How will you improve your financial situation this year?
My guess is that you already have some ideas about what you’d like to improve. If not, you can use The New Family Financial Road Map to figure out what to prioritize first.
But either way, knowing what you want to do is just the first step. And many people never take the next step for one simple reason.
Figuring out HOW to do it is confusing.
There are so many banks, investment platforms, insurance companies, apps, websites, and everything else that it can be hard to make a decision and move forward. You get stuck in analysis paralysis, where the fear of making the wrong decision prevents you from doing anything at all.
This post is going to help you avoid that.
Below are 29 tools and resources that will help you make the most of your money in 2018. All of them are either things that I personally use and love, or that I’ve had enough experience with and heard enough good things about that I am happy to recommend them.
I’ve organized them by major category too, so you can skip to exactly the topics you want to focus on and get started right away.
No more analysis paralysis. Now you can focus on taking action and improving your financial situation.
Quick note: I don’t get paid to recommend ANY of these tools and resources. Not a single one. These are simply the things that I think will genuinely help you make better financial decisions.
Budgeting/Tracking your spending
You don’t have to make a budget in the normal sense of the word. You really don’t. In fact, I’ve long advocated for an untraditional approach to budgeting.
But you do need to set up some kind of system that puts you in control of the money coming into your possession, allowing you to direct it towards the goals that matter most to you and your family.
A great first step is simply tracking your spending so that you can see how much money is coming in each month and where it’s going. That gives you the baseline information you need to understand where you are now, what you can do to improve, and track your progress as you move forward.
Here are a few tools you can use to do it.
1. You Need a Budget (YNAB) – I’ve been using YNAB myself for almost a year now and I love it so much that I buy it for all of my Financial Foundation clients. It’s hands-down the best system I’ve found for tracking your spending and proactively planning for both future expenses and savings goals. It costs $6.99 per month, but there’s a 34-day free trial and in any case the cost is well worth it. My personal finances are in much better shape because of YNAB.
2. Mint – This is the tool I used for years before switching to YNAB. It’s not as good at helping you proactively plan, but it’s free, relatively easy to use, and good at tracking your spending. This article details how I used to use it: How I Track My Spending.
3. Pre-Made Templates – If you prefer to do things by hand, my friend J. Money at Budgets Are Sexy has compiled a great list of free budgeting templates for you.
A good bank makes your life a whole lot easier. And by good, I mean a bank with minimal fees, a great online interface, a great mobile app, competitive interest rates, excellent customer service, and easy processes for depositing and withdrawing money.
Here are some of my favorites.
4. Ally Bank – This is the bank I use and I absolutely love them. Everything is easy, the customer service is great, and they have some of the best interest rates around. Hard to beat.
5. Capital One – I haven’t used them personally, but they have all the features I would look for in a great bank and I’ve heard a lot of good things about them from friends and clients.
6. Local Credit Unions – I’m a big fan of online banks, but if you need access to a physical branch I would generally look for a local credit union. Credit unions are owned by their customers and therefore often have fewer fees, better interest rates, better customer service, and offer better loans than bigger banks.
Investing doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming. You can get started right now creating an investment plan that helps you build towards financial independence, no matter how much money you have.
Here are some of my favorite investment companies and resources.
7. Vanguard – Vanguard is the cream of the crop when it comes to investment companies, offering top-notch investment options with rock-bottom fees. I use them for my personal investments and I typically end up recommending them to my clients as well.
8. Betterment – Automated investment platforms, or “robo-advisors” as they’re often called, have been growing in popularity. Although I would still generally prefer Vanguard in most situations, Betterment is my favorite of these automated platforms because of their investment philosophy and what seems like a strong commitment to doing right by their customers.
9. Investing Made Simple – If you’d like some help figuring out how to invest the right way, this guide is for you. It’s action-oriented, walking you through every major investment decision you have to make and showing you exactly how to make them. You’ll walk away knowing how much to save, which accounts to use, and how to choose the right investments.
Paying off debt
Along with investing, getting to debt-free is the biggest factor in reaching financial independence. Here are a couple of tools that will help you do it.
10. Vertex Debt Reduction Calculator – This is a free tool that’s easy to use and creates a powerful repayment plan. I wrote about my favorite features here: A Simple Tool for Creating a Killer Debt Repayment Plan.
11. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling – If you’re really struggling with your debt situation, I would check out the NFCC. It’s a non-profit organization dedicated to helping consumers improve their financial situation, without the scamminess or the ridiculous fees of most other credit counseling organizations.
Student loans are really a special kind of debt with their own set of rules and best practices. These resources will help you get organized, understand your options, and pay them off as quickly as possibly.
12. StudentAid.ed.gov – I’ve used this site many times over the years when I’ve had questions about student loans. It’s a great resource with tons of helpful information.
13. National Student Loan Data System – This is the definitive source for up-to-date information on your federal student loans. This information is key if you want to pay your loans off as quickly as possible.
14. AnnualCreditReport.com – Your credit report is where you’ll find current information about your private student loans, as well as any other debt you might have. And this is the one site that really, truly, lets you get it for free.
15. Student Loan Organizer – Those last two resources give you a TON of information and you need a way to organize it all. So I created this simple spreadsheet to help you do it. If you’d like some guidance on how to use it, refer to this post: How to Organize Your Student Loans.
16. VIN Foundation Student Loan Repayment Simulator – This is the best tool I’ve found for comparing different repayment options and deciding which one is best for your specific situation.
As soon as you start a family, life insurance is a must. These tools will help you get the coverage you need at a cost you can afford.
17. Life Insurance Needs Calculator – I could never find a life insurance needs calculator I liked, so I created my own. This is the same one I use with my clients and it will tell you exactly how much life insurance to get.
18. Term4sale.com – This site provides accurate life insurance quotes without collecting any personal information. It’s a great way to do the research yourself rather than relying on an insurance agent who may or may not have your best interests at heart.
19. PolicyGenius – This is a newer company that I like a lot. They provide pretty much the same quotes as term4sale, but they have a little more guidance that may be helpful for some people.
I’ve found online communities to be incredibly helpful in a number of areas, but particularly when it comes to financial questions. It’s so convenient to have a place you can ask your specific, personal questions and get real feedback from real people.
Here are a few communities I’ve used over the years and have found to be really helpful.
20. Bogleheads – Their forum is amazing, both for asking questions and for looking back through previous threads. It’s a little more focused on investing than the other two communities here, but all financial questions are welcome. They also have a wiki with a ton of really useful information.
21. BabyCenter Family Finances – I love this community. Tons of really smart people, and it’s specifically focused on the financial issues you face as a parent.
22. Mr. Money Mustache – The blog is great and the forum is more of the same. It’s specifically targeted to people who are looking to retire early and are willing to live a little differently than the norm.
If you’re looking for personalized advice and guidance, you may want to work with a fee-only financial planner. A good planner will take the time to understand your current financial situation and your biggest personal goals, and will help you create and implement a plan for reaching them.
Here are a few ways to find the right financial planner for you.
23. Me! – Hey, this is what I do! I specialize in working with new parents who want to take control of their money so they can take care of their families. You can learn more about the services I offer here.
24. XY Planning Network – This is an organization of fee-only financial planners who specialize in working with Gen X and Gen Y clients. A lot of these people are personal friends and just about every member I’ve met genuinely has their clients’ best interests at heart.
25. NAPFA – If you’re nearing retirement, NAPFA may be a better place to look for a financial planner. It’s another fee-only network, and another organization I belong to, and it’s full of great people.
26. Garrett Planning Network – Another great organization primarily targeting people nearing retirement. While most NAPFA members charge based on ongoing investment management, Garrett planners all offer hourly services that may be better for people looking for more limited engagements.
Here are three more resources I love that don’t really fit into any of the categories above.
27. NY Times Buy vs. Rent Calculator – If you’re trying to decide whether to rent or buy a house, this tool is a must. It helps you run all the numbers to figure out just how long it will take for buying a house to come out ahead.
28. Brunch and Budget Podcast – My favorite financial podcast by far. Pam and Dyalekt are funny and entertaining and I learn something new every time I tune in.
29. Republic Wireless – I’ve been using Republic Wireless for cell phone service for a few years now and I absolutely love them. My wife actually switched over recently as well and loves them too. We’ve saved a ton of money using them and the service has been great.
When it comes to improving your financial situation, you’re better off taking ANY step forward than worrying about whether you’re making the absolute best move possible.
The tools and resources above are all great and will all move you in the right direction. Pick the ones you need and get started now.