A number of people have asked me for recommendations on tools to use for tracking spending and getting out of debt. I love sharing and anyone standing within earshot of my explanations can tell I feel passionately about this topic. So now, rather than overwhelm the poor friend (pun not intended), I’ll instead send them to this post. Thus, saving my friends from my passionate outbursts and helping anyone else who might find their way here. Win-win.
The resources below are all Bittman used and approved. We really have used these tools regularly and have found them to be the most useful in our journey to eliminate debt.
What’s easier than having your spending tracker at your fingertips? We love being able to track our dollars in real time and get updates on-the-go.
Mint – Available in the App Store and at Mint.com. Mint is a free website and app that will track everything in your financial life and give you an instant snapshot of the state of your financial health. It connects with your bank to track your transactions and if you have set up a budget in the system, which you should do, you can see how much you have spent into the budget and know how much you have left to spend. If you want to get really nerdy with it you can drill into the spending “trends” as they call it and see exactly how you are spending your money over time. I think whether you use a free program like Mint or other great programs like You Need a Budget (which costs money to use) you MUST have a way to track your spending and see your budget in real time. When we started tracking our spending last year, I found Mint almost overwhelming. So I started with EveryDollar below to build my habit muscle and get clear on exactly what I wanted to get out of my budget.
EveryDollar – Available in the App Store and at EveryDollar.com. For a simplified budgeting tool, you can’t beat EveryDollar. Developed by the Dave Ramsey company, it does nothing more than track your income and spending. It’s very low frills which is one of the reasons I love it–it is highly user friendly. There’s nothing to distract you from the purpose–to see what’s coming in and going out, moment to moment. For anyone just starting out, I highly recommend EveryDollar over Mint. It’s free, which is great, and doesn’t come with all the annoying ads like Mint does. Instead, the app tries to up-sell you on the paid version. In the paid version the app will sync with your bank and automatically import your transactions. This sounds convenient but the truth is, you probably have no idea how much you are spending when you swipe your card in the store. Instead of being oblivious, this forces you to keep your receipts and consciously enter in the cost of your purchases. Instantly, you’ll become way more aware of your spending habits and what stores cause holes to form in your pockets. After using this app regularly, I learned that just walking into the local upscale market costs me $30. Now, I try it to go in there unless I have to!
Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days, by Chris Guillebeau – Simeon and I have long realized that if we really want to destroy our debt quickly, we’re going to need additional income. While I like my job, I don’t make enough to add significantly to our debt payments. Meanwhile, Simeon has a job that pays the bills and keeps us comfortable but doesn’t fulfill him creatively. Chris’ book helped us narrow in on a couple ideas to feed our creative sides while bringing in more money. We just finished reading this book and it’s hugely inspiring to read about the real-life side hustlers who have made major money with a good idea and a few extra hours. I hope we will have an inspiring update for you about our own side hustle success later this year!
Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine – Written in 2007, I read this book a decade ago, long before the minimalist movement had taken off and lots of other bloggers jumped onto the spend-less bandwagon. It was a revelation to think of not buying something for a whole year. What I loved most about Judith’s journey was the permission I felt to live life differently than others, to make my own rules and live them out my way.
Matrimoney – Whenever I see a new episode pop up in my podcast feed I listen to it right away. The real-life married couple who host this show, Kelsey and Chris Wharton, are about as down-to-earth as you can get and their easy banter is sweet and fun. I enjoy listening to their conversations about how they choose to spend and save their money using real budgets in real time. Though they aren’t trying to get out of debt, I appreciate their perspectives on money in our culture and their general frugal orientation. I always feel like I just spent time with friends after I listen to the show. Plus, episodes are about 30 minutes. Perfect for listening to on a walk outside after lunch.
Side Hustle School – Hosted by Chris Guillebeau, this show is a companion to the book mentioned above. Every weekday Chris features stories of folks who have created a successful side hustle. The stories are short–only 7-10 minutes long, which I appreciate. Chris doesn’t interview, but rather tells the story of how the side hustle got started, how it’s become successful, and then what we can learn for their experience. He mentions tons of useful tools and resources for others looking to start a gig in a similar industry. I think the show notes themselves are probably gold for anyone looking for good ideas and resources.
Aldi – I had heard about this grocery store for years as a low price haven but had never been until this year. I was worried the products would be too low quality for the kind of food we like to eat (natural, whole foods, organic, etc.). But it turns out Aldi has some of the lowest prices I’ve ever seen for really nice products like organic grass fed beef and sugar-free applesauce. For some weekly staples, this is our new go-to spot while we put that extra grocery money towards debt. I’ll have to do a whole post on Aldi, but for now, take my word for it!
Capsule wardrobe system – The idea of a capsule is to select a group of garments, say 30 items, and only choose outfits from that selection for three or four months until you need different items for a new season. It means we don’t shop for clothes unless we truly need something (like a new winter jacket) and when I get a hand me down or gifted item, I usually give up something in my closet to make room for it. One of the great things about moving frequently like we have is the opportunity to edit our belongings. I’ve been especially ruthless with our clothes, giving away or donating anything that doesn’t quite fit or that we don’t regularly wear. By the time we moved into our little bungalow last fall, Simeon and I could share the one dresser and a tiny closet in our bedroom without a lot of fuss. We each ended up with a capsule wardrobe without even trying! That said, I would like to re-evaluate my wardrobe to update my style and see if I can replace some items with even better quality (anything from Elizabeth Suzann will do), but it’s not urgent and right now any extra money is going to our first priority: paying down debt. It will be so fun to spend that extra money on beautiful pieces when the time comes. Certainly something to look forward to about being debt free!
Any great resources you have found helpful for money management or paying down debt? I’m always eager to try out new ideas! And let me know if you try out any of the ones I mentioned, too! I’d love to hear about it.