billing Boss only comes in a free variety, and what you get for a grand total of $0 is surprisingly complete.

Billing Boss offers:

  • Unlimited invoices and clients
  • Multiple currencies
  • E-mail support (send invoices directly to clients)
  • Full PDF support (send attached PDFs to clients automatically)
  • Unbranded e-mails
  • Data sharing (add a partner or bookkeeper)
  • HTTPS support (log in here)
  • Payment recording
  • The ability to accept payments online via PayPal or their own payment services
  • Support for taxes, discounts, and your own logo
  • Mobile-friendly site (iPhone and Google G1 support)

In short, Billing Boss offers features for free that would cost a monthly subscription payment with most other companies. It’s my favorite online invoicing tool that I’ve found so far, and it handles my meager needs with aplomb. I wish it supported Google Checkout in addition to PayPal, but it’s hard to complain about such a complete feature-set.

The only other feature that I haven’t found yet in Billing Boss is support for recurring invoices. That said, Billing Boss is the most complete and feature-rich FREE invoicing tool that I’ve seen so far. View a video tour.

invoice-journal-logo2. Invoice Journalhttp://www.invoicejournal.com

Like Billing Boss, Invoice Journal is one of those rare programs that exists only in a free flavor; no commercial upgrade is available. Unlike Billing Boss, Invoice Journal is the creation of a single developer (as far as I can tell) instead of a large company. The application is still in active development, but is quite powerful already.

Invoice Journal offers:

  • Unlimited invoices and clients
  • Multiple currencies
  • E-mail support (send invoices directly to clients)
  • Unbranded e-mails
  • Payment recording
  • PayPal support
  • Support for taxes and discounts
  • Custom templates

Invoice Journal is nice, but certain features are more difficult to use than other programs. For instance, you can add a custom logo to your invoices, but you must first create/modify a custom template, then upload it to the server before you can use it. The silver lining is that Invoice Journal is rather powerful, but may take a little longer to get up and running than one of its competitors.

There are a few missing features that I’d love to see integrated, such as HTTPS support and an easy way to grant access to partners or other staff. Still, I welcome another completely free invoicing tool to the arena.

curdbee-logo3. CurdBeehttp://www.curdbee.com

CurdBee offers both free Standard and commercial Pro accounts.  The interface is impressively slick and easy to understand.

CurdBee (free) offers:

  • Unlimited invoices and clients
  • Multiple currencies
  • E-mail support (send invoices directly to clients)
  • Payment recording
  • PayPal and Google Checkout support
  • Custom logos

CurdBee looks great, no doubt about it, but their free feature set pales in comparison to competitors, such as Billing Boss. If you want extra features like PDF support, SSL encryption, support for taxes and discounts, the ability to send reminder and thank-you messages, plus unbranded e-mails, you have to upgrade to the Pro version. Granted, the Pro version is cheap ($5 a month), so it’s hard to complain much, but these features are available for free elsewhere.

CurdBee has a module-based upgrade model. Once you upgrade to Pro, you have to pay even more to unlock certain additional features. Want support for recurring invoices? Pay an additional $5 a month. Need support for the 2CheckOut payment gateway? Fork over yet another $5 a month. While CurdBee’s motto is Sweet and Simple Billing, these upgrades beyond the Pro level leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

As long as you understand the limitations of the free version, CurdBee works well, and manages to look great in the process.

billing-manager4. Billing Managerhttps://billingmanager.intuit.com

Created by Intuit, Billing Manager is a popular online invoicing sytem that has both a free and a paid couterpart.

Billing Manager (free) offers:

  • Unlimited invoices and clients
  • Multiple currencies
  • E-mail support (send invoices directly to clients)
  • Unbranded e-mails
  • HTTPS support
  • Payment recording
  • Support for taxes, discounts, and your own logo
  • iPhone-friendly site
  • Multiple templates

Billing Manager offers a lot for free. The main features lacking in the free version versus the paid upgrade are PDF support, recurring invoicing, and the ability to create and send estimates. Still, you can do a lot worse than Billing Manager. Plus, you may find it comforting knowing that you have the power of Intuit behind you.

The main drawback of Billing Manager versus the competitors is a complete lack of the ability to accept payments online for free. No, they have no support for gateways such as PayPal and Google Checkout. Instead, you have the option to apply for a Merchant Service account, which will give you the full capability to accept credit cards and eChecks online, but will also cost you $15 a month. This is completely separate from the Pro account, so even if you upgrade to Pro, it does NOT include a Merchant Service account. While Billing Manager may be the most professional invoicing system listed here, it’s also the most potentially expensive one.

Did I miss any free online invoicing tools that offer unlimited clients and invoices? If so, let me know in the comments. We can all benefit from that kind of information.

Happy invoicing!

7 Free and Simple Ways to Protect Your Privacy Online

I take online privacy very seriously, especially since I’ve been a victim of identity theft before. While no system is absolutely foolproof, there are a number of things that you can do right now to reduce the risk that your personal information will be used maliciously. Some of these tips are a little geeky, but most are quite simple. Best of all, none of them will cost you an extra penny!

1. Get a Better Browser

(Difficulty – Easy)

First things first, if you are not using a browser with built-in phishing protection, stop what you are doing right now and get thee a replacement! What is phishing? It’s a despicable attempt by scumbags to trick you into revealing personal information on phony sites. Ever received an e-mail from eBay, PayPal, or a bank asking you to re-confirm your account by clicking a link and typing in your username and password? That was a phishing attempt, and if you DID enter that information, it was likely stolen. While most newer browsers offer some protection against phishing, some do not. I’m looking at YOU, Internet Explorer 6. You too, Apple Safari!

Suggested browsers that all include phishing protection:

2. Use OpenDNS

(Difficulty – Medium)

This one is essential, but don’t run away in fright. It’s simpler than you may think. In short, OpenDNS is a free Domain Name Service (DNS) that you can tap into from your computer (or your router). Setup is easy. You don’t even have to install anything.

What can it do for you? A lot!

For starters, it provides additional protection against phishing, which is enough reason alone to use it. In conjunction with a better browser, this is a double whammy against phishing attacks. OpenDNS also automatically corrects common misspellings and re-directs you to the appropriate site. For instance, if you type craigslist.og, it will automatically forward you to craigslist.org. Slick.

That’s not all, though. OpenDNS gives you extensive control over content filtering. Want to quickly block access to an individual site or adult-related sites in general? Done. Check out the screenshot below.

Again, all of this is FREE. For best results, configure OpenDNS on your router, not just your individual computer. That way, everyone on your home network is automatically protected.

3. Use a Password Manager

(Difficulty – Medium)

You probably have a lot of account information to remember, don’t you? Most people nowadays have online access to banks, credit cards, utilities, and a plethora of random Internet services, such as eBay, Flickr, and (shudder) MySpace. Wait, don’t tell me that you use the same username and password over and over again, do you? DO YOU?

Recycling the same login information for every site is a brutally-bad idea. You are literally putting all your eggs in one basket, and if your information is compromised, it’s compromised everywhere. How, then, do you manage to remember all those usernames and passwords if you create new login information for every site?

Some people use pencil and paper, some type it into a text document and hope for the best, and others (like myself), use a password manager.

Personally, I like KeePass, and I’ve written about it before. Essentially, it’s a program that securely organizes all my usernames, passwords, and security questions. All you have to do is set a secure master password and lock all your information within the database.

Best of all, it’s free, and the learning curve is pretty slim. You can also carry it around on a portable USB flash drive. That’s what I did in Greece this past summer, and thanks to KeePass, I never had to type a single password at all the Internet cafes I visited.

Just try it. It may change the way you handle login information.

4. Protect your E-mail – Use Disposable Addresses

(Difficulty – Easy)

Ever visit a site that requires you to enter an e-mail address for some obscure reason? Or maybe you need to enter an e-mail address into a web form, a public forum, or anywhere else that may result in a deluge of spam in your inbox.

In times like these, a temporary, disposable e-mail address works wonders. All you have to do is generate a disposable address (valid for a few minutes or hours), use it for your intended purpose, and then walk away. No spam from that site will touch your real inbox.

While there is a growing number of disposable e-mail services available, here are a few of my favorites:

  • 10 Minute Mail – As the name suggests, it offers disposable e-mail addresses valid for 10 minutes, but if you need more time you can reset the countdown with the click of a button. While the address is valid, you can read and even reply to incoming e-mails. No registration is required.
  • Lite Drop – Offers disposable addresses valid up 60 minutes, but you can always reset the timer to extend the allotted time. You can read, reply, and even view an RSS feed of your inbox. No registration is required.
  • Mailinator – This one takes a slightly-different approach. Instead of generating an address beforehand, Mailinator creates an account as soon as an e-mail arrives for it. You can simply enter any name that you want, such as spam-me@mailinator.com, or maybe ilovespam@mailinator.com. You can check that address by entering it on Mailinator’s site. I suggest using obscure names, since anyone else can also check that e-mail address by entering the same name. See their FAQ for details.
  • Fake Name Generator – Why stop at just e-mail? With Fake Name Generator, you can generate an entire fake identity, right down to fake phone, birthday, SSN, and credit card number! Of course, it also generates a disposable e-mail address that you can use for whatever purpose you like.

5. Take Advantage of Virtual Credit Card Numbers

(Difficulty – Easy, when available)

Are you comfortable using your credit card for shopping online? I am, but I often add an extra layer of security by utilizing a temporary credit card number. The idea is brilliant, yet simple. Not all credit card services offer this, but for those that do, here’s how it works.

Whenever you want to buy something online, simply generate a virtual card number that is tied to your real one. Submit the virtual number and expiration date to the online merchant and buy your product as usual. That’s it. At no point did you reveal your true card number.

Most services also offer additional customization, such as the ability to limit the transaction amount as well as auto-expiration of the virtual number. For instance, you could generate a virtual number that expires in two months and has a total transaction limit of $25. Any amount beyond that will be rejected. You could even generate a number that’s valid for only one usage.

A few companies that offer this service are:

To see if your existing Citi card offers this ability, take a look under the Tools & Services menu in your account. You can also view existing cards with this feature.

If virtual numbers are available to you, it’s certainly worth the effort to use them. Adding another layer of security and privacy to online shopping never hurts.

6. Protect your Phone Number

(Difficulty – Easy)

How would you like a more secure, controlled environment for your phone number? There are two solutions that I like – one for the short term, and one for the long term.

Formerly knows as CraigsNumber (for providing privacy on Craigslist listings), inumbr is an auto-expiring, FREE phone number service that forwards calls to your home or mobile phone without revealing your actual number. Think of it as a disposable e-mail address, but for your phone. You can create a temporary phone number that’s valid for as little as one hour, or as long as one month.

Trying to sell something online, or need to make a listing in the classified ads? Generate an inumbr first and keep your true phone number a secret!

GrandCentral (by Google) is a similar FREE service, but the number that they generate for you is your permanent number. However, you can link that number to all your existing phones and create custom ring setups. Depending on the caller, GrandCentral will ring my cell phone, my wife’s cell phone, my office phone, or all my linked phones!

Concerning privacy and security, my favorite feature of GrandCentral is the ability to simply mark a caller as spam (just like an e-mail inbox), and never hear from them again! Telemarketer or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend harassing you? Hit the spam button by their number and kiss them good-bye!

GrandCentral is currently in private beta, but you can go ahead and reserve a number.

7. Don’t be an Idiot.

(Difficulty – ???)

My final point is that none of these solutions are worth a pitcher of warm spit if you can’t protect yourself from… yourself. Use common sense. Question everything. As with phishing, most attempts to gather your personal information come in a masked form. Do you really think that e-mail full of typographical errors is truly from PayPal? Do you really think that nice prince from Nigeria wants to give you a million dollars? C’mon.

The last few years have witnessed the rise of the social network, and it concerns me how many people willingly (nay, eagerly!) give away practically all details of their private lives online. I think we’re only starting to see the far-reaching implications of such actions. And no, I’m not just talking about posting drunk party pictures of yourself on Facebook for the world to see and then wondering why you got fired. I’m talking about a widespread increase in identity theft directly related to the hapless vomiting of personal information online.

Remember that just because you pass through a login into your preferred social network, it doesn’t mean that any information you post about yourself is safe and secure. Yes, there are unscrupulous people out there who will stop at nothing to harvest your identity for malicious purposes. Flies are attracted to the dung heap, so to speak.

Just be careful. In the last few months I’ve seen a drastic increase in Facebook spam due to people with hijacked user accounts. It’s annoying, disturbing, and disgusting. Don’t let it happen to you.

This is by no means a thorough list. Do you have any other ideas on how to protect yourself online? I’d love to hear them.