I like to think I’m rather thrifty with money, though most would say I’m more Scrooge-like than thrifty. Being able to keep track of my measly incomings and even measlier outgoings is a smashing prospect. In this time of economic instability, when interest earnings on saved money is next to nothing, you, like me, are probably looking to save as much money as possible and make every penny count. To do this, you might find it helpful to keep track of your incomings and expenditures. For managing your money, Buxfer is a good free option.
After signing up for an account, the first choice you’ll need to make is whether you want Buxfer to integrate with an online bank account. Since I don’t use online banking, I didn’t need to go through the process of inputting bank details, and I therefore set about manually configuring Buxfer for my needs. It turned out that there wasn’t much to be done – at the most basic level I just needed to begin adding in incomings and outgoings to use the service and keep track of my money. An option which I quickly wanted to change was the currency. It is by default in US Dollars, but this is easily changed to one of a plethora of other currencies by using the settings page.
Budgets can also be set. These define maximum total spending for different areas – such as bills, maintenance, entertainment, and so on. A time-frame is then set – weekly, monthly, or yearly. The maximum amount of money that you are willing to spend in that area in the time-frame that you chose is then entered. You can also tick the ‘rollover’ checkbox, which means that if you don’t use the full budget that you set for the given time-frame, it will be added onto the next time-frame.
From that point onwards each transaction you add (either incoming money or outgoing money) can be tagged with one of the budgets you created. When you add an outgoing transaction and tag it with one of the categories, that amount will be deducted from the budget. The budget pages are detailed whilst being clear and easy to understand. Budgets for each area are represented by a line graph which shows the fall and rise of funds in different areas. Your total expenditure for the week, month, or year, is represented by a pie chart, which shows how large a chunk is spent in each section. There’s also a nice budget summary page, which shows how much remains in each area, the total remaining, and a visual summary of your spending.
My only suggestion would be the ability to track bank balances manually. This can be done by those who integrate Buxfer with their bank account, but those of us who don’t use online banking cannot see the total balance of our bank accounts rise and fall. Aside from that, it’s a very useful for managing your expenses and tracking your income. You can sign up at http://buxfer.com.
Nowadays just about everyone has a digital camera. Whether you take the occasional fun snap with your mobile phone’s camera, or you’re a keen shutterbug with a top-of-the-range SLR which would make the paparazzi jealous, you could do with a good way of managing photos. Over a long period of time you’ll probably find that your photo files begin to build up in a chain of different folders. Whilst this system works, it’s certainly not the easiest to navigate, organise, and alter your images. Interestingly, Google Picasa is useful even if you don’t take photos yourself. It’s likely that you’ve been sent photos by friends and family; and you may be a habitual hoarder of interesting images from the Internet. Picasa isn’t limited to only photos – it will happily manage and edit any of the supported image file types. It’s got plenty of features, but it excels at organisation.
After installing Picasa and loading it up, it’ll either begin to automagically index your images, or it might prompt you and check what you want to index. Mine just goes scavenging around for any image files which exist on the hard drive. ‘Scavenging’ may be a misleading choice of word, however. It actually finds the files very quickly and shows them in their folders in the tidy sidebar. You can then scroll though these folders to see your images. This saves you navigating through different folders and their often confusing structures. It’ll also detect when any new images arrive and add them to its index. If you move or edit photos, it’ll notice that too and update itself. I was also impressed that it even saves screenshots – pressing the print screen button resulted in Picasa saving the screen capture. This could prove very useful if you need to take a number of shots, since it’ll bypass the usual gruelling process of pasting each shot into a picture editor and saving the file individually.
A feature which I really like is albums. Whilst you could (and probably do) organise your photos into folders which represent different events, places, or times, you may find that you’ve got a number of similar pictures in different folders. A recent example of this for me was the wedding I attended. I had photos from my camera’s memory card; photos from other people’s cameras; some I had downloaded from friends on Facebook; and a few folders containing images I used in the film I made of the day. Being able to save this mish-mash of images into one album made it much easier to find, view, and edit them in future. If you then want to keep a copy of your album or send it to a friend, you can have Picasa export the photos into a folder. It’s also worth noting that creating albums doesn’t affect the location of the photos – moving them into a Picasa album will not remove them from the original folder in which you saved them.
Importing photos was also a simple procedure. After popping a memory card into the slot it was just a matter of clicking the ‘Import’ button and telling Picasa where to look. It then automatically detected any duplicate photos so I wouldn’t end up with multiple copies of the same photos. If this was your intention, you can simply untick the ‘Exclude duplicates’ box, and then enjoy watching Picasa zip along as it copies the files to your PC and makes them nice and easy to access in future.
Of course Picasa will never match up to expensive software like Photoshop when it comes to editing your photos, but it works very well when it comes simple fixing and improvement. The red eye removal too was especially impressive; it automatically found the red eyes and turned them back to their usual, less demonic colours. If it can’t detect them alone, it’s a simple case of dragging the crosshairs to where the eyes are located. The other filters consist mainly of colour changes – things like shadows, brightness, and other effects. These fall under three editing tabs which become visible when a photo is double-clicked to view it larger. If you’re feeling even more creative you can create collages of chosen photos, folders, of albums. The collage I created of the wedding album looked very high-quality and would be well worth sending off to a friend or family member to briefly showcase your photographic skills or show them what a grand day they missed out on. Another smashing feature is the ability to create video slideshows of your photos. Music, titles, and captions can all be added to the stream of pictures before exporting the file in a video format that can be viewed in media players and potentially DVD players.
Yet another fantastic feature is the ability to upload your photos quickly and easily to Picasa Web Albums. Not content with providing photo software for you, Google also runs an online service where you can store your photos online to share with others. You just need to choose an album, folder, or image to sync to the web, set a couple of options, and then they’ll be safely stored on the Web. The privacy settings are simple but more than adequate – you can click the ‘settings’ button before syncing to choose who can see your album – everyone, those you give the link to, or allowed users who have a password. Picasa will then keep track of any changes that you make and keep the online photos updated as per your alterations. You an disable the auto-update of the online album if you wish by disabling the sync again. The photos uploaded can also be reordered or deleted by visiting your online albums page.
Having long avoided photo management software, I’m very impressed by Google’s offering, and therefore glad that I downloaded it and gave it a try. It’s got an intuitive interface, fantastic features, and it’s fully free. You can download it from picasa.google.com