Help for the budget

Budgets are something like diets – we know that we need to make improvements in our financial habits for our long-term wellbeing, but we put off the process of really taking a look at our financial picture. It’s often just too much of a chore to crunch the numbers. But the Internet can help by injecting a bit of novelty into the process – and doing all the calculations for you behind the scenes. If you’re looking over your financial picture and tired of trying to work things out with a pencil and a ledger book, here are some online tools for you.

Budget planner
The Credit Counselling Services of Alberta offers an online budget planner that can help you see where your spending is too high or changes need to be made to other areas of your household expenses. It is a one-time tool: once you’ve gone through the steps and printed the results, your session is over. The advantage to using this tool is that it’s quick and simple, and gives you a clear snapshot of where your spending, saving, and debt really is.

Dinkytown not so dinky
Dinkytown offers a wide variety of calculators that can help with small – or larger – budgeting issues. Although the site is American, if you scroll down to the bottom of the page you will find calculators tailored to Canadians.

One great example of a useful tool for a quick look at a single budgeting issue is the buy or lease calculator, which calculates payments as well as the total net cost of the vehicles you are considering. Another calculates the value of accelerated payments on a consolidation loan.

Dinkytown also offers a way to get a quick and dirty snapshot of what kind of an income your retirement savings will generate, including CPP and OAS payments. Although it’s not a substitute for more careful planning, it can be motivating to plug in the numbers and see whether your savings and investments are on track.

Scotiabank reality check,1608,CID5237_LIDen,00.html
If you need more incentive to save, try taking the Scotiabank RRSP reality check. The bank offers both a quick version and a more involved session on their website. Both tools will give you some idea of whether your savings will generate enough income to support you as you near retirement age. And if you’re already there or right on the cusp, the bank also provides a RIF/LIF/LRIF Illustrator tool

As with any tool sponsored by a particular financial institution, you will want to be aware that of course the bank hopes to sell you their products. Regardless, this tool and others available at their website can help you clarify your own thinking on whether you’re saving enough.

Compare with Consumer Affairs
Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs also provides several useful calculators, including a daily spending log that helps you see how your small indulgences can really add up over the long run. Even more interestingly, however, is their “What Canadians Spend” fact sheet. This shows what the average Canadian spends in different budget areas, from housing to entertainment.

Seeing how your household performs against the average can be motivating. If you or your spouse is spending triple the usual reading material budget, for example, you may want to pat yourselves on the back for supporting authors and publishers – or agree to go to the library more often!