How to Save

11 personal finance tools I’m using to transform my savings in 2020

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The more you understand and manage your finances, the easier it will be to achieve your goals, including saving for early retirement. Getting a handle on your finances may involve better tracking of what’s coming in and going out, dealing with existing debt, cutting back on unnecessary spending, improving your credit score, and more.

The good news is you don’t need to go it alone!  There are a range of personal finance tools available to help you better manage your financial life.  Below, I've highlighted  11 of the best personal finance tools that you can put to use in 2020, and beyond, to help you make smart money decisions, save, and retire on your own terms.

#1 - Mint

One of the most important aspects of personal financial health is being acutely aware of what comes in and out of your account each month. Smart money management, savings, and planning all rely on having this information available, understanding it, and doing your best to maximize the incoming and minimize the outgoing.  There are many excellent free apps available from your preferred app store that you can use to aid you in this task. These can calculate your spending and income and make an assessment of your situation.

One of the best sites you can use, free of charge, however, is Mint. You can plug in your information, what accounts and bills you have, and when they’re due, as well as day to day spending. The site will then remind you when something is due to be paid, and even alert you if you’re starting up a pattern of unusual spending. Essentially, it brings together all of your accounts and information into one place to help you make sense of it.  It can help you pay much closer attention to your spending and also help you to work towards meeting any financial goals you may have for the future.

#2 - Credit Karma

Most people are aware of how important a role your credit score can play in obtaining loans, credit cards, lines of credit, financing for purchases, and so on.  Therefore, it’s important to know exactly where you stand in terms of your credit score. It can be an interesting dive into the depths of your financial history, and quite often it can actually flag something up to you that you weren’t aware of, or had forgotten about. Bad credit scores can seriously impact your ability to obtain mortgages, credit cards, and loans, so keeping a good credit score - or improving it - should really be a priority for everyone.

The Credit Karma site allows you to access your report and score, and track it going forward. It will also give you a range of great tips and tricks to help you improve your credit score over time. It’s a great tool for finding out where you stand and making the necessary changes to improve your personal finances.

#3 - Personal Capital

While it might be far in the future, there’s never a bad time to start preparing for your retirement.  Personal Capital is a free computer software program that gives you the tools to analyze your investments with a view to retirement planning. The software can track all your investments and gives you an indication of your net worth, your spending patterns, and cash flow. If you’re putting money aside for a major milestone, such as a wedding, college, or retirement, the software will let you know if you’re staying on track.

#4 - Quicken

Software such as Quicken can be used with great effect to manage your personal finances. Although the software works on a subscription basis, even the lowest level gives you a great range of financial tools to help get you get in good financial shape. The various modules on the software allow you to connect your bank and other accounts, such as credit cards, and any investments, to give you an overall picture of your financial health.

#5 - Acorns

If you don’t have a whole lot of experience in investing but would like to give it a shot, Acorns is one of the best ways to make a start. This micro-investing app is one of the original and best tools available today. Simply download the app to your phone and link it up to your bank account and credit cards. When you buy something, the app will automatically round up the amount you’ve spent to the nearest dollar. This way, if you spend $14.10, the app will take the remaining 90 cents from that dollar and invest it for you. Alternatively, you can tell the app to invest in specific increments, such as $10. Once it reaches that limit, it will then invest the larger amount on something in its extensive portfolio.

#6 - Squirrel

As opposed to the run-of-the-mill money-saving apps that can track your spending habits, Squirrel works in a slightly different manner. Sure, it does all the things you would expect from a money-saving or monitoring app, but Squirrel actively discourages you from spending over budget. It’s a bit like having your Mom or your husband on your shoulder, gently asking if you really need those new shoes when you already have 50 pairs.

The good thing about Squirrel is that it doesn’t feel like someone nagging, so you might pay a bit more attention to it.  Squirrel will take all the info you input, like salary and bills, and then allocate you a weekly budget to do with what you will. It’s a great way to keep on track and ask yourself the important questions about whether you really do need more stuff.

#7 - Online Bill Pay from Your Bank

Trying to keep track of bills when they’re due on different dates across the month can be a real headache. When you forget about one, it can end up showing on your credit report, and no one wants to be penalized (or having to pay interest or late fees) for genuinely making a mistake. This is where your bank’s online bill pay service can come in very handy. It gets all your monthly expenses in one place and tracks all due dates and amounts for you. Provide all the relevant information, and online bill pay will take care of the rest. You can even set up one-time payments to individual accounts – it’s not just for dealing with your utilities or mortgage provider.

#8 - Betterment

So, maybe you’ve been using Squirrel for a while and think you’ve got the knowledge and skills to take it to the next level. A great way to do this is with Betterment. The system can be used on either desktop or mobile, and helps you work towards your set investing goals based on how much risk you wish to take. The robotic adviser will access a huge range of investment opportunities on your behalf and will manage your account. The program can also reinvest any dividends received, on your say so, and will re-balance your account. It’s an excellent way to take the next step on your investment journey.

#9 - DebtTracker Pro from SnapTap

If you’re in debt, whether seriously or not, it’s eminently sensible to attempt to sort it out before it spirals out of control. DebtTracker is the app that can help keep you on track towards being debt-free.  Provide the app all the necessary information, and it will tally your overall outstanding balances. The app will then split this into separate payments for each account and show you how far (or close) you are to financial stability. Each user can choose their own financial strategy for paying back their debt, and the app will even provide useful suggestions.

#10 - GasBuddy

If the price of gas at your local station makes you want to scream, then check out the GasBuddy app. It’s very up-to-date and has a huge range of prices and locations stored in its database. Once you download the app, you can access the data that other users in your area have provided. This gives you the ability to make an informed decision of where to purchase your gas and save yourself some bucks. If gas is something that regularly eats into your paycheck, this app can save you some serious money over the course of just a few months.

#11 - RetailMeNot

If you love a money-saving deal or discount coupon, RetailMeNot is here to help you save on your usual spending. The app trawls through your favorite stores for current deals and discounts and reports them back to you. It has a local search function, but also keeps track of some huge national name brands, such as Sephora, Target and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. If you shop in these stores, this app could help you generate some serious savings. Not only does it notify you about offers, but it also lets you know how long they have left to run. Simply show the coupon on your phone at the register and get your discount instantly.

There are countless ways of saving money and sorting out your financial status. Sometimes, knowing which ones to choose or how best to go about managing your finances can be more of a headache than using the apps, sites, or software themselves.