Building Smarter Finances

April 07, 2016

Finances aren't fun and we all know it. It's why half the people around us have a checking account, a savings account, maybe a couple credit cards, and they call it a day.

If that's you, you're running your finances like it's the 1990's. That was me for a long time too. But like the ravenous reader in self-improvement that I am, I've stumbled across some powerful tools for getting a strong grip on my finances and making my money work for me without much attention.

Don't worry. I'm not about to sell you stock. I'm going to show you some free tools that are going to clear up a lot of headaches for you and get your money to work in the process. Buckle up, and get in the mood with my favorite song to play while I get my finances in order:

If you don't know about Mint yet you are definitely in the right place. Ok now don't get scared off, but basically accesses all of your financial accounts and gives you a dashboard to view all your financials from. HEY!!! I said don't get scared!

Mint has been around for years and their security has yet to come into question. No Mint employees ever see your account info.

So sign up for an account, add all of your bank accounts and credit cards, and presto, all your finances in one place. It will even track IRAs and stock market accounts.

Once all of your accounts are set up, you can set budgets to track your spending, see where your money is currently going, and set up longer term goals like auto and home loans. Mint also will give you some recommendations for accounts that could save you more money, and it will alert you when your scumbag bank tries to hit you with fees.

If you don't use anything else on this list, you must at least try Mint. You won't go back.

Credit Sesame is another free site, this one geared to tracking your credit and helping you improve it. If your credit is a little subpar, sign up immediately. Credit Sesame will tell you what you're doing well, what is scaring off lenders, and the next steps you should take to correct it.

This one is pretty straightforward once you set up an account. Check in from time to time to make sure your credit is still strong. The app will send you alerts if anything negative shows up on your account.

If you don't do any investing, you're missing out on a pretty solid way to earn money for later in life or retirement. If you're aggressive you can make money faster with higher risks.

But knowing how to balance a portfolio is tough. Some stocks, some bonds... natural resources? Foreign stock? It gets confusing.

That's where Wealthfront comes in. Financial Advisors are notoriously worse than managing your own money, but Wealthfront is an automated financial advisor that has an outstanding track record for outpacing the market.

When you sign up for Wealthfront you will be interviewed about your goals and knowledge about investing. This is basically an interview to test your risk tolerance, to see how quickly you want to gain money, and what kinds of investments are right for you.

After the interview you'll be shown an overview of how your money will be invested. At that point add the amount you want and wait for the good news. I am usually seeing 5-8% gains on my account, and they manage up to $10,000 for free and will manage more for a fee, or if you refer friends to their site.

The benefits don't stop there. Wealthfront will continuously reinvest your money based on shifting markets, and further they will harvest losses for tax benefits at the end of the year.

If you have a large bulk amount of money in savings, it should not be there. It should be in something like Wealthfront earning you potentially thousands a year.

Checking accounts have horrible interest rates (meaning you don't gain money on the amount sitting in the bank) and they have pretty horrible ATM charges when you use your debit card.

Aspiration's Summit account is a high-yield checking account. You get 1% interest on the money sitting in the account, and you get free access to every ATM in the world.

That's right. That crappy dive bar that's cash only and has the $5 ATM fee? No longer a problem. Need to get cash out on vacation in Italy? Do it. Every single ATM fee is paid for by Aspiration.

That's all for this one. It's that simple. It's better than your brick-and-mortar checking account in almost every way. No more crappy fees from Bank of America.

Can't Tell Me Nothin'

There. Those are the basics. These are all relatively hands-off tools that will move your financial game 20-30 years ahead to catch back to those of us living in the future. I kid. But seriously, get this stuff going. Be intelligent about your dollars and your dollars will treat you well.

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