One time I forgot to deposit two months’ worth of paychecks.
Yes. You read that correctly.
I was cleaning out my glove compartment and found them, in their envelopes, never deposited. I was a young newlywed with no kids, and—obviously—my wife and I didn’t worry too much about money.
Fast forward a couple of years, a couple of kids, and a couple of mortgages, and we’ve had plenty of months where it seemed like the monthly paychecks just weren’t going to be enough to get by.
OK, so obviously I don’t have a degree in financial planning. But, thanks to some hard work and helpful financial tools, I can tell you that my wife and I have no debt other than our house, we have more money saved than ever before and add to that every month, we have college funds for each of our four kids, and we are more generous with charities and our church than the average American (not that that number is hard to beat).
Here are three online tools my wife and I used to help us get our financial situation under control.
Saving money is hard. Acorns makes it easy.
My dad has this giant glass water jug in his closet, and everyday when he comes home he takes the spare change out of his pocket and puts it in the water jug. When I was a kid we would go in the closet and roll the jug around (it was incredibly heavy), and sometimes we would dump out the change to try to count it all. We’d always lose track or get bored before finishing. There must have been hundreds of dollars in that jug, even though he only put in a little bit of pocket change every day.
Acorns is the modern day version of my dad’s glass water jug.
It's pretty genius for taking something as complex as investing and making it so easy I don’t even have to think about it.
You connect your debit card to Acorns, and it automatically rounds up every purchase you make to the nearest dollar, takes the change, and invests it for you in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds.
Set it and forget it. It couldn’t be easier.
The amounts are so small, but transaction after transaction, day after day . . . it all adds up.
Acorns isn’t going to help you retire at 45 and it’s definitely not a replacement for traditional means of saving like 401ks and IRAs, but I once heard someone say that real genius is when you can take something complex and make it simple. If that’s true, I think Acorns is pretty genius for taking something as complex as investing and making it so easy I don’t even have to think about it.
Check out Acorns.com and consider signing up. It’s not free, but you will end up investing far more than the $1 per month your account will cost.
2. Online Banking
Okay, so this one might not be a “tool” per se, but hear me out.
My wife and I used to just have our one checking and savings account with the brick and mortar bank down the road. It seemed that every month there would be a little unforeseen expense here, maybe a big one there, and pretty soon the budget would be blown to pieces. Just a quick run down to the ATM or stop into the branch office, and we’d have the cash we needed to respond to that immediate “need.”
The problem? In retrospect, that little or big thing that seemed so urgent in the moment hardly ever was. A day or two or three after that “urgent” need arose, we usually realized that we had broken the budget when we really didn’t need to. So we decided to do something different.
This forced us to really think about whether or not we needed to break the budget.
We opened an online savings account that didn’t have any brick and mortar locations. We began having our paychecks deposited directly into the savings account, and transferring exactly how much we would need for the monthly budget into our checking account.
Then we couldn’t just run down to the bank to pull out money.
Any transfer from the savings account to the checking took at least a day—usually two. This forced us to really think about whether or not we needed to break the budget for whatever came up each month.
With distance comes perspective. Usually we found that we could hold off for a few weeks and include whatever expense had come up into the next month's budget. And if there was a true emergency, we had a credit card as a backup—but I can honestly say that I don’t think we’ve ever had an “I need cash on hand this instant” kind of emergency.
There are thousands of different online banking services for your checking and savings needs. I’m not here to endorse a specific one, because it’s likely you have different needs from the person next to you, but a pretty quick internet search will help you find the right fit for you.
Let’s be honest. There is a lot to get a handle on when it comes to your finances:
Personal financial trends
That’s why my wife and I use Mint. It has it all. Do you have to use Mint? No. There are plenty of other services out there (like Quicken, EveryDollar, and Personal Capital, just to name a few). Mint is just our favorite.
It helps us see the short term but it also helps us take the long view by showing our financial growth and spending habits.
My wife and I have connected every online financial account we possess into Mint, so with the click of a button we can see balances, transaction history, and other information. Mint shows your checking and savings accounts, mortgage account, car loans, student loans, credit cards, investment accounts. All of it.
“Money demands answers. The more it grows, the more difficult the questions become. Chief among those questions is, ‘Am I using my money as I ought?’”
What Your Money Means by Frank J. Hanna
Mint is great because it gives my wife and me all the information in one place. It helps us see the short term—by importing and categorizing all of our transactions—but it also helps us take the long view by showing our financial growth and spending habits.
Mint isn’t a miracle worker when it comes to your financial health, but it’s pretty close.
Check out Mint.com to learn more and explore what it takes to get a thirty thousand-foot view of your financial life.
Finances have an impact on every aspect of your life. If you feel out of control when it comes to money, it hurts. If you ignore your financial life, it hurts even more. Tools like these will help you give a little bit more attention to your financial plans and set you up for a more successful financial future.