If You’re Terrible At Managing Your Money, These 8 Tools Will Help You Get Your Financial Act Together

Look, managing your finances can be legit awful. I own a small business and also do freelance work and for the past few years, I’ve been drowning. There are too many things to keep track of, and just thinking about money is stressful. But now I know that I don’t have to be that person who never knows what is in their bank account, or is constantly having cards declined when out friends. There are tons of fun, easy-to-use tools that take the ache out of managing your money, even for those of us who are not mathematically or fiscally-inclined.

  1. Credit Karma This app is AMAZING. Before I started using it, I had no idea what my credit score was or how to improve it. Credit Karma shows you live balances of all your credit cards and loans in one place as well as your credit score from the three major credit reporting agencies. It also gives you tips on how to improve it, like keeping your card balance below 30% of what your maximum is. It also has a truly wonderful tax feature that lets you do your taxes for free.
  2. Undebt.It Have you reached a point of having no idea exactly how much debt you actually have? A year ago, I was in this spot: I thought I had an approximate idea of how much were on my two credit cards, about how much I owed on my car, and an okay idea of how much in student loans I had to pay back. What I didn’t realize was how long it would take to pay all of it back and how much interest I would eventually pay! Undebt.It is an automated system, and once you put in all your balances and interest rates, it shows you how long until your debt will be paid off and which debts you should probably be paying first because they have higher interest rates. It also sends you reminders to pay your bills. It will take you about an hour to sit down and pull all this information and to put it in, but it’s so, so worth it. Make yourself a cocktail and just do it.
  3. Society of Grown Ups Money is often a taboo thing to talk about and that can be so isolating. This website makes me feel not alone! There are a ton of free, not boring video courses from real financial advisers who give you tips on how to better manage your money, save and invest wisely, and more. They also offer nifty calculators for things like home affordability, debt vs. invest, and loan repayment. Last but not least, their blog posts and newsletter content are SO GOOD, featuring topics like “understanding retirement” and “side hustling your down payment.”
  4. Acorns Investing is a big and scary thing to me. This app makes it brainless. It rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar and invests your spare change. You can also make one time investments if you get an extra $20 for your birthday or miraculously have money left over after paying your bills. It costs $1/month, which is about a million times cheaper than a financial adviser, and you can withdraw money you’ve made on investments at any time.
  5. Digit. This app is just like Acorns except it saves your money instead of investing it. It’s a good place to start if thinking about investing your money in stocks and bonds seems like too much for you. I lived a lot of my adult life without any sort of savings account, but no more! Digit moves teeny, tiny bits of money into a savings account every day, and never more than what’s in my account, or what I set my account minimum to be. You can just text them when you want to move money from your savings into your checking, and it never takes longer than one business day. It’s free for the first 100 days and then costs $2.99/month.
  6. Backward budgeting At one time in my life, I thought that I only spent about $200/month on food. Then, I did a backward budget. It’s super simple: just print the last three months of your bank and credit card statements and categorize every purchase. It takes some time (do it with a glass of wine!), but it’s beyond worth it. I found that in one month I spent over $600 on food when I counted groceries, brunches, dinners, and happy hours. Insane! Once you have a backward budget, you’ll be able to be more realistic about how much money you need to set aside for things like utilities, groceries, dining out, and gas/public transit.
  7. A good old-fashioned checkbook register You can print one for free and keep it right in your wallet, or keep an Excel spreadsheet in Google Drive for easy access. I did this when I first wanted to start getting a grip on my spending, and I was ruthlessly strict about it. I wouldn’t buy anything without writing it down first, even if that meant holding up the line at the gas station or grocery store.
  8. Calling your bank and/or credit card company Call your bank and/or your credit card company and ask them for advice on how to best manage your card. They might have an app you don’t know about, a skip-a-pay program, a 0% interest card you could transfer your balance to. When I called my bank, I found out they offered free monthly finance classes at a branch near my house, and they also offered to lower my interest on a credit card I had with them because I’d been a long-time customer. Don’t be afraid to use your bank as a resource!
Danielle Alexander is a freelance writer, the owner of Grey Grey Books, an online shop for books, zines, and handmade journals, and the Managing Editor of Sundress Publication’s “The Wardrobe.” She lives and works in Portland, Oregon.