To cut through the clutter and ease the decision-making process, we asked 30 personal finance experts to reveal the tools they can’t live without by asking them one simple question:
The results listed below contain a mix of modern and traditional personal finance tools, as well as a variety of tool types (websites, apps, programs, etc.). Our goal with this roundup is to present you with insight into the experts’ favorite tools and to inspire you to explore the right types for your particular financial situation – finding the perfect tools is important, but ultimately, understanding how the tools are used is what really matters.
Read on to discover each expert’s three preferred personal finance tools and their helpful tips on how to use them. You may skip to your favorite expert by using these quick links:
Alexis Neely, Andrew Fiebert, Andrew Schrage, Ashley Feinstein, Barbara Friedberg, Brittney Castro, Casey Bond, Chris Hogan, Deacon Hayes, Hilary Hendershott, J. Money, Jeanette Pavini, Jesse Mecham, Joe Saul-Sehy, Julie Rains, Kimberly Palmer, Linda P. Jones, Mandi Woodruff, Melissa Tosetti, Millennial Money Man, Mindy Crary, Miranda Marquit, Nicole Lapin, Philip Taylor, Robert Farrington, Robert Pagliarini, Shannon Ryan, Sophia Bera, Tiff The Budgetnista, Victor Ricciardi
App: RetailMeNot – for finding the best in-store and online savings codes and coupons.
Website: Budgets Are $exy by J. Money – consistent, practical, and useful financial advice. He’s also super fun and relatable.
Tool: Excel – it’s where I budget and manage both my personal and professional finances.
The three main $$ tools I love and use are USAA.com (where I do all my banking/insurance through), Digit.co (which automatically saves money for me), and then Go Daddy’s online bookkeeping service – Outright.com – which saves me HOURS every single month in tracking my business money. All these guys make my life incredibly easier. : )
My top three would be pretty simple:
Morningstar.com – I am a major proponent of investing in mutual funds in order to create wealth for an individual’s retirement account.
Yahoo Finance – to monitor my stocks and mutual funds. Also, because Yahoo Finance summarizes personal finance news stories from many different sources online.
SSRN.com – for the current and emerging academic research in personal finance, household finance, financial literacy, and behavioral finance. Full disclosure: I have been an Editor for the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) for over 10 years.
Brokerage firm websites – research tools and commentary; I especially like Fidelity’s insights and research capabilities.
Spreadsheets – I use spreadsheets to analyze business fundamentals for stock selections; also to analyze my own portfolio.
The Money Map Tool – as my life evolves, I return to this tool (that I created and now make available to others) to upgrade my Money Map numbers so I can evolve my income model along with my life with clarity and calm instead of confusion and fear.
My Weekly Financial Analysis (WFA) from my financial management team, Evolved Finance – each week, Evolved Finance sends me a report for each of my companies and my own personal accounts that shows me exactly how much I have in the bank, expected receivables, and expected payables. For the companies, they also create a cash flow forecast that shows me when we will run out of money so I can make strategic investing and sales/marketing decisions.
The first must-have financial resource for me is Yahoo Finance. Why? There are a plethora of financial websites, but what I like at Yahoo Finance is that it provides data and information. Most websites offer their opinion. I want the data so I can come to my own conclusions. The website has everything an investor needs to know to research a fund or stock.
The next is an account aggregation app. I use eMoney Advisor. It’s similar to Mint but for advisors and their clients. It consolidates all investment accounts, debt, credit cards, etc. on one page. eMoney then allows me to do tax planning and sophisticated financial modeling.
The third is QuickBooks. This allows me to drill into the nitty gritty of my own personal cash flow – income and expenses. QuickBooks is a great tool, but for consumers, a similar product such as Quicken or Money can work very well.
If I had to use three personal finance tools for the rest of my life, I would use Mint, Personal Capital, and Yahoo Finance. Mint is great for budgeting, Personal Capital is very useful for analyzing your existing investment portfolio, and Yahoo Finance is helpful in analyzing future potential investments.
Tickerspy.com – to observe portfolios of professionals
MoneyChimp.com – to plan and calculate values of investments, amount needed at retirement, etc.
I would always choose myself and pen + paper! : )
Vanguard – for all my personal and retirement investing. Great low-cost index funds and no fees to trade them!
Mint – for tracking and a consolidated view of all my finances. It’s a great app and website, but you have to put work in to make it valuable. The site thought De Beers was a bar so my spending the week I bought my husband’s wedding band was 98% bars hah. I got a good laugh!
GuideFinancial.com – this is a financial aggregator tool available through financial advisors to their clients. It’s similar to LearnVest or Mint. I believe that being able to see your total financial picture is critical to being financially empowered, plus the tool allows you to create savings and other goals so you can make sure you are on track.
Chase.com – pretty basic but I log in to see my bank account transactions and balances EVERY SINGLE DAY and I recommend all of my clients do the same. I have never been the victim of fraud and catch erroneous transactions instantly because of this habit, which only takes a minute a day.
I run a paperless life, to the fullest extent possible, so Evernote is my tool of choice to store images of receipts for tax time, tax advice from my trusted tax man, notes on best practices for saving for kids’ education, my short- and long-term financial goals – you name it. Evernote is my brain.
Betterment – it’s the easiest way for someone new to PF to get started investing.
Mint – it gives you a 1,000-foot overview of your finances in one place.
Moneydance – this is the personal finance software I use. It’s ledger-style and comes with a lot of great features.
Banking app – I like my banking app because I can move money around quickly and easily.
PayPal app – it’s possible to manage my business transactions and move money around as well. I’m pretty simple with my finances. My investments are on automatic with dollar cost averaging, and I manage everything else as automatic as possible.
Mint.com for sure is #1. I basically use it every day (I don’t need to, it’s just so easy to check on my iPhone!).
And this is very old fashioned, but I use Excel to balance my checkbook. I made a spreadsheet that reflects all of my monthly expenses and I match charges as they come through, so I always know the “real” balance I am working with.
Everything else, I am basically only checking once per month (HSA, 401k, high yield savings, investments) so for the rest of my life, a third tool I would choose is Fidelity.com, because I think it’s such an intuitive, user-friendly site that beginning investors can easily get started with.
My first choice would be the website Mint. To me, it’s the most comprehensive tool available for budgeting your money and analyzing your spending. Plus, it’s free to use.
Next, I would choose the website FatWallet. It’s not a personal finance tool per se, but it goes a long way in helping me to save money on everyday purchases. It’s a deal sharing website run by its members who post deals and discounts on just about everything including electronics, computer software, clothing, and restaurants.
My final choice would be the website CNNMoney. It has always provided me with solid and accurate personal finance advice, usually in easy to understand terms. And of course, I think we at Money Crashers have some great tools, tips, and strategies that people can implement on a daily basis, and it’s all free. There are important topics like the best cash back credit cards to look for and how to start saving for retirement that we work to tackle every day!
My banking app so I can keep tabs on my personal and biz accounts, my 10BII Calculator App (basically a financial planning calc that’s an app), and Bankrate.com because I like their mortgage amortization tables.
I’m sure many people are going to agree that Mint is about the best budget tool out there. I do not follow a budget in the traditional sense, so Mint is great for getting snapshots of my spending and seeing trends.
I also love the Acorns app because I use my rewards card for everything, so I’m constantly adding “change” to that investment portfolio without having to think about it.
For the third, you can’t beat good old Excel. I totally nerd out on learning new formulas, too.
Financial planning software to do accurate planning – currently using NaviPlan.
Research software for stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and ETFs – currently using Morningstar.
I’d need something to track my expenses so I’d first choose Mint. It isn’t perfect – it’s always showing me ads for financial products – but it’s free, so it comes with the territory. Here’s what I love about Mint: not only does it track everything, it also sends me a text when I’m over budget in an area. For a guy trying to juggle three podcasts and two blogs, Mint keeps me moving.
Second, I need Morningstar.com. This gives me everything I need to make good investment decisions. It shows me fund expenses, relative performance, manager changes, and generally steers clear of the “what’s hot right now” stuff you get on other sites.
Finally, and this is a little bit of a cop-out, but I need the Stitcher podcast app. This gives me access to as many different podcasts on money so I’ll always have an earful of goodness whenever I head out on a run or a road trip. I use Stitcher rather than other apps because it streams podcasts. I don’t have to wait for downloads or spend an afternoon deleting old content. Great stuff.
Quicken – for managing investments, spending, saving, budgets, debt, etc. I’d use this for the rest of my life because it’s comprehensive and I download all my credit card spending into the program, to categorize the spending. Since I’ve used it for decades, I’m in no mood to change right now. : )
Credit card with reward (no fee) – it may sound silly to mention a credit card, but I pay off the card every month, without fail. I take the 1.25% rewards in Walmart debit cards and use the cards for “free” shopping on household items and groceries. It’s a good idea to find a card with decent rewards payouts.
Investopedia.com – I’m an investment and personal finance writer (and actually write for the Investopedia.com site) and their investment information and research is an invaluable tool for my work. They have well-researched answers to most investment questions.
USAA – they offer the best products for banking. I love their online banking, and leverage BillPay for everything possible. I love the ability to scan in checks, and that makes it a must-have.
Fidelity – the best online broker, and what I use for all my investments.
My custom FWW budget template – to track my income and expenses every week in my money dates.
DailyWorth website – to continue learning more about the needs of women and money.
My very large and intense CFP® textbooks – all the financial strategies I could ever need to help clients reach their financial goals.
ItsDeductible (from TurboTax) – easily tracks your donations throughout the year so when it’s time to pay your taxes, it’s all in one place. It also helps you accurately value donated items.
Mint Bills (formerly Check) – keeps all bills and accounts in one place. See everything at a glance, pay bills in one place, and get alerts that will help you avoid fees and late payments.
Spending book, spending plan, and a clean and organized wallet.
American Express app/website – my Amex card was the first credit card I’ve ever had, and I used to HATE their old website and app design because it was confusing and easy to mess up your payments. They recently did a massive overhaul with killer budget tools and account notifications/alerts and really cleared up the payment process. I use my Amex for almost all of my monthly purchases now and just added a business card to my account to keep up with Millennial Money Man. I love it now because it’s way easier than just using my debit cards and I can manage my reward points quickly as well.
Schwab.com – I’m just starting to get into the investing side of finances, and I’ve opened up a Charles Schwab account to manage my IRA and brokerage account. The website layout is great, and they are starting to roll out online investor tools similar to Betterment and WealthFront for younger people like me. I can invest inside of the same account that I write checks from and house my emergency fund for quick access. Very solid company and wealth management tools that I see myself using for the next 50+ years.
Excel – I know, I know – old school. However, I think that everyone should have a basic understanding of this program. You can be infinitely creative with this dinosaur! Right now, I am using it to evaluate potential real estate purchases. I can figure taxes, monthly costs and payments, as well as see my principle balance after 15 years all inside of one spreadsheet. Great tool for custom budgets as well.
EveryDollar.com – a budgeting tool.
Kiplinger.com – financial information.
Thank you to all of the experts who contributed to this roundup! Here is a recap of the results:
If you could only use three personal finance tools for the rest of your life, which three would you choose? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.