Ever since we launched r&R, the #1 question I get goes a little something like this: “I want to be better with my money but where should I start?”My answer? Start by finding the right tool to support your goals.
“If it’s true that to the person who only has a hammer, everything looks like a nail – a useful question to ask yourself is what sort of hammer do you have?”
Think of the hammer as a metaphor for the product of your cumulative experiences. As rich as that experience is, it’s also limited by the options you had available at that time. Use your current circumstances to tell you whether the tool you’re using to manage your finances is either empowering you or restricting you. You know you have the right tool when you can wield your financial literacy in different contexts AND in real time.
Me? I struggled with consumer debt. My hammer was plastic and anything I could swipe it for was a nail. It didn’t matter how much it cost – if I swiped and a receipt printed, it meant I could afford it baby!
For a long time, my relationship with money was an affectionate one—every swipe felt like a hi-five. But it was also a complicated and dynamic situation. I was literally a walking Kevin Hart punchline.
I had this janky formula of calculating my checking account balance, my credit card limits and the timing of my next check to guide my decisions.
My hammer was self-affirming, but it was not constructive. It enabled good decisions without correcting the bad ones.
When it was time to get serious about my debt, I replaced my plastic hammer with a paper one. My new tool of choice was low-tech and simple—envelopes filled with cash.
The envelope method taught me a lot. It’s simplicity is undefeated and no tactic made me more money-conscious than this one. Paper has a way of telling the truth in a way that plastic can’t…when it’s gone, it’s gone.
As effective as it was, I quickly found that paper was impractical for me. I needed to evolve my toolkit to include apps that would accomplish the same thing.
There are several to choose from but Mint and Personal Capital are my faves. I like to think of Mint as more of a coach and Personal Capital is more of an advisor.
Mint tends to be more naggy, but in a good way. It has your best interests in mind, kind of like when you make the wrong turn in GPS. It has features that allow you to upload your budget, input your goals, and enable pop-up notifications or emails when you’re exceeding or close to exceeding them … think of it as a financial “RECALCULATING”.
I *needed* Mint when I was in debt payoff mode. But even now, I still look at Mint when things go wrong to see where we zigged but should have zagged.
You see, young grasshoppa….first you shape the tool, and then the tool shapes you.
Again, Personal Capital has a different vibe to it. The notifications are more like this:
It’s funny, I remember being a little girl and always testing boundaries with my parents. I used to whine and ask my dad if I had to brush my teeth, his retort was always “just the ones you want to keep!” That’s Personal Capital.
The free version makes the metrics that matter more accessible and visible, so that you can celebrate your progress and so you know exactly what you’re trading off with each milestone. Personally, I don’t find it to be that great at tracking transaction-level details in the same way that I don’t find a knife to be a great wine opener…it’ll get the job done, but there are definitely better tools out there.
It’s one of the few tools that analyzes the cost of my portfolio as a way to remind me to always brush the teeth I want to keep.
Bottom line: Never underestimate the ability of your brain to justify the bullshit you trained it to justify – assess your toolkit on a regular basis. The right tool will help you understand the progress of your thoughts and build a narrative about how your behaviors impact your finances. Get started today.