You don’t have to spend money and hire a financial planner to manage your money. If you’re so inclined, go ahead. But, don’t feel like you have to spend money in order to manage your money. There are plenty of financial tools available for free. That’s right, FREE! Here’s are some of the free financial tools I use to help keep my finances in tip-top shape.
Think of Personal Capital as Mint on ‘roids. Like Mint, you can track your spending on Personal Capital, but you can also track and analyze your investments. I’ve linked my savings and investment accounts on Personal Capital, so it’s very easy to get a snapshot of my net worth at a glance. You can even input your home address, and it will give you the Zillow estimate of your home value. This is handy if you like to include your home equity when calculating your net worth.
My favorite feature, however, is the retirement calculator. You enter info including your age, when you want to retire, estimated retirement tax rate, withdrawal rate, and social security payment. Personal Capital crunches the numbers and tells you how well you’re doing. I find it helpful to play with different data and see how that affects my retirement goals. For example, I can change my retirement spending numbers to see how much longer I need to work, or how soon I can quit working. 😉
Given the dangers of identity theft and credit card theft, I diligently check my credit report and monitor any changes to my credit. To help me do that, I use Credit Karma. Credit Karma offers free credit monitoring. Yup, it is absolutely free. I can log in any time of day to check on my score. I also get e-mail alerts when there are changes to my account.
I make it a habit to log in once a week to see what’s going on. Even though I’m not in the market for a loan, I still like to keep a close eye on my credit score. Drastic changes to my score can be a sign that someone is opening credit in my name, so it’s a good fraud prevention measure.
Investing for retirement has been so much easier ever since I decided to focus on mutual funds and switched to Vanguard. Buying and selling mutual funds can be expensive even if you use discount brokerage firms. Some charge as much as $20 a trade! With Vanguard, I get to buy and sell Vanguard funds for FREE!!! That’s not to encourage you to buy and sell like crazy. Rather, it’s a nice cost-saving measure.
Vanguard provides an easy way to contribute to my Roth IRA. You may have noticed that many mutual funds have an initial investment requirement of $3,000. That’s quite a hefty number, especially for those who are new to personal finance. Here’s a fund that’s more manageable, the Vanguard STAR Fund (VGSTX) requires a $1,000.00 starting investment. One thousand dollars is still a lot of money, but it’s definitely a more manageable sum than $3,000.
Capital One 360
For banking, I keep some money in Chase because it is nice to have easy access to a brick a mortar bank. For my emergency fund and other savings goals, I use Capital One 360, formerly ING Direct. As of today, I’m getting 0.75% interest on my savings account from Capital One 360 and there is no minimum balance requirement. Compare that to the traditional big banks where you earn no interest for basic checking. Additionally, you have to maintain a minimum balance or set up direct deposit to avoid monthly maintenance fees!
Another feature I like about Capital One 360 is the ease of opening different savings accounts that help me manage my goals. At one time, I had as many as 5 savings accounts! Now, I’m down to 3 – emergency fund, house fund, and travel fund. If I decide to go up to 5 accounts again, I can easily set that up in a matter of seconds. All I need to is is click a link and bam, savings account created.
I’ve been using Turbo Tax to file my taxes for years. I’ve always done my own taxes, without the help of an accountant or a tax preparation service like H&R Block. Back in the days, we had to use actual paper forms to file taxes! The benefit of doing your own taxes is that you don’t to pay to get them done.
If your finances are relatively straightforward, I highly recommend doing your own taxes to save on costs. If you have something more complicated like rental properties or lots of business deductions, then it’s worthwhile to seek professional assistance.
I put most of my spending on a credit card because I love getting the points, and it’s also easier for me to track my spending this way. The card I put most of my spending on is the Chase Freedom. The most important thing for me is that the card has no annual fee. The card has spending categories that rotate every 3 months, ranging from gas stations, department stores, groceries, Amazon, and so on.
You get 1% cash back for all of your spending. The spending you do in the designated categories will give you 5% cash back, up to $1,500 of spending. That is super handy for spending on groceries and gas because it’s spending almost everyone incurs. It’s also a nice boost for shopping at department stores during the holidays.
I love taking advantage of free resources to improve my financial knowledge, and podcasts fit the bill. When I perform mindless tasks such as cleaning and yard work, I’ll pop in some headphones get my financial education on! They’re free, educational, and entertaining. What’s not to love? One of my favorite financial podcasts is So Money with Farnoosh Torabi. It’s very conversational and perfect for my commute.
Another favorite is Stacking Benjamins. Hosts Joe and OG are so smart and so funny. I learn something new every episode. I love that they educate in a fun way without being condescending.
What types of tools do you use to manage your finances?