Anyone who knows me is painfully aware of my obsession with spreadsheets. I use them for everything – going through a breakup, figuring out how to spend my time, coloring the grid to make a poorly done Zoidberg…
That said, I’ve been slowly converting to apps made by people much smarter than I am, and now I want to sing their praises. These are the tools I’ve come to love, which are helping me reach my goal of financial independence sooner.
1. Budgeting: Mint
This is a big one. If you haven’t heard of Mint yet, stop reading this and check it out! While it does a lot, it ultimately aims to tell you where your money is going. This is the finance tool I’ve used the longest, and the longer you use it, the more you get out of it.
I check Mint more often than I’d like to admit, but it helps me to see transactions as they happen, stay within budget, and find trends (read: problem areas) in my spending. It also lets me track progress for savings goals such as my downpayment, emergency fund, and retirement contributions. It has a tool for staying on top of your bills, as well as regular credit score checks if that’s your thing. This is basically your home base for all things personal finance.
Robinhood is what finally got me to invest. While I can write a whole post on investing, this tool can’t wait. I realized last night while grabbing dinner with a fellow millennial investor that people are still paying trade commissions to buy stocks!
It’s 2017! You deserve better. No – future you deserves better. Robinhood is the first trading platform that is entirely commission-free. This means instead of paying $5-7+ for every single trade, you can invest that money and see your portfolio grow even more quickly.
While they don’t support retirement vehicles like IRAs, it’s still a handy tool to have if you want a taxable investment account. The app has already gone through a few iterations, getting more robust each time, but unfortunately, it is still only mobile, meaning you can’t link it to the other tools listed here. Still, the freedom it gives new investors is well worth the trade-off.
*Update: There’s been a newcomer to the space! M1 Finance offers free trades and automatic rebalancing, and has won my heart from Robinhood. See the whole review here!
3. Investing Guidance: Future Advisor
When Robinhood first launched, it got me excited about investing. I woke up at market open and compared portfolios with my at-the-time S.O., and I loaded up on shares from sexy companies like Apple, Tesla, and Disney.
Conventional wisdom time: building a portfolio on individual stocks is not a recipe for success.
When my portfolio started to drop in value, I started following companies on Seeking Alpha, which lets you stay up-to-date on businesses that you care about, but got overwhelmed with the daily updates and changes. Then I looked for advice from good old r/investing and its troll companion, r/wallstreetbets. Still no lovely, healthy growth.
Then I noticed an ad for Future Advisor on my Mint dashboard. This was a game-changer. To set up an account, it prompts you to build a profile around your current net worth, goals, and timeline, as well as risk aversion (or, how much you’d be willing to potentially lose should things go south). Once complete, I connected my investment accounts, and it told me all of the things that I was doing wrong.
It offered the suggestion of selling just about everything, and instead buy a customized balance of low-cost ETFs. The results went from negative to positive pretty quickly after that.
4. Retirement Planner: Personal Capital
This is one tool that could replace both Mint and Future Advisor, but I really just love it for the Retirement Planner tool. It’s nice to see a general trajectory and timeline for retirement, but I was curious if I could really retire at 35 with actual life things getting in the way.
To build a timeline for retirement, Personal Capital asks you to estimate your goals or obstacles, letting you really refine your game plan by including general timelines and costs/income from life events like owning a home, getting married, or having offspring. You can actually see how each one could affect your timing, and track your progress over time. It’s heartening to see that I might be able to reproduce someday without sacrificing my goal of early retirement. Also, very exciting to see how buying a home (and not paying rent) could shorten my working years if I do it right.
While I’m still using homemade spreadsheets for things like dividends and potential real estate investments, these have made a huge impact on my financial health. Used together, they keep me on track and help me stay motivated.
My favorite free financial tool I use is M1 Finance. I've previously written about M1's free trades, automatic rebalancing, and easy-to-use interface, but it really does make investing accessible and easy. If you're not already investing in some way, or if you're looking for a tool that makes it easy to manage, I recommend trying it out.
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