Personal Finance Resource Roundup

There is an astonishing amount of personal finance advice out in the world. The sheer volume of it all can be overwhelming, and it’s often difficult to sort through it all, especially since a lot of it conflicts.

This post is a spot where I can list the budgeting resources that I have found helpful in my quest to manage my money, pay down debt, and achieve my financial goals. This list is meant to grow over time as I find new finance tools and resources. I’m constantly finding new people talking about finance in interesting ways, not to mention tons of interesting personal finance apps and budgeting tools, and it’s definitely worth sharing the best of them.

Quick disclaimer: My ideas about personal finance are a bit unique. I am pretty enthusiastic about personal finance. I’m sure my partner could live with never hearing me wax poetic about budgeting tools and high-interest savings accounts again. However, I am also a dyed-in-the-wool socialist. My personal finance obsession often works in concert with my political views, which is a whole other post in itself. That said, the core of my thoughts on personal finance is that your finances should reflect your own goals and values, whatever they may be, so take my opinions on all of these tools with a grain of salt.

 

Budgeting Gurus

The folks listed here are Big Deals in the personal finance world. These are the people who have talk shows and best-selling books, or websites that are consistently linked in personal finance communities. If you’ve heard financial advice before, it’s likely that one of these people originated it.

Dave Ramsey

The granddaddy of modern personal finance. My stepdad kept Dave Ramsey lectures on CD in his truck for years. Ramsey is all about living debt-free and paying for everything in cash. His “baby steps” are a great entry point into personal finance. I will say that I don’t entirely agree with the way he frames things, which falls into the “everyone can be a millionaire if you just try hard and be smart,” which I think ignores some broader systemic issues. However, the core of his advice is simple and fairly easy to work into your own life.

Suze Orman

I’m a big Suze Orman fan. I think she has a lot of really excellent advice to offer. I admire her no-nonsense approach and emphasis on doing what’s right for you. She’s pretty open about the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to personal finance. She’s also a big proponent of women taking the reigns of their finances and really understanding their money, where it’s going, and what it’s doing.

That said, she isn’t always the most… sensitive… to the struggles of the average person (drinking coffee does not mean you are “peeing a million dollars down the drain”), and her advice can be a little overly blunt. I have personally found a lot of value in her advice, but your mileage may vary.

Mr. Money Mustache

I am a lot less familiar with Mr. Money Mustache, but he’s incredibly popular in a lot of online personal finance communities. He’s all about FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early for the uninitiated), which makes him a bit different from a lot of other personal finance gurus. He does offer some helpful ideas about money, and I think parts of his message about living more frugally and reducing consumption are positive. However, his advice is often coming from a place of relative privilege: he’s a white dude with a computer engineering degree who retired in his thirties and now lives off income from rental properties and other investments. He can also be a bit condescending about people still in the “rat race” or who use their money in a way that he deems frivolous. That’s not really my bag, but many appreciate his perspective.

 

Books

The books section is going to be a bit light for the moment! I tend not to read personal finance books very often. I’m much more interested in more compressed blog posts and forum discussions. That said, I am often on the lookout for more books about budgeting and frugal living, so if you have recommendations, let me know in the comments!

The Tightwad Gazette

This is a seminal work in the annals of frugal literature.It was Pinterest before anyone had even dreamt of social media. I’m pretty sure if I had to pick a writer who influenced my life most, it would be Amy Dacyczyn. I almost cried when my mom handed down her copy of the Gazette to me. If you like reading about hyper-frugal habits, you’ll eat this up. Much of the advice still holds up after several decades, and the sense of saving money and taking on DIY projects being fun is really infectious. It also acts as a bit of a time capsule.

The Wall Street Journal Complete Money & Investing Guidebook

I’m generally not a huge fan of the WSJ, but this book came into my life at just the right time. Someone left it on the bookshelf in the laundry room, so I was able to read it for free–and right as I was about to become eligible for my first 401(k) plan. It’s not the most exciting or entertaining read, but it covers the basics of investing and then some. It acts as a great primer for new investors, and offers a wealth of information for those who may want to dig a little deeper.

 

Podcasts

I listen to a ton of podcasts, but I prefer to use them to get my news or relax, so I don’t tend to seek out personal finance shows all that often. I would love to hear more recommendations, though, especially shows with more diverse hosts!

Bad with Money

The host of this pod, Gaby Dunn, reminds me a whole lot of myself. Bad with Money is a deeply personal podcast about everything from Dunn’s financial fears to broader systemic issues that affect people’s finances. She interviews a wide variety of guests about a ton of different finance-related topics. Sometimes, she’s asking an expert investor what a stock is and how one should go about investing. Other times, she’s drilling down into the injustice and cost of the American healthcare system. Some of the episodes are really informative if personal finance is still super new to you.

Planet Money

It may not be a personal finance podcast, but it can definitely help inform some of your financial decisions. It’s an often humorous podcast that delves into the numerous aspects of our lives that money touches. The number of topics they cover is pretty astounding. Their past episodes include “Is the NCAA An Illegal Cartel?” and “Shrimp Fight Club,” along with more serious episodes like “Counting the Homeless” and “Economics, Sexism, and Data.”

 

Communities

Currently, this is really just a list of Reddit communities. If you have some awesome corner of the frugality/personal finance/budgeting internet you’d like to share, please do!

r/povertyfinance

This community is all about people coming together to grind their way out of some of the worst financial situations. It can sometimes be a little grim, there’s also a ton of practical advice. Plus, the solidarity is comforting. There are a lot of people willing to lend a helping hand in this subreddit, plus some great stories about how the community has helped them.

r/frugal

There’s some overlap between this community and r/povertyfinance. The focus of r/frugal is a bit different, though. This sub tends to be more about choosing frugality out of a desire to save more or otherwise conserve resources, unlike Poverty Finance, where frugality is born of necessity. While there are WAY TOO MANY arguments about how much toilet paper is appropriate to use–the real answer is AS MUCH AS YOU NEED, OH MY GOD, WHY IS THIS AN ARGUMENT–there are some interesting tips, tricks, and hacks that crop up regularly. If you’re the type who’s into DIY and finding interesting ways to save a couple pennies, you’ll like this crew.

r/PersonalFinance

The PF crowd tends to be a bit more experienced with the basics of personal finance, and they’re usually working with a bit more money than the folks in Poverty Finance and Frugal. This is a great place for those who are a bit more middle-of-the-road financially speaking. It’s ideal for those not quite dealing with poverty but also not exactly in the position to FIRE. If you’re at the point where you’re getting more involved in investing or simply trying to figure out what to do now that you’ve got an emergency fund and a functioning budget, this’ll be a good spot for you.

 

Budgeting Tools

Everyone has their own favorite budgeting tool. And there are TONS out there, most of which I haven’t tried. Below is a list of digital tools I’ve enjoyed using.

Mint

This is one of the best-known budgeting tools out there. It’s a free service where you can input information for all your various accounts. My Mint lists the balances for everything from my main bank account to my student loan balances. It’s a great way to get a bird’s eye view of your financial situation. It also offers the ability to set savings goals and create budgets. Plus, it offers spending and income reports and allows you to compare your finances over time. However, because I do a lot of my financial planning on the go, I have noticed that the app’s mobile functionality is pretty limited. The desktop version (which you can access through your browser) is much more complete, but I find it clunky. It’s not as intuitive as I would like. Creating a budget on Mint can be kind of a pain, and making adjustments as your needs change is even harder. Which is is why I’m a total convert to this next tool…

YNAB (You Need A Budget)

YNAB is another popular budgeting tool that offers both mobile and desktop browser versions. It is also not free–and, at $6.99/mo, not necessarily cheap. However, after just a month of the free trial, I’m totally in love with it. It’s similar to Mint in that you attach your various accounts to it in order to aid your financial tracking. What makes it different is that it follows the “give every dollar a job” form of budgeting, or a “zero-based budget.” That means that by the time you’re done budgeting, there isn’t any money left without “a job.” The whole goal is to know exactly where every last cent is going.

The budget that you set is also extremely flexible. If you overspend in one category, it’ll ask you to cover that overspending with money from another category. This kind of living, adjust-as-you-go budget is exactly what I was missing with Mint. With YNAB, I get a simple overview of my finances and an easily-adjustable budget. I haven’t yet shelled out the $6.99 a month for it, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to someday.

 

Low-Threshold Investing Tools

While you may be interested in investing, you might find yourself in a position where you only have a couple extra dollars to invest at a time. With some investment options requiring that you have a minimum of $1000 or even more to start with, it can feel like investing is out of reach. But there are some tools that have cropped up more recently that have made it a whole lot easier for those of us without much to plunk down.

Robinhood

Robinhood is a free app that allows you to invest in the stock market. You can start with a very small amount of money. I opened my account with just $10. (I think you might be able to start with even less.) The app makes it very simple to purchase stock. You can also invest in ETFs (Exchange-Traded Funds). Overall, this is a great app to begin investing with. Just remember not to invest any money you’re not willing to lose, to try and stick it out even when the market is looking bad, and to try to diversify your investments as much as possible.

If you use this link to sign up, we can both get a free stock!

Acorns

If you’re interested in a more hands-off investing approach, Acorns might be more your speed. The idea behind Acorns is that you’re investing your small change–so you spend $3.79 at the store, and then Acorns rounds the purchase up to the nearest dollar and invests the extra $0.21. It’s a pretty clever idea based on the fact that spare change can add up quickly, but is still small enough that we won’t necessarily miss it if it’s gone. Acorns waits to make any transfers from your bank or attached card until you’ve hit $5. So, really, you’re investing in increments of $5 (or more, if you make larger transfers manually). The app then automatically invests in a specific portfolio based on whether you’re a more conservative investor (i.e., you want a return but you’re risk-averse) or a more aggressive investor (you’re able and willing to risk a bit more for the chance of greater returns). It’s a really simple, relatively painless way to invest.

If you use this link to sign up, we both get $5 invested into our Acorns accounts.

Motif

The way Motif is set up is a bit different from other investment platforms. It does offer the ability to buy and sell stocks, but Motif’s main focus is on investing in… well, “motifs.” Motifs are collections of stocks based on a particular theme. So, for example, you can invest in a motif called Cleantech Everywhere that invests in companies focused on green energy and technology. You can also choose to invest in motifs meant to represent larger sectors of the economy, like Casino Gambling or 3D Printing. There are a huge variety to choose from, and you can even build your own motifs. This makes it easier to know that you’re investing in companies and industries that reflect your beliefs. The big difference is that it’s a bit pricier to invest in motifs–you have to put in $300 minimum to buy into one. This can be pretty prohibitive if you’re just getting into investing, but the peace of mind of knowing you’re not investing money in a company you disagree with is pretty nice.

 

Have a finance resource you’d like to share? Feel like I missed something? Let me know in the comments!

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6 Tips to Help You Save Money When You’re Moving Out for College

Moving out is a complicated experience. You’re all excited because you’re going to be living on your own for the first time, and also terrified because… well, you’re going to be living on your own for the first time. You’re probably looking at every “what you need before you start college” and “what you need for your first apartment/dorm” list you can find. It’s all kind of overwhelming, and so much of the advice is conflicting, not to mention super expensive.  How are you supposed to stay frugal and stick to your budget when you have a list with a million things on it that are supposedly the bare minimum of what you need?

Fortunately, it’s a lot less complicated than most people make it sound. Living on your own for the first time definitely isn’t easy, but you also don’t need to spend thousands to be able to do it. These are the things that helped me out most when I was first moving out, and will hopefully help you stick to your budget and build a healthier relationship with money and the stuff you have around you.

First, make a list of what you need.

While using other lists as guidelines can help, you should really be focusing on what you personally need. If you plan to cook while you’re going to school and are going to have a access to a kitchen, you’ll probably need more kitchen supplies than if you’re going to be living in the dorms and using a campus meal plan. If you’re a light sleeper and you’re going to be living with roommates, you want to make sure you’re bringing earplugs and an eye mask. If you have food allergies, bring a stash of your favorite foods.

There are some things you won’t know you need until you get to school and settle into your new life. There will also be some things that you thought you would need that you never end up using. It takes a while to figure out exactly what you need, and your needs will probably change over time. Don’t go hog wild and buy a ton of stuff right when you move out. Get the necessities and pick up things here and there as you need them. This will give you the time to find the best price and make solid purchasing decisions. Money is always tight in college, and you want to get the most bang for your buck. The best way to save your money is not to buy stuff you don’t need.

Second, bring stuff from home or borrow stuff from family and friends.

The cheapest way to furnish your new living space is to make sure you’re not spending anything on the really big-ticket items if you can hack it. If you’re going to school relatively close to home, this is a little easier. If you’re going to be in a stable living situation where you won’t have to move in and out every few months, this is even more ideal. You can bring some of your furniture from home and set it up in your new place–things like your mattress, bookcases, and other big stuff that’s way too expensive to repurchase on a regular basis. When I moved out, my roommate’s aunt was kind enough to loan us her couch. That was a few hundred dollars saved right there.

And it doesn’t just have to be big stuff. If you’re going to have kitchen access and aren’t going to be relying on a campus meal plan, having your own pots, pans, baking dishes, and cooking utensils is vital. You can get super cheap kitchenware at the thrift store (more on that resource later!), but if your budget is super tight, family and friends will often have extra stuff they can give you. I ended up buying a lot of my kitchen stuff new for super cheap at places like Walmart and the Dollar Tree, but I honestly wish I would’ve asked around more and gotten higher-quality stuff for free rather than cheap stuff I’ve ended up having to replace over the years.

Next, check out Freecycle, Craigslist, and Nextdoor.

If you don’t have family who can spare extra furniture or kitchenware, or you’re going to be living too far from home for it to be practical for you to bring any of that with you, start looking at Freecycle and the free section of Craigslist in the area you’re going to be moving to. If you’re moving to a more rural area, the pickings will be pretty slim, but the more urban and populated an area you’re moving to, the more likely it will be that you’ll find tons of great stuff. With both of these, you have to keep an eye on them and check them regularly for the stuff you want. There’s a lot of luck involved, and you have to move fast to get the good stuff, but it’s totally worth it to take a few minutes every day to check and see if someone is giving away something you need.

Nextdoor is a little different in that it’s more community-focused, but people post about free stuff they’re giving away all the time. Join Nextdoor in the area you’re planning on moving to and start poking around to see what your neighbors are getting rid of.

One important thing to keep in mind with all of these: stay safe! Have a friend with you whenever you meet someone to get new stuff, and always make sure someone knows where you’re going. Getting free stuff is only worth it when you’re safe!

Once you’ve exhausted the free resources, it’s time to start thrifting.

Thrift stores are going to be your best friend during this time. Places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army tend to have household goods as well as clothes. There are also likely lots of other small thrift stores and charity shops near you. You can find tons of household basics for super cheap, from dishes and frying pans to sheets and home decor. Everything is usually in decent condition.

I’ve actually had way better luck finding interesting, high-quality items at small-town thrift stores rather than here San Francisco, but your mileage may vary. This is a good tool for finding charity-driven thrift stores, so you can feel good about your money going to a good cause.

Timing is also key. Ask about each store’s sales cycles. Half-price items are often marked with colored tags or stickers that are only valid on certain days. Visiting on certain days of the week can make a difference, too. The weekends tend to be a lot busier, and if you go late on a Sunday, you’ll probably find that the whole store has been picked over. Go in the middle of the day on Wednesday, though, and you’ll probably have a whole lot more luck.

Finally, get good at finding good deals.

I wrote more about how to save money in general here, but when it comes to moving out, the most important thing is to get amazing at finding deals. Start learning where the clearance section is in every store. Whether you’re buying furniture, clothes, food–whatever it is, there is probably a clearance section, and it is usually worth picking through.

Use store apps, but don’t get sucked into the marketing! Stuff like Target’s app, grocery store apps, and Ibotta can make it a little cheaper to buy things, but don’t get blinded by all the flashy sales and deals. Companies put things on sale because they know it will make them money. Don’t buy more than what you need just because it seemed like a deal. Always comparison shop, and never assume that just because something is on sale that that’s the best price. Prices on furniture and clothes always drop eventually, and it’s worth waiting.

Lastly, take a deep breath.

It can be scary trying to get everything together as you prepare to move out, but I promise you that you’ll get the hang of it. In many ways, this is a practice round for your post-graduation life. If you make some mistakes along the way, it’s not the end of the world. The most important thing is making sure that you always have the tools to get back on track.

Make the best use of the resources you have available to you, and always be sure to check in and make sure you’re only purchasing things you actually want or need, not what someone else said you should want or need. The more you listen to that voice inside you that always asks things like, “Do I really need this? Would I really use/wear/enjoy this? Do I already have something like it?” the happier your bank account is going to be.

Have questions about moving out or how to be successful in college? Do you have tips to share about living on your own? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Moving Out on the Cheap

 

Minimalism and Frugality: A Match Made in Heaven!

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You’ve probably read a lot about minimalism recently, and I’m sure you’ve been hearing about the benefits of frugality basically your whole life. Minimalism and frugality are separate philosophies, but they can work together well in order to help you live your best life. (Zero waste can be a nice addition to this mix, but that’s another post!)

But first – what is minimalism?

Minimalism is the practice of ensuring you don’t have excess stuff in your life. The core idea is that you keep the things that you love in your life and eliminate the rest. While this mostly applies to the physical objects we surround ourselves with, it can also be a helpful tool for really focusing your attention on what matters to you in your life and what you really need to achieve your goals.

And what’s frugality?

Frugality is all about living on the cheap while still living well. It means something a little different for everyone. For some people, frugality is all about pinching every last penny. The Tightwad Gazette is a really famous example of this kind of lifestyle. For others, it’s about saving on the little things so that there’s money to enjoy the big things. Living frugally is a necessity for many people, but it is also a helpful way of thinking about making purchases and living life. Frugality isn’t necessarily about deprivation. It’s meant to help you stay in control of your finances so that you can live the life you want.

So, how do they work together?

Both minimalism and frugality force you to think about things a little differently. Our current culture is fast-paced and we’re often under pressure to make decisions quickly, especially when it comes to making purchases. Minimalism and frugality both emphasize slowing down and really thinking about how you’re spending your time, energy, and money.

I talked a bit about the beginnings of my minimalism journey here. I have always been a frugal person by nature, as I just don’t find it logical to spend extra money on things I don’t need to, but minimalism is sort of new to me. I’m a total collector who is slowly trying to get out of a book hoarding habit. But I have realized that most of the stuff I have is just… there. Gathering dust. Making it harder to focus and clean and live. So I’ve stopped bringing stuff into my life that I know I’m not going to use or that won’t improve my life, while also slowly getting rid of the things that are filling up my apartment. It’s completely changed the way that I make purchasing decisions, even when I’m buying things for other people.

For example, I’ve gotten great at regifting things. A well-chosen book makes an excellent gift. Those piles and piles of yarn I have that I’m not currently using for a knitting project? I can use them to fill up the rest of a gift bag for a friend who likes to crochet. If I do need to purchase a gift, I focus on buying consumable gifts like food, wine, soap, or a bath bomb. When I’m shopping for myself personally, I always make sure to have a list, even if I’m shopping for clothes. I also have a 24-hour waiting period for most random purchases. You’d be surprised how many things you realize you don’t actually need or want after mulling it over for a bit.

Frugality is all about using your money in ways that are effective. Minimalism is all about clearing all the extra junk out of your life. By combining the two, you basically make it your goal to live frugally but well, and you give permission to yourself to ignore some of the less important things in life. You can breathe a little and remember that you don’t have to keep up with the Joneses or give in to FOMO.

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You don’t have to change your entire life, but taking a few moments to slow down and make sure that you’re focusing on the right things can be incredibly beneficial. We gotta take the time to appreciate what we have!