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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Real Tips for When You're Actually Broke

Frugal Tips for When You’re Actually Broke

Life is rough, y’all. And, for some reason, a lot of personal finance bloggers just don’t seem to… actually get that. I see the same tips over and over, just in a different order and said a slightly different way. The intended audience never seems to be people who are actually legitimately struggling to find enough cash to get by. That’s where I’m coming in, my friends.

I’m in a decent financial position right now, but given that I live in San Francisco and my costs of living are pretty astronomical, I constantly feel like I’m walking on a razor’s edge. If my budget goes absolutely perfectly this month, I’ll have exactly $23.65 left over from my monthly paycheck. I’m proud that there’s anything left over, but that is just too damn close to zero for my liking. I know a lot of you are dealing with even tighter situations.

So, here are some money tips that I hope will help you get through your struggle season the same way they’ve helped me.

 

Make Your Bank Work for You

Make sure the bank you’re using is actually your best option. A lot of us use the really big banks. A lot of us also know that banks seem like they’re trying to squeeze every last penny out of you through various fees. It doesn’t have to be that way, though! I highly recommend thinking about what you want and need from your banking services and searching for the banks that will provide them at the lowest cost. Search tools like Find A Better Bank can help. I also recommend looking into local banks and credit unions.

You often get far better benefits at a smaller institution like a credit union than you would from one of the biggest banks. If none of the smaller banks near you seem more appealing than your current institution, don’t sweat it. If you’re a student, think about signing up for a college account. Many banks grandfather in college accounts so that you’ll never have to pay banking fees. I bank with a Wells Fargo college account and between their robust mobile and online banking tools and the lack of fees, I don’t really feel the need to make a major switch.

I did do some research on high-interest savings accounts last year, though. Paying interest is one thing big banks aren’t all that great about. I use Synchrony Bank for my emergency fund. Synchrony runs entirely online. They also don’t charge me any bank fees, and they didn’t require more than $1 from me to open up my account. Also, they have some of the best interest rates for savings accounts in the country (1.75%! Crazy, right?). There are a lot of other great options out there for high-interest savings accounts and everyday checking accounts. Everyone’s needs are different, and you might require things that I don’t, like easy access to a local bank branch or an ATM close by. Do your research and figure out where you’re most comfortable putting your money. 

 

Budgeting and Organizing Your Finances

Get organized! There are a ton of ways you can track your finances. YNAB (an abbreviation for You Need A Budget) is super popular, but it costs $83.99 a year. I definitely do not have that kind of extra cash for budgeting software. I prefer Mint. Mint is totally free. You link your various financial accounts to Mint–everything from your bank accounts to PayPal to retirement accounts to student loan accounts–and it takes in all that information and tracks your spending each month. I love this because I really struggle with math and numbers. It does require some tweaking to personalize things and make sure every transaction is being properly categorized, but that’s well worth it to me.

Once you figure out how you’re going to track your spending and see where your money is going for a few months, start creating a budget. Sitting down and estimating your expenses for the upcoming month based on your standard spending is ten times more helpful than saying “Okay, we’re only going to spend $X a week on groceries,” with X being a number you randomly pulled out of the air, and then inevitably going over because you underestimated. If I look at how much we spend on groceries historically, it’s pretty stable. You’ll find that’s true for a lot of your spending categories. Use your historical spending to help you figure out your budget and where you can sustainably cut back.

 

Save Where You Can

Be frugal, but don’t brutalize yourself. This ties into tracking your spending above. Don’t scrimp on things that matter to you. Having one-ply toilet paper makes me miserable, so I opt to pay an extra $5 at Costco for the bulk pack of the cheapest two- or three-ply. Make sure every dollar is being utilized wisely for you personally. Sometimes, you have to save every possible penny. But don’t feel guilty for spending a little extra money on things that genuinely improve your day-to-day quality of life. You’re broke, but you still deserve joy. Do what you can to make your journey to financial stability more bearable, but don’t go all “treat yourself” and go completely wild. Enjoy the little things you can afford. (And don’t forget that it’s Treat Yo Self Day, not Treat Yo Self Year.)

via GIPHY

Don’t pay full price on anything you don’t have to. Now, I am aware that we live in the real world. I totally use coupons and discount codes and rebates wherever I can. But I also know that sometimes you need that new pair of work pants, and you have the kind of body shape where thrifting for those pants just isn’t an option if you don’t want to wait 6 months. Still, it’s super important to always check and make sure that you’re getting the best deal possible. Utilizing local thrift stores for a lot of your clothing needs is great, as is digging through clearance racks. Signing up for emails from your favorite retailers is also a great idea. They’ll notify you of any sales that are going on and sometimes give you extra discounts if it’s been a while since you purchased something.

If you do a lot of your shopping online, get the Honey extension for your browser. It tries a bunch of different coupon codes and tries to get you the best deal. It’s saved me a bunch of money over the years. (Also, if you use this code, we’ll both get an extra $5 from Honey!) A lot of people also highly recommend Ebates, but that’s one I haven’t used yet. Ibotta is great for getting a couple extra pennies back from your grocery trips, and they also offer rebates for lots of other things, too. You can cash out once you’ve earned $20 in rebates. If you use this code, you’ll get your first $10 just for signing up, and I get a little cash, too. I’ve never made much off of this, but it’s a nice little extra boost once you’ve made enough to cash out.

Check to see if the grocery store you go to most often has a loyalty or rewards program. I shop at Safeway and have saved thousands by using their Club Card over the years. I select digital coupons in their app each week and it applies them automatically. I know FoodsCo has something similar, though not as robust. Your grocery store might, too. Always worth checking! Also, definitely look to see if wherever you’re shopping has a clearance rack. My local store just started putting out a day-old rack for baked goods and it’s all super cheap. It’s a cheap way to treat myself or get baked goods that are still pretty dang fresh but heavily marked down. There’s also a clearance rack that has all kinds of stuff marked down due to minor damage to the packaging. Little things like this add up over time and can help you significantly reduce your spending, so always keep an eye out.

 

Increasing Your Income

The most important tip I can share: work on increasing your income. Everyone likes to talk a big game about helping you save $10,000 in just a few easy steps! But for the majority of us, that’s just not feasible, and it’s not a productive way to think about money. Sure, you “saved” $2 on that shirt, but you still paid $15 for it. Or, you were able to cut your grocery spending down to $50 a week for a family of 5 (power to you, honestly), but the money you’ve been saving keeps going to other necessities, giving you a net of $0 “saved.” If you’ve been stretching every dollar every way you can think of and it’s just not enough? It’s time to think about increasing your income. This is way easier said than done, of course, and in some cases, just plain might not be possible. But it’s worth taking some time to explore your options. Gunning for a raise or a promotion at your primary job is our best option, especially if you’re dealing with a physical or mental illness. Even an extra dollar an hour can make a huge difference.

If you’re one of those people with boundless energy, or who are just so incredibly determined you can work in all conditions, consider taking on a part-time job. This can be a huge sacrifice if you’re already working full-time (or more!), especially if you have a family. I would also not suggest this as a long-term solution. Working too much is a great way to burn yourself out and make things even more of a struggle. Still, there are a lot of great options out there with flexible schedules now. You can drive for Lyft or Uber, use dog-walking apps like Wag, or make deliveries with services like Doordash and Postmates. Most of these apps allow you to work at any time and don’t have specific numbers of hours you have to work. This can be a good solution if you need money but also need the flexibility.

Make sure you’re utilizing any special skills. Upwork is a vast freelance marketplace that’s perfect for those of us who might want to take on an extra bit of work for a short period. (Note: Make sure to do your research on standard rates of pay in your industry before accepting any job! Your time is worthwhile, and working for pennies doesn’t make sense in the long-term.) Fiverr works similarly, but as someone who has used Fiverr in the past, I can’t say it’s a particular favorite of mine. Lots of people have made it work for them, though, so if you’re willing to put some time and energy into it, it might be worth your while. Crafters and DIY-ers should definitely check out Etsy. I ran an Etsy shop for a while while I was in college. If you can find your niche, market your products well, and price your products properly, Etsy can become a great source of income.

If your response to that last paragraph was “I don’t have any special skills. I’m screwed,” don’t give up hope! First off, refer to the part-time job paragraph above. Second off, maybe now is a good time to further your education. If you don’t have a degree, get one! Even an associate’s degree can open more doors for you. Check out your local community college and see what kind of certification programs and degree paths they’re offering. Keep in mind the kind of jobs that are in demand in your area, or the area you’d like to live in in the future. Also, don’t forget to keep in mind jobs that you’d like to do. It’s probably best not to spend money on learning how to work in a field that’s going to make you miserable. I studied English Literature because that’s my true passion in life, and even though everybody (including me) jokes that getting an English degree is just me begging to be broke forever? It’s simply not true. I got a good job right out of college with solid pay that covers all my basics. It really just depends on how you market yourself and your education. Don’t be afraid to get creative.

As you explore further education, make sure to look into every possible scholarship and grant available to you! Taking out loans sucks and should be a last resort. If you do have to take them out, try to go federal–the interest rates are usually much, much lower. If navigating all that stuff feels too complicated, talk with a counselor or someone in the financial aid department at school. They can help walk you through it.

If your situation ever gets truly dire and you’re really struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out to local charities or see if you’re eligible for programs like general assistance, SNAP, or WIC. That’s what those services are for. They’re there to help you get back on your feet. Whatever guilt you might feel, brush that aside. We all need a helping hand sometimes and there’s no shame in asking for it. You’re worth helping.

For more resources, or just a place to commiserate, make sure to check out the Reddit community r/povertyfinance. I also recommend checking out r/frugal and r/personalfinance. Dave Ramsey and Mr. Money Mustache are also great resources. Some of these are more helpful than others depending on where you’re at in your financial journey. Use what works for you and disregard the rest.

What are your favorite financial tips for making sure you get by every month? Share in the comments, and link me to your favorite finance blogs and resources!

Real Tips for When You're Actually Broke