Secrets to Success: My Personal Finance Toolkit
In 2010, I was a broke college student in Akron, Ohio. Enjoying success in high school, I was fortunate enough to be offered a full scholarship to The University of Akron. It was a saving grace- I was so broke I could barely pay attention. I was fighting in the trenches trying to make it through nursing school, work enough to support myself with a minimum wage job, and find my way in the world at 21 years old.
I realized that if I didn’t figure out how money worked, I would surely be fighting this uphill financial battle for years to come. Thus, I became a student again- a student of personal finance. I learned that many people much older than me have dysfunctional relationships with their money- leading to a lifelong battle with managing it. I graduated in 2011 and finally had a decent income. I was ready to manage it. Turns out, having a great income and acting like I was still a broke college student gave me a great start. With the availability of free online tools to help me, I started building my young empire.
I realized that if I didn’t figure out how money worked, I would surely be fighting this uphill financial battle for years to come. Thus, I became a student again- a student of personal finance.
Why tell you this story? I learned how to take money coming in and use it to build a promising and stable future. I discovered tools along the way that have been vital to my success and I want to share them with you.
Mint.com- The Budgeting Juggernaut
I started using Mint.com in 2010 when I began my personal finance journey. Mint.com is free to use- all of the tools I use are free. Mint.com takes all of your accounts and puts them on the same user interface. Easily calculating your net worth, it syncs with your accounts when you log in. Mint uses bank-level encryption to protect your information, so you can trust it as much as you do the entity that holds your money. Mint is easy to use and it will prove vital to your budgeting success. Every time you swipe your card, Mint downloads the transaction automatically. You can view the transactions on your desktop computer, mobile phone, or tablet.
The budgeting section is king on Mint. At the beginning of the month, you set your zero-based budget. With no effort, you can keep track of your budgets throughout the month- Mint does all the work. Mint also keeps track of the value of your home, vehicles, and valuables like jewelry and other items. All you have to do is input this information, and Mint does the rest.
Mint.com falls short in tracking investments. It inaccurately records cost basis and capital gains even with much user input. I have been waiting years for Mint, now owned by Intuit, to fix this problem (Still Waiting…). It is for this reason that I use my next tool, Personal Capital.
Personal Capital- Putting The “Personal” Back into Personal Finance
I love Personal Capital for many reasons. It caught my attention because of its excellent user interface, net worth focused setup, and innovative investing and budgeting applications. Its user interface is gorgeous- it illustrates your money with colorful graphs and easy to understand information. Personal Capital uses the same format as Mint to collect and display your data- you sign into your financial accounts on the website, and it will sync with them going forward. The reason I use both is because of the outstanding way Personal Capital analyzes and displays investment data.
If you have any accounts you use to invest in the Stock Market- IRA’s, 401K’s, SEP-IRA’s, TSP, or any others- you need to be using Personal Capital to track them, no question. Personal Capital has a proprietary way to look at your investments called the You Index®. It shows the daily return of your portfolio expressed in a percentage. It can break down your accounts all in one place, creating a holistic view of your investments. It does all of this for free.
Personal Capital offers a NEW Personal Capital Savings Account that offers 2.30% yearly ROI on your money. That is almost 40 times as much interest as the normal savings account at your bank. This is a wonderful tool to assist you with making your money work harder for you.
Personal Capital also offers a portfolio management service with a free initial consultation. If your investable assets amount to more than $100,000, they will manage your portfolio for an annual fee of 0.89% per year. If you have more than $1 Million to invest, the fees range from 0.79% to 0.49% as of the time this article was written. As far as an industry standard, it is generally lower than the fees of other entities that do the same type of portfolio management. Full disclosure- I do not use this service. I manage my own portfolio of investments.
Vanguard- The Trailblazer of Low Cost Investing
Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, wanted to create a company that led in saving the investor money. He is the father of the index fund. He created a company that manages more than $5 Trillion in investor assets as of January, 2019. I chose to invest with Vanguard due to their excellent online interface and their free trading costs for Vanguard-based funds.
If you have a job with a large company, you most likely have access to a 401(k) plan. Your company hires another company like Vanguard to administer this plan to you. I have multiple investment accounts with Vanguard, outside of my employer. They lead the industry for low-cost investing and have online access that makes investing easy. The topic of how to save in invest for your future using accounts at Vanguard is for another article- but create your free account now and link your bank account in order to be ready to start! Vanguard offers a large variety of mutual finds and ETFs that are no cost to transact.
There are an array of free online tools in the Age of Technology that we are in. All have merit and will help you make progress on your financial journey. I have blazed a trail in my personal finance journey using the tools mentioned above- all while maintaining their use at no cost. I hope to share the success I have had with these with you- great products that can be used to make great progress with your money.
About the Author
Contact Bruce Breedlove at iFireFinance for questions or comments about this article! He is our Finance Personality and Registered Nurse at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Bruce offers Personal Finance Coaching services for clients anywhere in the country! Check him out on Instagram at @iFireFinance. Contact him for a FREE consultation regarding a personalized financial plan!