What are the best banks, robo-advisors, credit tools, banking apps, student loan refinance companies or saving and investing websites?
I figured it was time to write it all down on a page where I can refer people to all of our favorites. So here it is.
On this page is a complete rundown of all of my favorite financial tools, money saving services and new technologies that can be used to save you money. I also list a few of my favorite blogging tools that I use on this money making blog. The list may not give every possible option in each category, but it does give the ones I would recommend giving a try.
Use the navigation down below in order to skip to the section(s) that most interest you.
Before I get too far, however, please note that some of the links on this page are affiliate links. If you click through my link and sign up for a service, or purchase a product, I may earn a commission on that referral. I am, however, recommending all of these products either because I use them personally, or because I think they’re superior products that can help you to improve your finances.
My Personal Tools And Resourcs
In this boxed section is a list of the services, tools and products that we use personally at our house.
Down below this box I'll look at other products or services I recommend, even though I may not use them at this time.
NOTE: Most of these products and services are free to use, but the ones that aren't, are low cost, or often priced lower than alternatives.
When it comes to banking there is no shortage of great online banks from which to choose. While our main checking account is with a local bank here in Minnesota, most of our savings accounts are with online banks. Here are the main ones we have:
- Ally Bank: I've been with Ally for years, and I love their accounts because their interest is always among the highest available, their website and app are top notch, and they have the ability to easily setup multiple goal based savings accounts.
- Capital One 360: I've had several goal based savings accounts with Capital One since the bank was called ING. After the change to Capital One, the accounts stayed great, with good rates, great features and functionality. Others have raved to me about their checking accounts as well.
- CIT Bank: Their savings accounts have among the best rates available right now and everyone I've talked to who has an account there loves them.
Capital One 360
We currently have several investing accounts that we use. First, my 401(k) for my day job is with Transamerica. For accounts that we have actually chosen to use outside of a company plan, these are the ones we still use:
- Vanguard: Vanguard is the industry gold standard for low cost index fund investing, and is what I recommend to everyone who is starting to invest. Slightly more hands on than a robo-advisor, but lower cost.
- WiseBanyan: Wisebanyan is a robo-advisor that allows you to invest your money automatically, regularly rebalances your investments, and it does all of that free of charge. Some add-on features have fees, but you don't have to use those. I've been using WiseBanyan for several years now and love it.
- Betterment:I had an account with Betterment for several years, and I have nothing but good things to say about them. Love their service and wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to anyone.
Money Management Software
Over the years we've used a lot of different money management software, from Microsoft Money (which is no longer available), to an old fashioned spreadsheet.These days there are a lot of great options for managing your household budget, or keeping track of your investments Here are the ones we currently use actively:
- You Need A Budget: In my opinion this is the absolute best budgeting software out there. Our family has been using it for years. We use the older desktop version, YNAB 4, but these days it's an online software.
- Personal Capital: If you want a 10,000 foot view of your finances, including your investments, Personal Capital is one of the best tools available. The best part? It's free. Sign up through our link and get a $20 Amazon gift card as well.
- Tiller Money: If you prefer to keep your family budget in a spreadsheet, Tiller Money is one of the very best options available.f You link your accounts on their site, then manage your budget in a Google Docs sheet, or Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet will download your transactions automatically! Read our full Tiller Money review.
You Need A Budget
Credit Scores & Credit Reports
Staying on top of your credit score is important, especially if you've got a big purchase coming down the road, like the purchase of a new home.Having a good credit score can mean saving thousands of dollars on a mortgage. We regularly check our scores through Credit Sesame and Credit Karma, both of which are free. We also like to check one of our credit reports through the government site at AnnualCreditReport.com every 4 months or so.
- Credit Sesame: Credit Sesame gives you everything from a free credit score and identity theft protection, to recommendations for how to improve your credit.
- Credit Karma: Credit Karma will give you a free credit score from Transunion and Equifax. In addition they help you to stay on top of your financial accounts, and can even help you to file your taxes for free.
- Credit Wise: Credit Wise from Capital One will give you a quick credit score, help you simulate the affects of decisions on your score, and more. Free to use.
- AnnualCreditReport.com: The government site will give you 1 free credit report from each of the 3 main credit bureaus every year. We like to pull one of our reports every 4 months, which allows us to better stay on top of what's happening in our credit files throughout the year.
Cord Cutting & New Technology
We've saved a ton of money over the years by cutting out traditional services like cable TV, and replacing them with new technologies. Cable TV has been replaced by streaming services and over-the-air DVRs. Landline phone service has been replaced by VOIP phone service. Traditional cell providers are replaced by low cost mobile networks.Here are a some of the cord cutting services and technology disruptors that we use to save money.
- Philo TV: We signed up for Philo a little less than a year ago. Why? They had just about all of the channels that we used to watch on cable, and the price tag for their cheapest package with 45 channels is only $16/month! The only con? No sports or mainstream news channels (which helps keep them low cost). Read our full Philo review.
- Sling TV: From time to time we also sign up for Sling TV in order to take advantage of their regional sports package, and for news content. The great part is we can subscribe during the hockey or baseball season, and then cancel at any time! Read our full Sling TV review.
- Tablo Over-The-Air DVR: 94 of the top 100 TV shows are found on over-the-air broadcast TV, as well as NFL and other sports programming. The Tablo TV DVR is one of the best available over-the-air DVRs to record all of your favorite new (and old!) shows, and then stream them to your connected device. I've got 8 seasons of Perry Mason recorded on mine! Read our full Tablo DVR review. Don't forget to add an antenna, like our Mohu Curve 50 Antenna:
- Ooma VOIP Phone: We've been Ooma subscribers for our home phone for probably 5+ years now. We went from paying $40+ per month for a landline, to paying $4.50/month for Ooma. We even kept our old phone number after porting it to Ooma. Read our full Ooma review.
- Tello Mobile: I signed up for Tello for my mobile phone service after reviewing the service for this site. I found that their combination of good customer service, low pricing and great coverage in our area was hard to pass up. I pay $11.18/month for 100 minutes of calling, unlimited text and 2GB of data. Read our full Tello review.
- Republic Wireless: We've used Republic Wireless, another low cost MVNO, for several years after reviewing them for this site. When I switched recently my wife voted to stay with Republic because she likes the service so much. That and her $20/month plan isn't exactly breaking the bank. Highly recommended. Read our full Republic Wireless review.
Ooma VOIP Phone
Money Management Software
Staying on top of your money situation by tracking your income and expenses with a budgeting software can be key to improving your situation. How do you know where your money is going if you don't keep track? Here are there of the very best tools that we've found for tracking your money.
When it comes to finding a bank there are a few things I like to make sure of. That the bank is free of un-needed fees, they have great rates and good account features, and that they have great customer service. These banks all fit that bill, and we highly recommend them all.
Beyond the options above, you can visit our bank rates page, and find the best savings and CD rates currently available.
Investing your hard earned money is key to providing a nest egg for retirement. Here are our favorite places to invest.
Robo-Advisors & Brokerages
Real Estate Investing
While our family no longer has student loans, I know it's still a big issue for a lot of families. One way to save a ton of money on your student loans is to refinance your student loans into a loan with a lower rate. Doing just that one thing can save you hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.Here are some of the companies we trust most to refinance your student loans.
We mentioned some of our favorite cord cutting tools in the "what we use" section up above, but there are a ton of other tools that are worthy of your consideration. We'll list a few of the best here on this page, but feel free to jump over to our Cord Cutting Manual for Cost Conscious Consumers for more detail about other options.
Best Streaming Services
There are a lot of streaming services that have popped up in recent years that hope to become a replacement for traditional cable TV. Here are some of our favorites that you might want to check out. Just make sure that the channels and content that you want are available on the service you sign up for.
Best DVRs For Cord Cutters
We've tested out several DVRs for recording over-the-air content. Our current favorite is the Tablo DVR.
- Tablo TV DVR: A great over-the-air DVR that streams to all your connected devices, home or mobile. (review)
- HDHomerun + Plex: We use the HDHomerun network over-the-air tuner in conjunction with our Plex server to record TV programming. Plex is a media server where we house all of our recorded TV, movies, music, photos. (Plex review + HDHomerun review)
- ChannelMaster Stream+ DVR: The ChannelMaster streaming device allows you to watch or record over-the-air broadcast content, download any number of Android games or apps, or switch between the two. Also includes integrated Chromecast functionality.
Best Streaming Devices
We've tested out several streaming devices that you can hook up to your TV and use to watch all of your favorite programming in conjunction with the over-the-air DVRs and streaming services mentioned above. Here are our favorites.
- Fire TV: I've found the Fire TV to be one of the most versatile and easy to use streaming boxes. It also has apps for the DVR device I mentioned above, and can be used to play games, listen to music and much more. Fire TV review here.
- Roku Ultra & Roku Stick: The Roku devices are among the most popular streaming devices available. Some TVs even come with a Roku streaming device built in.
- Nvidia Shield: This 4k device will allow you to run just about any streaming app you can think of, and it can even be setup to be a Plex Media Server. It is a bit pricier than some other streaming devices, but it can also do more, including gaming
Low Cost Mobile Providers
According to ABC News the average American spends about $1,000 a year on their cell phone bill. That comes out to about $83/month. That's a lot of money. Thankfully these days you don't need to pay those high rates if you don't want to. There are a plethora of MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) available that piggyback off of the big networks. Using them allows you to cut your costs drastically. Our family uses two of the low cost providers below (Tello, Republic Wireless), and the others on the list are great options as well. All 6 have calling plans available starting at less than $25/month.
- Tello (review): This is my current mobile provider, and I have a plan that costs $10/month. Plans start at $5/month. On Sprint network.
- Twigby (review): Another great low cost provider that starts at just $9/month. They are on the Sprint network, with a fallback to Verizon.
- Ting (review): Ting has plans starting at only $9/month, and is on Sprint and T-Mobile networks.
- Gen Mobile (review): Genl Mobile's calling plans start at $10/month and run off of the Sprint network.
- Republic Wireless (review): Republic Wireless is my wife's carrier, and she loves it. Starting at $15/month, and runs on the Sprint and T-Mobile networks.
- Mint Mobile (review): I've had service with Mint, and it was top notch. Plans starting at $15/month on the T-Mobile network.
Want a more detailed look at some of the cheapest cell phone plans?
Money Apps & Tools
There are a ton of other money apps and tools that we've reviewed on this site and have found useful. Here's a list of some of our favorites.
- Status Money: Status Money is a cool website where you can enter your financial details and accounts, and then get an overview of how you're doing when it comes to your saving, spending, debt levels and more when compared to other people in your peer group, region, or nationally.
- Dobot: This micro-saving site allows you to save for your savings goals automatically. Link it to your checking account, and turn on automatic savings, and Dobot will automatically save small amounts throughout the month in your Dobot savings. Over time those small amounts grow. Great for saving for small short term savings goals.
- Qapital: Similar to Dobot in that it does automatic savings, it also has cool integration with IFTTT that allows you to save based on just about any trigger. In addition they have the Qapital Invest platform that allows you to invest for your future.
- Twine App: This saving and investing app is meant to be used as part of a couple. You sign up, link your account to your partner, and then you can save for joint savings goals, together.Also allows you to invest.
- In Case Of Emergency Binder: This binder has everything you need in order to prepare for the worst case scenario. Use the documents in the binder to save important information, account locations and logins, insurance information and more. Highly recommended, we bought it for our family as well!
Making & Saving Money
If you've got a bit of spare time, there are a ton of ways to make and save money on the side. From cash back apps, to surveys to side gigs, there are a lot of ways to make extra cash. While you're at it, why not save some money on your monthly bills?
I've been blogging for over a decade now. In my many years of blogging I've found that it pays to use the very best tools and resources, tools that will give you a leg up on the competition. Here are some of the tools I use to take my website to the next level.
- WordPress (Platform): The blogging platform that I recommend everyone use is WordPress. It's the industry standard, and much of the web runs on WordPress. Host your own instance of WordPress on a good hosting service.
- Liquid Web (Hosting): This is the host that this site is served from.I've been with them for 5+ years now, and they're reliable, and their customer service is great.
- Siteground (Hosting): If you're looking for an entry level, low cost hosting package for your site, Siteground is among the best you can choose. If I was just starting out I'd use them.
- Big Scoots (Hosting): If your site gets a bit more traffic, Big Scoots is another great host to use. If I weren't happy with Liquid Web, I'd likely be hosting my sites with them.
- Genesis Framework (Theme): When you launch a WordPress site one of the first things you'll need is a WordPress theme for your site. Genesis Framework is one of the best out there.
- Dynamik Website Builder (Genesis Child Theme): The Genesis Framework has a ton of different child themes you can use in conjunction with Genesis. I bought the Dynamik Website Builder theme because it's so customizable for a non-techy user like myself.
- Yoast SEO (Plugin): For any website you start using WordPress, one of the first plugins you should install is Yoast SEO.
- WP Rocket (Plugin): If you want to ensure that your site runs as fast as possible, make sure you're using a caching plugin like WP Rocket.
- Missinglettr (App): To promote your site you'll want to publish your new content to social media. Missinglettr makes it easy by creating a year long social campaign going to several different social media, for every post you publish. While you do still have to approve a social campaign for each post, in the end it automates much of your social media marketing. I love it!
- Aweber Email Newsletters (App): Creating an email list for your site is important. Aweber is one of the best email newsletter companies, and I've been using them for years.
- SERanking SEO (App): Doing SEO research is key to growing your site. SERanking is a low cost SEO tool that gives you everything you need to do keyword research, track your important site keywords, check backlinks and do competitive research. While there are some tools that have better data, not many are as competitively priced.
- Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing School (Course): If you want to do affiliate marketing, this course from Michelle of MakingSenseofCents.com is one of the best. I've purchased it and gained a lot of insight through this course.
Health Insurance Alternatives
Having good health insurance can be key if you want to remain in good financial health. We know because in 2008 my wife had a blood clot that left her in the hospital for an entire month, and left us with almost $250,000 in medical bills. Thankfully we had good insurance and it paid for most of the costs.
If you're a freelancer or small business owner health care can be extremely expensive. One good alternative that a lot of people are using is health care cost sharing ministries.My in-laws own their own business and swear by Medi-Share. Others in the blogging industry have told me about Liberty HealthShare, and love it. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to do your homework as these companies often have membership criteria that you have to abide by.
Term Life Insurance
Planning ahead for all of life's unforeseen circumstances is important. One thing that no one wants to think about, but that's extremely important, is what happens if you were to pass away. Would your loved ones be taken care of, and would they be able to pay the mortgage, regular bills and more?
Having good term life insurance is key to protecting your loved ones so that instead of worrying about money right away, they can grieve, and start planning for the future without the pain of having to start from square one.
I recommend finding a good low cost term life insurance policy. Here are some companies that can get you into a good policy.
Best Finance Books
Probably the best way to improve your finances is to expand your knowledge of how money works. There are a ton of personal finance books I'd recommend, but I'll list a few of my favorites below.
- The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley
- The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John Bogle
- The Simple Path to Wealth – JL Collins
- Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
- The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
- The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach
- The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
Check out all our favorites here: