The older I get, the more important streamlining my life becomes. And now, as I look down the barrel of 40, preparing for my financial future has also become a rather pressing concern. While I’ve never exactly been a financial wizard, I’ve likewise managed to avoid many of the pitfalls that so often lead to financial ruin. Still, the idea of actively monitoring and cultivating my finances–as opposed to passively observing them–seemed more than a little daunting.
Thankfully, I was able to use my most powerful and convenient tool, my trusty iPhone, to take at least a first few tenuous steps toward properly managing my meager finances. With the help of GeekDad’s newest sponsor, the Popmoney personal payment service, I’ll be spending the next few weeks exploring the services and ideas that I use to make sure my money winds up exactly where it should be.
Here are my picks for the most useful time- and money-saving sites and applications, and I’d love to hear about yours in the comments below.
Monitoring My Credit Report
Credit Karma – I’ve always had pretty solid credit, but because of my recent divorce (and the related division of assets and moving expenses) I know it’s taken a hit. As someone with only a rough understanding of how credit reporting even works–You mean it’s not just a number?!–I definitely needed a bit of a primer. Honestly, I chose Credit Karma because the service was free, but I was pleased to discover the site also hosts a set of tools that folks like me can use to help make better financial decisions, including things like the factors affecting my credit and a number of helpful recommendations. I was actually a little worried about the dreaded free-but-not-free nature of many products like this, but, while Credit Karma did offer things like additional services including debt consolidation and additional credit cards with introductory 0% APRs on balance transfers, I didn’t feel pressured into using any of them.
Taming My Checkbook
My Check Register – Yes, I do still write the occasional paper check. Moreover, while I regularly use my bank’s app to see what payments have cleared and how much I’ve managed to squirrel away in my savings account, I find that having a separate location where I can record money I’ve already spent (even if the transaction hasn’t processed) gives me a leg up on my monthly budgeting. In the past, I used a paper check registry, but these days I’m all about the electronic equivalent. My Check Register functions on the freemium model, with things like removing ads, recording multiple accounts, and sharing/syncing functionality available for a nominal fee. However, if you’re just recording purchases and transfers for a single checking account you can easily make do with the stripped-down free version.
Popmoney – I recently heard an NPR piece about the explosion in the popularity of mobile person-to-person (P2P payment) apps. I looked into it myself, but the field was already confusingly crowded. There’s the old standby, PayPal. Venmo seemed pretty popular, and a lot of my musician and other artist friends have been using Square Cash (from the makers of the Square Reader) for a while. Personally, I liked that Popmoney utilizes bank-grade security and that money is sent directly from bank account to bank account, without the need to create a third-party account. It seemed to be a good match for my needs–specifically, paying friends and family members on those occasions when I don’t have cash on me, which is all the time. Popmoney is available through online or mobile banking at more than 2,400 banks and credit unions. In the event your financial institution does not already offer Popmoney, you can access the service through a dedicated mobile app or via Popmoney.com. We’ll explore additional features in the coming weeks.