In the garage of every financial mechanic tools are carefully arranged across the wall. If someone were to walk by, they would hear the sound of constant tinkering. If they were to peek inside, they might witness ideas sparking across the room. In the center, there would be an intent, mask-wearing mechanic welding their fiscal plans together.
I have hunkered over calculators, tip-tapping in numbers to visualize projections. I have poked around to automate my finances– my money winding its way Rube-Goldberg style from my paycheck to my various accounts. Once in a while, my partner nervously checks in when he hears the loud groan of power tools as I sand down my spending.
I have my own set of tools lovingly stashed, each for a different purpose. However, I got curious about what other people have in their toolkits. I asked some personal financial writers about their favorite tools — whether it be a mindset, app, or investment vehicle– to see if I could bring my kit to the next level. Here’s what they had to say.
Jim at Wallet Hacks
My most important tool is my Excel spreadsheet where we track our net worth. It’s a document I’ve been updating for going on 15 years now and has a wealth of information. I use other tools, like Personal Capital, to do the heavy lifting of data aggregation but the spreadsheet has the meat.
Jim is a highly respected professional in the personal finance space. He has been writing about personal finance for over ten years with articles featured in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun and more. His most important tool, Excel, is an application that is available on almost every computer. If you are comfortable using Excel and want to be more hands-on with your money, there really is no comparison.
Through tracking his net worth, Jim can uncover patterns in the past and make decisions for the future. There are tons of budgeting templates available for Excel to get you started. Your own spreadsheet can be fully personalized for your needs and numbers. There are hundreds of templates available online. Here are a few to choose from:
- A dead simple Excel template from Mint: Free Budget Template
- A budget spreadsheet with embedded summary graphs: Best-Personal-Budget-Planner
- A comprehensive money tracker from Vertex42: Money Management Template
Kara at BravelyGo
I think the most important thing is actually seeking knowledge. You can identify a problem or a thing you want to change about your money– I want to get out of debt– but you also need to be brave enough to seek out the people, websites or classes that will help you change it. Facing our money is hard, especially when we don’t have a lot of it, or are intimidated by how much we want to change. But getting the right info into your life can change your life.
Kara is the founder of BravelyGo, an organization dedicated to providing women the financial tools to improve their lives and achieve their dreams.
I see two aspects in Kara’s response: knowledge-seeking and bravery. For me, these traits immediately conjure up the bright-eyed and bushy-haired Hermione Granger. We might imagine our financial woes to be gigantic trolls, or better yet– the Devil’s Snare. Debt creeps up on us like a vicious plant slowly tightening as we struggle. What does Hermione do? She faces it head-on and uses her knowledge of the plant to defeat it. We could all learn a thing or two from Kara and Hermione about facing our fears and making the effort to learn more in order to overcome adversity.
Gwen at FieryMillenials
The most helpful tool to my financial independence journey so far has been the Mad Fientist’s FI Tracker from his laboratory. It lets you track your spending and saving levels while dynamically letting you know when you’ll hit FI. It’s a powerful reminder your daily actions have long-term consequences!
Gwen shares her experiences on finances in early adulthood, real estate, and the pursuit of financial independence. Her articles follow her journey as she finds tools in her path, picks them up, and sees how she can use them to craft a better life for herself. The FI Tracker is one such tool.
Sometimes the kick in the pants we need to make a difference is cold-hard numbers. When I realized that I could be financially free in less than 10 years if I kept my spending low, suddenly my money choices mattered more. With a tool like the Mad Fientist’s FI Tracker, you can periodically check in and monitor your progress. If you are a pro like Gwen, you might use it to explore how your choices now will affect you down the line.
FIRECracker (AKA Kristy) at Millenial-Revolution
I would say the most important tools to us are:1) Questrade (Canadian discount investment brokerage we use for our investments.)2) Airbnb* (we basically live on Airbnb since we’re nomadic)3) GoEuro (we use this site a lot in Europe for transportation)4) Google/flights (finding cheap flights by calendar)
If you are Canadian, some tools (like Personal Capital) are only available in the United States. However, Kristy and Bryce have your back. They have an entire investment series that includes advice and tools that are also available for Canadians. They write about their progress from cubicle-life to geo-arbitrage, including thoughts on naked spas in Poland and food porn paradise in Belgium. Their first year of travel cost them $40,000 CAD (or $30,769 USD), almost half their expected budget.
It seems like every time I travel there is a new tool that makes my trip easier. From downloading a Google Map to ride-sharing using a simple app, using technology intelligently can dramatically cut your costs. Thankfully there are people like Kristy and Bryce who are on the travel-front-lines, sharing tips, tricks, and the latest tools to add to your toolkit.
*my referral link if you want to sign-up to use Airbnb.
Jeremy at GoCurryCracker
Lifestyle design. I believe I first came across the idea of lifestyle design in a Tim Ferriss book, The 4-Hour Workweek.
The main idea is to actively design one’s life such that it is extremely difficult to engage in behaviors that are detrimental or undesirable. If you don’t want to eat 2 whole pints of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra ice cream tonight, don’t keep 2 whole pints in your freezer. – GoCurryCracker
Sometimes we are our own enemies. However, with the right mindset, we can also be bros to our future selves. Case in point: designing your life to match your goals. One way I try to avoid buying more stuff I don’t need is by downsizing our space. With less space available, it is likely I will fill it up with junk. I also sold my car, which meant that I made it extremely difficult to be too lazy in the morning; now I have to bike to work! Designing your life in a way that matches your goals is a surefire way to make progress.
Bonus: My Favorite Tool
Jim from Wallet Hacks mentioned it in his shoutout to Excel, and I will tack on to that to say that my favorite tool has definitely been Personal Capital. Hopefully it will be available internationally soon! I use it to generate my expense reports at the end of every month, to keep a pulse on my overall net worth, and to identify where I am losing money to high fees.
I left my old 401k alone when I switched companies. However, my old employer moved providers and suddenly I saw an increase in fees through Personal Capital, even though the overall funds were similar. I’m in the process of rolling over the old 401k in with my new company now, saving myself thousands of dollars down the line.
I can also view my stock and bond allocations easily, which can sometimes get complicated with different investment accounts.
Personal Capital is a free tool. The main catch is that they make money from customers using them to manage their portfolio. If you have more than $100,000 they will call to offer up a session with an advisor. I asked to be removed and haven’t heard since so it hasn’t been a problem for me. If you are interested in trying out their free tools, you can sign up to try it with this referral link and we both get $20.
What about you?
What is in your financial toolkit? Do you have a favorite app, tool, or mindset you rely on when making money decisions? Share in the comments below!