I’ve been getting a bunch of emails lately asking me about the various financial tools I use to manage my money. While it’s great to get emails and I love replying to readers to help them on their financial journey, I figured it would make sense to simply list out the products I use to manage my money to save you the time of emailing me. Many of these tools you will find on my recommended resources page.
Hopefully some of these will inspire you to take action to improve your finances. I know for me, I became inspired when I was working for the wealthy. Learning how they handled money helped me to take the initiative to learn about new products and software that could help me invest smarter, save more and spend less.
While not everything I tried was useful or even worked properly, I was able to come away with tools that I use to help me manage my finances for the better. So go through this list and check out the ones that sound interesting to you. You may find some don’t fit your needs, which is fine. You at least have a better understanding of what you do need. And in other cases, you may find the tool that you were looking for to help you get a handle on your finances or get you over the hurdle you are facing.
So with that said, let’s get started!
For budgeting, right now I am using a service called Tiller. They work on the excel spreadsheet premise but with a twist. If you ever budgeted through a spreadsheet, you know it is time consuming to keep it updated. To some reading this, you may be asking, why not just use an automated program instead?
The reason is flexibility. When I would use an automated program, I was stuck looking at the charts and graphs the software creator thought were important. Or I had to look at the reports they deemed the ones I needed.
I wanted to create my own charts based off what matters most to me. This is why I use a spreadsheet to budget.
And budgeting this way was time consuming, until I discovered Tiller. It is a spreadsheet that auto-updates my transactions for me. All I have to do is label them with a category. I can still create the charts and graphs I want and make my spreadsheet 100% custom for my needs. Sounds cool huh?
The only downside is that it works off of a Google Sheet not an Excel spreadsheet. I was nervous about this at first, but a Google Sheet is easy to master and has a ton of benefits over an Excel spreadsheet. The biggest is being able to access my budget no matter where I am as long as I have my smartphone.
If Tiller sounds interesting to you, you can try it free for 30 days. After that, it is just $5 a month.
Now, if a Google Sheet scares you, but you want to use a spreadsheet to budget, check out this post I wrote. It has 10 awesome budget templates (most are free) that you can download and use. In that post you will find two versions of the budgets I used to use.
I realize that not everyone likes manual budgets like me, so know that there are some great automatic ones out there. One of the best is You Need A Budget. It does take a little bit of time to wrap your head around it as it makes you think about money a little bit differently. But it is awesome once you do get the hang of it. And longtime users swear by it. I really enjoyed it when I used it, but I wanted more customization than it allowed me to have.
Lastly, there is Personal Capital. This is a great option if you are at a point where you just want to track a couple of problem areas in your budget.
For my wife and I, that is eating out. We love to go out to eat. While I love Tiller, I also use Personal Capital to track how much we dine out. Since I log into Personal Capital daily to check out our investments, I see on the home screen what our dining out budget looks like and if we need to cut back.
Personal Capital is completely free to use and comes with a ton of amazing features to help you take control of your money.
Insurance is probably the least interesting and most overlooked piece of most people’s financial puzzle. It is so important that you take the time to ensure you have the proper coverage.
For us, Allstate is our choice. We use them for our auto, home, and umbrella policies. While I am all about shopping around to make sure you are paying the lowest price, I have found Allstate to be great so far.
I usually shop every year or two and each time Allstate is very competitive with our premiums compared to the competition. And when we did have a claim, the process was as smooth as can be.
When it comes to life insurance, we have ours through Prudential. They gave us the best rates for the coverage we were seeking. And for me, the process was great. All I had to do was a phone interview that lasted about 20 minutes. No visit to the doctor to get blood drawn and no one had to come out to meet with me. It was so easy.
When it comes to banking, I swear by my CIT Bank account. I have a bunch of savings accounts with them. The reason for multiple savings accounts is because I like to break things out.
By this I mean I like to keep my emergency fund money separate from my car insurance money and money I set aside for vacations, etc. Hence, I have a bunch of savings accounts.
I also have accounts with Ally Bank. These are for my business. I could have set them up with CIT Bank as well, but by having them at different banks, it makes it easier for me to really keep everything separate.
If you want to open a free savings account with CIT Bank, use this link.
I have not written a review of Ally Bank, but I have been with them for close to 4 years now and they are just as amazing. You really can’t go wrong with either one.
For credit cards, I have 4, but I only use 2 as my primary cards. One of the ones I rarely use is a card I opened in college and there is no way I am closing it since it has close to 20 years of excellent credit history tied to it.
My main cards are the American Express Blue Preferred card and the Citi Double Cash Card. I pay the annual fee on the Amex card (blasphemy!) but it gives me 6% cash back on groceries and 3% cash back on gas. So, I only use it for these 2 things. Since I’ve had it, the $75 fee is more than worth it.
For the rest of my spending I use the Citi Double Cash card since I get 2% cash back. I get 1% when I buy something and the other 1% when I pay my bill.
The other card I use is my Discover It card. I tend to use it during the quarters when the cash back bonus is at 5%. So during the months when I get a 5% rebate on gas, I use this card and not my Amex. I will also use it around the holidays since the last 2 years they offered 5% cash back on Amazon purchases.
I also use this card to shop online sometimes because if I shop through the Discover shopping mall portal, I get 5% or more bonus cash back on purchases.
What happens to all of this cash back I get? Most times it gets put into our investment accounts. If we are saving up for a vacation or something similar, then the money goes in there. But for the most part it all goes into an investment account. And it adds up. At the end of the year, the cash back earned is easily over $1,500.
When it comes to investing, I used to have my accounts spread all around. But now that I am married and have a child, I value my time and have since consolidated my accounts.
Right now my money is at:
- M1 Finance
- Charles Schwab
When I was younger, I opened my Roth IRA with Vanguard. It is the only account there and I am not moving it since I love the low costs. I’ve toyed with the idea of moving everything over to Vanguard, but I really like the features that Schwab offers.
I also toyed with the idea of closing this account and moving it to Schwab, but I also like the things Vanguard offers. So for now, I am leaving these accounts alone. Maybe in the future I will consolidate more, but right now I am happy with how things are.
Next up is Betterment. Longtime readers know how much I rave about Betterment. I have an account with them that I add to each month. I am not moving this money any time soon either. They take care of everything for me – invest my money, rebalance, reinvest dividends and capital gains, etc. They really make investing simple.
Finally there is Schwab. I love Schwab. They too make things so easy. Most of my money is there and they are going to be my long-term broker. That is unless they start charging some crazy fee or something. Then I am bolting to Vanguard. But for now I love them.
An added perk is the Schwab Bank checking account. I have an ATM card and it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and it rebates any ATM fees. So we use this card a lot when we travel overseas.
In addition to the above, they also offer a ton of no transaction fee ETFs as well. Most brokers charge up to $10 every time you trade. But with Schwab it is completely free.
There are other tools I use as well that I am not sure how to classify, so I am just going to group them together. In no particular order:
Saving Money: While I use automatic transfers to save money, I also use Qapital. This free app rounds up my purchases and puts the rounded up amount into a savings account for me. They also allow for me to set up other savings goals, like save $1 a week or take the 52 week challenge.
I’ve been using this app for about 6 months and already have saved close to $600! You can learn more here.
Asset Allocation and Fees: For keeping tabs on my asset allocation and the investment fees I pay, I use Personal Capital. The information they provide me is exactly what I am looking for and they do it in a nice, clean way.
Plus they offer a retirement analyzer that is top notch. In fact, it rivals what we used at the high net worth planning firm I used to work for. I look at the plan monthly and it excites me to see we are on track to retire at 55.
Investment Tracking: I used to use Microsoft Money and loved it. I really loved looking at the month end summary report it would generate. I would love if Microsoft brought it back from the dead. (FYI, there is the Sunset version available that lets you do everything, but there are no automatic quotes and even with the various workarounds online, I still can’t get it to work. If any readers are good with this stuff, please hit me up as I would love to have this start working again.)
I then switched over to Morningstar Portfolio Manager. It’s free, and it worked, but I’ve since moved past it. I now mainly do investment tracking through Personal Capital and a spreadsheet. I know, me and spreadsheets. But I can customize it look exactly how I want.
Student Loans: I don’t have student loans, but have a couple of friends that do. I learned about a company called LendEdu and checked them out. They sounded good so I pointed my friends in their direction. Needless to say, I think I am now a few of my friends bestest friend.
The reason is because of LendEdu. You fill out a short form and they compare your student loans to other providers. Then they show you how much you could save if you refinance with one of these lenders. The great part is that it takes about 10 minutes and is completely free. You don’t even have to refinance if you don’t want to. There is zero pressure.
You get to see how much you could save and then decide if it makes sense for you. My friends thank me all the time for introducing them to the service. My one friend is saving close to $200 a month. That is some seriously money!
Cutting Expenses: We all have recurring bills that we forget about after awhile. We end up paying everything for something we no longer use. This is where Trim comes in. It looks over your checking account and alerts you to subscriptions and memberships you are paying for. You can then have them help you cancel these recurring bills, saving you money.
Since it is free, there is zero risk. When I used it, I found 2 subscriptions I forgot about. I was wasting $50 a month that Trim is now saving me.
Trim even negotiates your cable bill for you. While I have not used them for this, the company says they get users lower rates 70% of the time! You can learn more here.
So there you have the dirt on which financial tools I am using. As I mention to those who I email back about this, remember what I use might not be right for you. Everyone’s situation is different and because of this you have to find the right products for you.
That isn’t to say ignore what I use, but rather look into these products and see if any make sense for you. In other words, educate yourself on what is out there and pick the best solution for you.
I am always looking at new financial tools and seeing if they are any better than what I currently use. Hopefully this post opened your eyes to what is out there and you can start taking the steps to improving your finances.