A little over a year ago, Chris and I sat down in our little Stamford apartment and took a big, much anticipated, relieving deep breath. We'd finally done it - C had graduated with his master's degree AND gotten a new job, we were newly married, and for the first time, I wasn't commuting 4+ hours a day. It felt like the dust had finally settled, but we knew realistically that even our current situation was temporary and we needed to talk about what we wanted long(er ;) term in life.
We both agreed that we wanted to buy a home + start a family in the next five years. We also agreed that we weren't anywhere near ready to make either of those goals a reality - after the turmoil of funding a wedding, grad school, and my go-go-go work schedule, we hadn't given our personal financial health much love. Once we started talking through our goals, however, actions steps started to present themselves:
- Get a solid handle on our financial "health"
- Ballpark a potential home purchase price + down payment
- Start saving aggressively for both a home + other long term goals like an emergency fund
- Build some sort of system that allows us to easy save for the things that tend to "come up" year after year and erode our savings account - car taxes+ repairs, vacation, Christmas + birthday gifts, taxes on my freelance business, airfare to visit my mom, etc.
I was thinking about how far we've come toward making serious progress on many of these goals and realized that it might be really helpful to share some of the tools we've used to get there. Therefore, today's post is a quick rundown of my top five favorite apps to get your personal finances in order. Here goes:
#1: QAPITAL - This app has changed. our. life. We went from struggling to save SOMETHING every month to saving literally thousands of dollars in just a few months - mostly without even noticing that we were saving! The premise of the app is simple: you link the app to your checking account and then set "rules" for yourself that auto-transfer from your checking account into this account. I use the "round up rule" that transfers $2 into this account every time I use my debit card as well as the "52-week rule" that auto transfers $52, then $51, then $50, etc. into checking each week until the end of the year (when you transfer $1). Someone on my old team at my last job used to auto-transfer $10 every time they made a beer run! Whatever works :)
In addition to the "rules" feature, what I love MOST is that the app allows me to create separate "goals" within the same account. For example, I have a separate "goal" for taxes on any freelance/blog work I might do - I don't use any rules, I just transfer 40% of any check into that bucket. We started another one for "house," one for "vacation," "emergency fund," etc. each with different rules. It gives me such peace of mind to be able to visibly see my progress toward funding each of these goals, rather than trying to remember how much I am supposed to be saving for each. This app is the BEST. ((also: yes, it is safe. we are lucky enough to be USAA members and they vouched for the security of the app. Since they are UBER conservative, I think I'm safe ;) Also, my link to the app is a referral link. I get five whole dollars if you sign up - and so do you. So I figured it was beneficial to share! For the record, I got $0 to start using the app and I fully vouch for it :)
#2: CREDIT KARMA - One quick google of "how much house can we afford" and you learn how important your credit score is in the homebuying process! I tend to over-research and got immediately stressed out about how often you could check your score, what the impact of using/not using/closing/opening credit cards was, etc. This app is AMAZING - it updates your credit score for you WEEKLY and doesn't ping your score when you check it. If you're a slightly OCD over-achiever like me you will give a sincere sense of satisfaction having access to this information on the regular. Also, it's fascinating to see something like a $200 credit card balance actually have a few point impact on your score. #themoreyouknow
#3: STASH - I've always envied all of my fancy friends in finance that have been trading stocks since freshman year of college. I'm clueless about mutual funds, the stock market, etc. Enter this app, that allows you to invest as little as $5 (hey, take the $5 you get from Qapital!) to invest in really easy to understand mutual funds like "green energy" or "cyber security." I still don't totally get it but I invest about $20/pop so the risk is low and it's fun to see my little investment grow!
#4: SOFI - This is not an app but it's quite possibly the best financial organization I've worked with since my first piggy bank (or USAA, if you are lucky enough to be a military kid like me!). They probably would cringe if they read this but I call SOFI the "millennial lender" because they totally speak our language. They offer student loan refinancing and personal loans with low, fixed rates and the entire experience is optimized for how we operate - they text you when your payment comes out, the site interface is clean and simple (what is WITH most student loan sites?!), real people pick up the phone when you call, etc. Also re: openness about finances, they are slowly creating a true community surrounding personal finance and I really, really love that as I think finances are so "taboo" culturally and we could all benefit from more open dialogue. We have two accounts with them that save us over $1,000/mo (total). Both links here are referral links because you get $100. Feel free to use this link to their regular site if you don't want to use the referral - it's a great resource either way!
#5: QUICKEN LOANS"QL CALC" - This is another GREAT app if you are planning to purchase a home. Or even if you are just super curious like I am :) It auto-populates with the daily mortgage rate and allows you to play around with different down payments, taxes, etc. Fun tip: tap "Monthly Payment" on the "Payment: Purchase" screen to see your loan amount, down payment % details, and PMI if applicable. Another fun tip: DO NOT under ANY circumstances provide Quicken Loans with your contact information! They will stalk you. Stick to the app and far, far away from their website!
I know this can be a sensitive topic but I can't tell you how helpful it can be to talk openly about finances + personal goals in a productive way. Please don't hesitate to ask me any questions or add your story in the comments!
Disclaimer: I am quite possibly the furthest thing you can find from a financial expert! Please consult a certified financial planner before making your own plans + decisions!