Kara McGuire: Share your spending habits with online friends

Wesabe. Geezeo. Mint. They sound more like spices than financial tools. But don't let the odd labels turn you off. These sites are revolutionizing computer-based money management -- and not a moment too soon.

Wesabe. Geezeo. Mint. They sound more like spices than financial tools. But don't let the odd labels turn you off. These sites are revolutionizing computer-based money management -- and not a moment too soon.

I ditched my mainstream financial tracking software earlier this year, fed up by the amount of time it took to reconcile accounts and frustrated because despite my time, it wasn't helping me to make smarter spending decisions.

Luckily, a handful ofcomputer-savvy guys agreed there had to be a better way. The result? Sites that pull all of your financial data into one place with a twist: social networking tools (think MySpace and Facebook) that connect users eager to share the skinny on their own spending habits.

How much and what you share with others depends on your comfort level, so no one will know the contents of your bank account. Still, these sites aren't for everyone. They certainly challenge the idea of money as a topic we keep close to the vest. And security concerns may deter many, although the sites insist they use the best available technology to keep your data private and secure. For now, the sites are free, with angel investors and venture capitalists picking up the tab. is an old-timer in this arena, having launched in November. launched a beta version in May. is still invite-only, although its blog can be read by all. Quicken announced this week that it's developing an online personal finance site, too.


For Forrest Blount, who grew up in Minneapolis and now lives in Boston, Geezeo has replaced balancing his checkbook. Not like the25-year-old ever did that to begin with. "These sites validate the uselessness of that sort of archaic approach," he said, especially as debit cards and online banking grow in popularity. He loves that with Geezeo he can get an overview of his accounts in one place in next to no time.

While the sites are all in various stages of development, their gist is the same. You can label your financial entries with tags, which help to lump your data into useful categories.

You can set goals to help focus your financial decisions and see how they compare with the goals of other users. Getting out of debt and saving for emergencies are popular aspirations.

Then you can join an existing group of like-minded users or start your own. "Boston on a Budget," "Don't Panic" and "Kids are Us" discuss everything from being a shopaholic to living on one income. You're identified by only a user name and photo if you wish.

The sites will aggregate users' information to identify trends of interest to members, but without individual identities attached. For instance, Wesabe finds relevant money-saving tips from others based on your purchases and tracks how members as a group spend money so you can see how your spending stacks up.

Wesabe also has a "tips from your area" section.

Geezeo allows users to rate financial institutions -- but only if they have an account there. You can also check your account balances by cell phone.

Both Geezeo and Wesabe would not share membership numbers, but said they were in the "thousands" and that the numbers are growing quickly.


Wesabe works by downloading a computer program that talks to your bank and doesn't store information that would give away anyone's identity, said co-founder Jason Knight. Mint uses hackers to test its system for potential security problems. "We never store passwords, user names, everything's encrypted," said Noah Kagan, Mint's director of marketing evangelism. Neither does Geezeo.

Early adopters should expect a few hiccups; the sites are constantly being tweaked and enhanced. Developers say user feedback is instrumental in improving the tools. Geezeo is currently looking for a group of Geezeo Rock Stars -- aka opinionated power users -- to brainstorm and share concerns. They also have a growing group of college ambassadors who spread the word on campuses nationwide.

When frustration about credit-card debt or adding accounts sets in, humor certainly helps. Wesabeans in need of a break from budgeting can hit the "I'm Freaking Out" button, which sends them to pictures of adorable puppies or furry kittens.

Kara McGuire writes about personal finance for McClatchy Newspapers. Write to her at .

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