Leaving college $120,000 in debt was not a good feeling – I felt trapped with a debt-to-asset ratio that would make most people cry. But I was one of the lucky few that started a decent-paying job right out of school, with a high earning potential down the road (key word being potential – hard work still required!)
I wanted to seize control of my life as I stumbled into adulthood. What better way to manifest my destiny than to control my finances? Today, I’ll share some of the quick steps I took to understand my financial picture. My main goal was to convert the fake numbers I read about in my promissory notes to data points I can track and change over time.
Here is a rule of thumb I generally follow: learn a few tools really well, and they will treat you better than having ten times the tooling with less expertise. I find it completely unnecessary – and sometimes downright confusing – to use many different companies to track my wealth.
Plus, who wants to give all their financial login information to ten different companies? No thank you.
My set of tools works in my scenario; your mileage may vary. I am not sponsored to discuss any of the products below.
Day to day: Mint
I use Mint for my day-to-day budgeting needs. This software is especially helpful for bill tracking. I don’t have many bills, but it’s nice to have them all in one place. I’m also able to quickly verify my checking has enough cash for the bills that month (I usually put all my direct deposits into my savings and transfer when needed – this encourages saving more over time). I live in an apartment with three friends, and I get to act as bill czar. This helps remind me to collect from my roommates on Venmo.
Mint is also very useful for tracking your entire net-worth, spending, and income over time. I can easily compare month-to-month, or even day to day (very useful when comparing weekend spending to mid-week spending…).
All of my loan accounts (five at the time of writing) are each serviced by different companies. Combining them all in Mint lets me see my progress on paying them down over time; there is something very satisfying about seeing the plot of my net-worth slowing tick up from the negatives!
I would probably not use Mint if most of my assets and debts were with one company. I use Ally for all of my banking needs, and they recently updated their apps to show asset growth/loss over time. I believe you can also add accounts from other institutions, so they may try to compete with Mint in this segment at some point in the near future.
I also don’t use Mint for long-term budgeting. Outside of paying off debt, I don’t have many long-term financial goals outside of what I have set aside for my Roth 401k. I read good things about Personal Finance, but I haven’t tried it in-depth enough yet to speak much on it. They had trouble adding Ally accounts, which is a big deal-breaker for me. I will likely go back to try it.
Ol’ Reliable: The Spreadsheet
Most of my long-term debt payment goals are in the form of Excel sheets. When you try to get too complicated with your loan payoff schedules, an Excel sheet is definitely the way to go.
In my case, I am using the debt avalanche method to whittle down my loan balances as fast as possible. In addition to the regular monthly payments, I like to add annual/bi-annual lump sums and percentage increases to my monthly payments. This is a lot of variables to consider, and apps like Mint and Personal Finance just won’t cut it. With an Excel doc (or Google sheet, whatever floats your goat) you have full control over when to contribute to certain loan accounts and see how it affects your total payoff.
It can be very motivating to see how a small change in your payment routine can greatly affect the plot of your debt balance over time.
I only use two tools for my investments: my Ally brokerage account and the Yahoo Financial app on Android. I used to be very interested in day trading and options, but those methods don’t match how I want to be as an investor.
I mainly use Ally when I’m researching to buy more ETFs or index funds. I just like how their research tools are set up, so I rarely need to go anywhere else. Yahoo Financial keeps me up to date on business news, but since I don’t hold many individual stocks it has become less useful to me over time. I definitely don’t need to be on the news latest pulse when I’m trading long positions.
…And that’s the total picture of how I control my finances. I’m going to add a disclaimer: just because I use these tools does not mean I won’t move from them in the future. I’m always open to change. If you have any suggestions for new tools, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.