Joel’s Note: This is a guest post from Caroline Wright of Manilla.com.
I’ve heard people say that college is the best four years of your life.
You learn how to be independent, make new friends, gain new perspectives and (hopefully) learn a thing or two about a thing or two.
What they don’t say is that it’s also a time when you can accrue massive amounts of debt if you’re not careful — and that’s exactly what happened to me.
My two mistakes were:
- Going to a college I couldn’t afford
- Buying clothes and apartment “essentials” I also couldn’t afford
I knew from the get-go that my university was expensive and that I would have to take out student loans. I was fine with this because I believed (and still do) that my return on investment would ultimately be higher than the debt I had accrued. But the fact remains that two years out of college, I still have a whopping $30,000 in debt that needs to be paid off.
Unfortunately, there’s no excuse for my second mistake, except that I didn’t know any better at the time. When you take out credit cards as an 18-year-old, you don’t really consider the bad things that come with borrowing money, like interest rates and late fees. A stupid mistake, sure, but a common one.
On top of that, I have to manage my regular bank accounts, a 401(k), and brokerage accounts. Plus, there are bill due dates, payment amounts, receipts, and important documents to stay on top of and keep track of.
It’s a Problem…
A few months after graduating college, I was faced with some major problems:
- I had thousands of dollars’ worth of debt
- I had no idea where my money was going
- I was swimming in piles of paper that had words like “NOTICE” and “IMPORTANT” stamped across them
It was like life slapped me across the face and said, “Welcome to the real world.”
Needless to say, I was panicked. I didn’t have or know how to set up a system for paying bills, tracking expenses, or storing important documents. And, with the sea of products out there offering new solutions, I didn’t know which tool to trust.
…But Problems Have Solutions
Fortunately, my friend is a productivity geek and steered me in the right direction.
Over the past two years, I’ve found five products that are invaluable because they simplify my messy life and maintain my peace of mind.
1. Manilla.com: Manilla is a free, secure online service that allows consumers to manage all of their bills and accounts – financial, utility providers, travel and rewards programs, subscriptions, and even daily deals – in one place. And with mobile apps, an overview of your balances, or insight into due dates, access to everything is never far away. Manilla also sends automatic reminders via email and text when your bills are coming due so that you never have another late fee again.
I use Manilla to keep track of my payment due dates and as a central repository for all of my documents. By storing my documents electronically, I reduce the amount of paper clutter in my life. This increases my general productivity and clears any mental clutter that might be weighing me down.
2. Mint.com: Mint is another free service that organizes and categorizes your spending. It’s purely about your financial accounts so that you have a clear and detailed overview of your spending. Also, Mint has the ability to send email or text alerts when they identify potential suspicious account activity and will contact you when you’re about to overspend on your budget. For someone who has never been able to stick to a budget, Mint makes it easy and fun to see where you stand financially.
It’s almost like my adult babysitter, monitoring my activities and keeping me out of trouble. Through it, I get financial clarity to make informed decisions on how to spend and save my money (like reducing my debt). You can even have Mint and Manilla complement each other with just a little work.
3. SpotMe: As a younger person who has roommates, goes out to dinner with friends, and sometimes splits expenses with others, I need help keeping track of who owes who what. With SpotMe – a free iPhone app – I can easily split bills like rent and utilities or view a single balance and itemize expenses. This simple app takes the pain out of splitting the dinner check or tracking down people who owe you money.
4. Lemon Wallet: This great service allows you to create a digital wallet right on your smartphone. With Lemon, you can store digital copies of all of your cards so you have a backup if your physical wallet is lost or stolen. Just like a traditional wallet, Lemon also lets you store all of your receipts so that you have access when you need them most. And Lemon gives you account balance updates so you can effectively monitor your spending.
The greatest value for me is in the receipt storage. We all lose receipts, spill coffee on them, or stash them away in a box with other unorganized receipts. But now, I can find my receipts with the touch of a button. That saves me time and I feel good knowing my paper is safe from harm.
5. Evernote: “Remember everything.” That’s a bold claim to make. But with Evernote, it’s possible. This service allows you to save everything you find interesting (e.g. photos, web pages, audio recordings) or necessary (e.g. manuals, insurance policies, trip itineraries, confirmation numbers) in a single place that syncs with all of your other electronic devices. You can take a picture of a note you just jotted down, upload it to Evernote, and search for it later.
Evernote is the digital equivalent of your brain without the problematic forgetfulness. In the productivity world, Evernote is a juggernaut. In college, I relied on it to help me organize my class notes so that I could easily find them when preparing for an exam or writing a paper. Now, I use Evernote to store important financial documents, medical records, and other files that I may never need, but can’t risk not having.
Your Action Items
If you’re like I was and struggling to get your finances together, try one (or all five) of these great tools. They will increase your productivity by simplifying your finances and also help you stay above water.
How do you use these five cool tools to simplify finances? Let us know in the comments.
Caroline Wright is a money-saving contributor from the Manilla Blog and the customer support associate of Manilla.com, the free and secure service that lets consumers manage their bills and accounts in one place online. Check out Manilla’s 4+ star customer-rated mobile apps, which can help you save money while you’re on the go.