Set up your “strands”
First, a little bit of lingo: “Strands” are basically your various banking, saving, and investment accounts. moneyStrands pulls all of these together so you get a clear overview of your money. To import each of your strands into moneyStrands, you’ll need to supply the username and password that you use online with the financial institutions behind each of your accounts (don’t worry, the site is completely secure). Then, 10-15 seconds later, your data appears.
See where your money goes
The Analysis tab is very useful for budget planning. The Analysis tab allows you to take a snap shot of different time periods to see how your money was spent.
Customize your transactions
The main hurdle I had when using moneyStrands was that my wife and I still pay a lot of bills with paper checks. These have to be categorized manually, which at first seemed annoying but the process really only takes a few seconds. You click on the category and a list of options pops up. Then you just click the right label for the check and it is instantly categorized. (If you use online bill pay you won’t have to worry about this.)
The Details tab also lets you set up categorization rules to help the system learn how you want certain merchants or bills to be categorized. This would be a great place to track a home improvement project, for instance. Simply set up a rule that states everything from Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ace Hardware should go to a new category you created. Then, after your project is finished, you can see exactly how much you spent because it is wrapped up neatly in your moneyStrands budget. No more lost receipts from that ninth trip to Home Depot that don’t get accounted for.
See how you stack up
The community tab allows you to see how you compare with other similar moneyStrands users (anonymously, of course). The below screenshot shows that I am behind my peers in investing, but am outspending them in the shopping and entertainment categories. It is these kinds of revelations that can really help you tighten up your budget and commit to better budgeting goals.
moneyStrands lets you set up budget goals for various categories and then tells you exactly how far along you are on these goals each time you log in as well as in your weekly update email. I really like the “Hint” feature that tells you what your average monthly spending is for a given category. This really helps you set realistic goals, which is the most challenging part of creating a household budget.
moneyStrands offers financial tips that seem to be geared toward offers for credit cards and other financial products matched to your situation. As I write this, the main offer for me is a credit card with an 8.15% interest rate. The credit card offer isn’t the feature you will use most often, but I appreciate that it’s available if needed.
moneyStrands: my two cents
The budget planning tools are great. If you haven’t used any budgeting software that links directly to your bank accounts, then moneyStrands will be an eye-opening experience for you. It is tremendously helpful in organizing your budget and seeing where all your money is really going. The fact that it compares you to other users in your demographic sets it apart from other online budgeting systems. If you don’t already use an online personal finance manager, I think moneyStrands is a good one to try.