Ok, so the economy is in the crapper, the dollar will soon be replaced by the rupee, we have a do-nothing Congress, and unemployment is rampant. Blah, blah, blah. These are all true statements, but only we own our own financial future. You know what people did in the past when things were tight? They worked two jobs, they worked three jobs, and they pinched pennies, they ate rice and beans, and they liked it. If that is what you find yourself having to do, or you’d like a bit of financial freedom, check out these sites when you have the time.
After all, financial freedom is not so much about being rich and having the fanciest car or the fanciest house, it is about having control over your own future. Money, debt, and the economy often feel as they control our future. I should know, since I went to law school. In any event, it is time to stop blaming “they” and take control of our own finances. Check out these sites for a little financial freedom of your own.
1. Mint, to save more and spend less: This is far and away the best personal finance website for family use. Meaghan and I use this to track all of our expenses, set goals, receive reminders for bills, and it even has a mobile app for Android or Iphones. You can enter all your expenses into categories, set budgets for each month, and include all your loans, checking and savings accounts, and brokerage balances to stay on track. You can also try Yodlee, which is also very good, but the interface can sometimes be a little sticky. Both are completely free when you sign up.
2. Portfoliomonkey, to weigh the risk of your portfolio: This site is pretty fun to mess around with to determine the relative risk/reward in your portfolio. You can add and subtract hypothetical trades to see the affect on your overall investment strategy. The analyzer function will show you how your money could grow or shrink. Another free service.
3. Google Finance, to screen your next stock pick: Add stocks or funds to your watch list, use technical analysis tools such as bollinger bands and volume indicators, see portfolio related news and overall market data, and best of all, it is completely free. I also recommend Zecco for your trading needs. You get $4.95 stock trades, which is about as cheap as it gets for online trading, along with some other cool features.
4. Hipmunk, to plan your flights and hotels: This site is really fun to play around with if you need to find a flight with the perfect layover time and you don’t want to use 5 different site engines. Kayak is also very good, but Hipmunk has some more exciting features and is much more fun to use. When you run a search, you can narrow to results to the lowest price, least travel time, and my personal favorite, the least agonizing. You can also save searches and open new tabs rather than have 20 windows open (like most free travel sites). Definitely one to check out when you are planning a vacation.
5. Dealnews, to find the perfect deal on many consumer goods: You name it and this site compiles daily online deals for electronics, clothing, hardware, software, tools, gifts, subscriptions, etc. I go on this at least once a day to see if something I’ve been looking for is listed.
For instance, I’ve needed an HDMI cable for the upstairs Roku player. These are one of the most overpriced items you can find in retail. They will claim to have gold plated, titanium enriched alloys that will blow your face off when you watch movies. In reality, they are all about the same. A 6 ft. cable at Best Buy? $24.99 for a Dynex brand cable. I’ve seen them as high as $80 or $100. What did I pay yesterday when I came across one on Dealnews? $1.73+ free shipping, and it also linked to Amazon where you could read reviews to really determine if it was worth the money. In case you are keeping track, if I went to Best Buy I would have spent about 14X as much. This is my favorite retail site, without a doubt. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I’ve even ordered an entire pallet of name brand toilet paper from this site for less than .40c a roll. That was almost 5 months ago and we’re not even halfway through it yet.
6. PNC Bank, for your banking needs: We could not be happier from having recently switched to PNC Bank. Granted we have not had any customer service issues and have not really tested them yet, but their Virtual Wallet accounts are amazing. It basically comes in three parts. You get a spend account (which we for direct deposit and to pay bills), a reserve account to save for short term purchases, and a growth (savings) account that currently returns .85% on all balances up to $99,999.00. With twenty grand in savings, that means you’d be looking at nearly $20 a month for keeping your money there. They are also offering up to $150 in promotions to move your account to PNC.
Even better are the virtual management tools. You get a calendar that tracks all your bills and marks your paydays so that you have a snapshot of your checking and savings accounts at all times. With the Performance account you can transfer money between all three accounts, use foreign ATMs, send money to anyone you owe electronically, make deposits through your Iphone, and setup simple programs to save money. Every time we pay a bill on time, I make our checking account pay $5 to savings. This way, much like common animals, we are rewarded for our good behavior. The best part, all these features are free with a direct deposit account and after making qualified purchases with your check card.
7. The Simple Dollar, to read up on personal finance: Trent, the author of my favorite personal finance blog, is pretty amazing. He posts regularly, responds to reader emails on the site, and analyzes every aspect of personal finance. He discusses family finance and planning, debt paydown strategies, and best of all, how to make homemade meals and replace common consumer goods on the cheap. He usually even documents his receipts to show you how much you can save by doing things at home.
8. Young House Love, to inspire yourself to complete another home project. Meaghan is in love with this site, and although I haven’t explored it much, what I have seen is pretty cool. This couple walks you through their home projects and renovations, most of which they do entirely on their own and with simple tools and materials. They have really awesome taste in home design, so if nothing else, you will love the pictures on their blog.